Spencer: As Frank explains in Nathan Edmondson and Mitch Gerads’ The Punisher 2, there’s a strata of villains too big for the cops to handle, but not big enough for the superheroes to take notice of. This is the league of villains the Punisher usually goes up against — the kind that can give him a proper fight — but it looks like all that’s about to change. Not only are the Howling Commandos on Frank’s tail, but the Dos Soles gang also has a powerful new weapon that’s out of Frank’s usual league; this is some definite superhero-level business Punisher’s got himself tangled up in here.
Punisher’s tracking the Dos Soles as they receive a late-night weapons drop from some of those Lego-headed A.I.M. goons; the weapon is so powerful that it fries Frank’s night-vision goggles and nearly gives him away, until a coyote gives Frank the distraction he needs to take out his attackers. Frank takes the wounded animal in — naming it “Loot” — but promptly hands him off to his buddy/supplier Tuggs so that he can go after the Dos Soles again. Punisher shows up just in time to save Officer Stone from the Soles’ powerful new weapon, but doesn’t fare so well himself; after losing the Soles, they ambush him in his home, and Frank comes face-to-face with their new weapon:
Even moreso than the Electro reveal, what first stood out to me about this page was actually the color work. While Gerads is certainly firing on all cylinders with his pencils — depicting an appropriately gritty Frank and an appropriately gritty world for him to inhabit while still finding room for some cute coyote moments and Hawkeye references — it’s his colors that truly shine (or at least, I assume Gerads did colors, as he’s the only artist credited in this issue; I apologize if that’s not the case). From the very first page he treats us to a cinematic spread that uses the Mexican sun to bathe the page in a stark grapefruit purple; it’s a brightness unusual for this book, likely emphasizing not only the change of scenery but also the bizarre slaughter Frank runs across there.
These pages also work as a nice contrast for the scene that follows, where the characters are bathed in pitch-blackness. I’m impressed by how clear Gerads keeps things in a setting deliberately meant to be hard to see in, but I also love how the darkness dulls our senses and makes the reveal of the Soles’ weapon all the more effective; it’s easy to see why Frank was blinded, cause it’s just as bright and jarring to us.
Still, it’s that Electro page where things started to come together for me. See, throughout the issue Gerads limits his colors to dingy, pale tones, bathing his backgrounds in dull browns and greens and clothing most of the cast in black or dark green. It’s only when something truly crazy goes down that Gerads cuts loose; when the Howling Commandos activate their holographic glasses, when Frank releases his smoke grenade, when the Soles attack with their weapon or even when Electro himself appears, those are the moments he chooses to devote his bright colors and fancy computer effects to.
As far as I’m concerned, this helps to highlight the otherness of those moments. It’s those weapons and characters — especially Electro — who represent the Soles and the Punisher stepping outside their typical roles, escalating past “too big for the cops, not big enough for the superheroes” and right into some straight-up superhero territory.
I’ll tell you, I’m excited to see how Frank handles it. Even though he seems to be familiar with Electro in particular, it’s still rather rare to see Punisher getting himself involved so heavily in superhero business; even when he hangs with the Thunderbolts, he seems to actively avoid their more bizarre adventures. This could help shed some new light on Frank at best; at worst, it certainly will give him a tougher fight, which is always fun to watch.
Edmondson does seem to be making strides in fleshing out Frank even beyond this, though. When Drew and I talked about issue one we mentioned how Punisher seemed like a rather simple character, someone who has been too busy trying to keep his head above water all these years to live a real life, but this issue adds some welcome complexity to Frank’s character.
I love this little tidbit of information about Frank’s past. We know him as such a merciless, well-oiled revenge machine that it’s refreshing and humanizing to think about him trying to justify his crusade. Likewise, Frank’s rescue of Loot the coyote shows a side of him more interested in protecting an innocent than gaining revenge, even if the innocent’s just an animal — Frank’s relationship with Loot is kind of adorable, and that’s not a word I’d usually use to describe the Punisher.
The Punisher still hasn’t grown past all the issues we had with it last month — the supporting cast are still mostly stock characters, and Dos Soles is still a mostly faceless organization with unclear motivations, and I’m also a little concerned by this largely Hispanic gang fighting an entirely white cast of heroes and police — but it certainly seems to be moving in the right direction, and at a nice pace too!
So Greg, how do you feel about the direction this book is heading? And hey, what’s your take on Frank at the diner? Is the strangely genial Frank we see there simply a softer side of his personality peeking through his tough exterior, or is it just an act he’s putting on for some reason? Greg: I agree wholeheartedly about Gerads’ usage of color, particularly his dramatic yet tasteful attacks of bright, unnatural purples at moments of intensity. It hit that perfect spot of storytelling panache — surprising at first, yet inevitable in retrospect. I wanted to enjoy the other elements of the issue as much as this, particularly as I’m generally a fan of dark, gritty crime thrillers led by Chaotic Good figures like Frank. However, the whole thing couldn’t help but feel derivative: feelings which, coincidentally, stem from Frank at the diner.
To answer your question, I don’t think Frank’s putting on an act; he seems to genuinely care for Loot’s well-being. I do think that by placing so much emphasis on Frank’s new coyote camrade, Edmonson is putting on a bit of an act for the readers. The late screenwriter Blake Snyder wrote one of the most famous books on screenwriting, entitled Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. The title itself is pretty extraordinarily written, from the usage of second-person direct address, to the tantalizing promise of possessing the one necessary book — but what the heck does “save the cat” mean?
Simply, Snyder asserts that a good story needs a hero, and that hero needs to be liked and sympathized with in order for the audience to care about the story (screenwriting manuals tend not to deal in subtlety, for sake of clear teaching). An easy way to immediately grab the audience’s sympathy is to show the hero going out of his way to perform a selflessly good deed — like, let’s say, saving a cat. It’s a trope one can, once it’s recognized, apply to seen countless stories (giving his earnings to the poor is why Robin Hood is a likeable rapscallion and not just a shitty thief), and while it’s hard to deny the primal “aww” factor of seeing Frank look after this innocent and, yes, adorable coyote, it’s also hard for me to view it as anything less than a cynical and inorganic piece of contrived writing. Spencer, you pointed out that the issue propagates issues of stock, underdeveloped characters with muddied, ambiguous identities. I worry that Loot is less a genuinely compelling companion and interesting wrinkle to Frank’s personality, and more a continuation of Edmonson’s unfortunate genericness.
There’s a bit of saggy “been there, seen that” in the picture of the Mexican slaughter you highlighted as well. Frank must step through some random oranges in order to confront and deal with the dead, and while I enjoy seeing the citrus theme extrapolate off of your “grapefruit purple” assessment, oranges have been used to signify death in everything from The Godfather to Breaking Bad. This may be an intentional reference on the part of Edmonson and Gerads, an attempt to self-awarely sign the “I used oranges as foreshadowing!” guestbook underneath Coppola and Gilligan’s signatures, but if all they’re interested in is checking off “crime thriller signifier” boxes without anything unique to contribute to the artistic conversation, I can’t help but feel like it’s phoned in. “Good enough,” the issue seems to say, and a character as awesome as Frank deserves better.
I wanted to enjoy this badly, but everything about it feels like it borrows from everything else, without any sense of personality or intrigue beyond the surface. From the animal buddy and the oranges, to the boilerplate neo-noir voiceover, The Punisher 2 can’t help but feel like microwaved leftovers of someone else’s gourmet feast.
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