Punisher: Suicide Run by Steven Grant, Chuck Dixon and Larry Hama (graphic novel review).

May 22, 2018 | By | Reply More

While it’s easy to dismiss ‘The Punisher’ as little more than a right-wing fantasy writ large, those who followed the character’s titles during his late 80s/early 90s heyday would find that there was a little more substance. Some stories dealt with important issues of the day, an issue dealing with flag burning, at the time a contentious issue, springs to mind. Others, by introducing the more fantastic characters of the Marvel Universe, became an ironic commentary on the entire super-hero genre and its pleasures and excesses. Yes, ‘The Punisher’ series was just more than an excuse for seeing a guy kill lots of people in numerous gruesome ways. Some of the time, ‘Punisher: Suicide Run’ drifts towards the more reactionary side of the character as it revels in death and destruction without really exploring the ideas of media influence and vigilantism that it initially promises.

In his never-ending war on crime, Frank Castle learns that a high level meeting of mob bosses will take place. Knowing it’s the perfect chance to take a large number of the criminals down, Castle tools up and heads towards what he presumes will be his final act of punishment. In a rubble strewn aftermath, various people take up the Punisher mantle with all having very different motives for wanting to keep the ‘skull’ alive. But is Frank Castle really dead and what will VIGIL, the US Government’s anti-vigilante task force led by the dangerously obsessed Blackwell, do to make sure he is, let alone all the criminals that the Punisher has managed to annoy over his bloody career.

There are shades of Frank Miller’s ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ here with a vigilante who is reaching the end of his career yet becoming an influence for others. There are a few satirical moments, such as one person who really wants to become the Punisher in order to become famous and adored. Others are psychological screw-ups with deep-seated psychoses that makes them want to kill criminals. There’s even a new Punisher hired by the criminal underworld to keep everyone in check. There’s a certain amount of interesting material here as it explores the power of symbols and the rights and wrongs of vigilante justice.

But these brief moments of introspection are overshadowed by the constant thud of gratuitous violence. Whether it’s Castle’s assault on an office building, with shades of ‘Die Hard’ or the final third of the story, set in a small town over-run with criminals, this is an excuse for constant gunplay, explosions and killing people via guns and explosions or sometimes knives and a burning or two. It all starts to come across as a one of those action films you can find on an obscure channel at silly o’clock in the morning, forgetting about everything else so you can marvel in the myriad ways of blowing things up.

While never exactly Deadpool, Castle is perhaps at his most monosyllabic here, apart from the moments when he’s gleefully telling his enemies about his various forms of ammo and what exactly it will do to them. Later moments, in which he has visions of his dead family, strain for some kind of psychological insight but it all seems a bit forced and underdeveloped.

It is rather churlish to criticise a ‘Punisher’ collection for being violent because it’s, well, the raison d’etre of the character, but there are writers who have shown that there can be some substance to the character. This is not so in ‘Suicide Run’ but approached as a big and excessive excuse for violence then this ‘Punisher’ collection works admirably.

Laurence Boyce

May 2018

(pub: Marvel/Panini. 344 page graphic novel softcover. Price: £29.50 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-30290-697-9)

check out website: www.paninicomics.co.uk/

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Category: Comics, Superheroes

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About the Author ()

Laurence Boyce is a film journalist who likes Bond, Batman and Doctor Who (just to prove the things he enjoys things that don't just start with a 'B'). He is also a film programmer for various film festivals in the UK and abroad.

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