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Punisher #20 By Matt Martin
Marvel Comics – Garth Ennis (w); Steve Dillon (a)
Time to eat a little crow.
The last time I reviewed this book, I remarked that the saving grace of Ennis’ run has primarily been his general lack of a serious take on the character. Granted, the ‘Nuff Said issue was fairly subdued and dealt with a markedly more serious plot than, say, a Russian super-soldier having breast implants, but that’s been pretty much it and Ennis has been doing this book for quite some time now (something like two years, not considering the various fill-in writers and hiatus in between the mini and the regular series).
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So it’s kind of embarrassing to have said that, then read this issue, which is considerably darker than much of the previous run and certainly less likely to have slapstick, gallows humor as a centerpiece. Why’s it embarrassing? Because this issue was really good.
Herein, Castle discovers evidence of police corruption (not that that’s all that shocking, I suppose), a collusion between one rising detective and a liaison to the mafia to ferry confiscated narcotics. On the surface, this doesn’t appear like much. Seems pretty standard, when you get right down to it. As a rule, The Punisher tends to deal more on one specific side of the law, but I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that putting the hurt down on corrupt cops is hardly uncharted waters for the character. So this story obviously needs something more substantial to make it truly shine, a spark of originality to spice things up a bit. And Ennis delivers than in the latter half of the book.
You see, initially things seem pretty cut and dry. Mike is the good cop, the son of a son of a son of a cop, if you will. Police work is in his blood, quite literally it seems, and it’s a profession that he takes very seriously. Another officer describes his partner, Andy, as “a bit of a cowboy;” the phrase seems accurate. Andy, obviously, is the one to make contact with the “other” side, making his connection with the underworld through some notoriously shady individuals with the department. Mike, keeping in character, attempts to dissuade him from becoming associated with the wrong element, fearing for his partner’s reputation.
Then, halfway through the issue, things start to get turned on their ear. Andy seems remarkably nervous about his dealings in narcotics, looking shifty and out of place, making his exit from the scene of the crime as quickly as possible. I had begun to chalk it up as just me being over-analytical (as I have a tendency to do, or so says my fiancée) until the final portion that deals with Mike. Who, it turns out, is a drunken wife-beater. So who’s the good guy NOW? It would seem, at least to me, that Andy is a very good candidate to be wearing a wire, given his general unease. So is he really a bad guy at all? And no matter what Mike does for the rest of the arc, he’s been tainted, at least to me, by the specter of spousal abuse, a deplorable act no matter how you slice it.
Anyway, all in all, very interesting stuff, particularly in that certain events and turns of phrase begin to take on a different significance upon a re-reading of the issue. At one point, Andy inquires after Mike’s wife, to which Mike responds simply, “She’s good.” When I first read it, I merely marked it off to more of Ennis trying to establish that Mike is a “good guy,” in that he seems stable, wife and kids, picket fence and what not. It seemed like a casual response to a common question. In light of his violent tendencies, you can almost imagine a terse, impatient tone in his voice, as he tries to dismiss a subject he’d rather not broach: the well being of his battered wife.