I started reading Garth Ennis’ Punisher Max series in the comic books but I stopped after a year when I realised it would read better in trade form, especially as Ennis seemed to be deliberately writing six-issue arcs. I still haven’t got round to completing my collection, so it’s perhaps a little strange to jump to the final story in Ennis’ run (but it’s not as if Frank Castle was going to die at the end). However, I couldn’t resist when I saw it in my library, and I’m glad I did.
This is an absolutely brilliant book. Ennis looks at the Punisher’s time in Vietnam, via extracts from a book about a solder who served under Frank but who died at the location of the title: Valley Forge. This book transcends the concept of a vigilante in a superhero universe and is a story about men who’ve seen what the world is actually like and the realities of war and the effect it has on people.
The Punisher is being targeted by a group of generals in the US army, who are close to retirement with high-paying consultancies lined up, but were in charge of organising a terrorist attack on Russian soil that involved the CIA, Frank and Barbarosa (all of this from earlier Ennis stories). Frank has a tape of a CIA man implicating the generals, so the generals need it dealt with; they get a colonel (who volunteers for the job) and his unit to take down Castle. However, there is more to the colonel than he is letting on …
The prose in the memoir – which is excellent; I could easily read an Ennis novel/factual book any time soon – has the author, the brother of the soldier who served under Frank, researching the people who were left behind and had a connection to the last assault on Valley Forge, and talking to the relatives of those who died. It also explains (to me, at least; I’m not a great history buff, I have to confess) how the Vietnam war started, due to bad intel on a supposed attack on US warships, which is fascinating stuff.
The art is amazing. Parlov draws Frank as a big guy in the right way; he draws all the other characters as completely separate individuals, from their body shapes, sizes and faces, so you can easily distinguish the generals and the Delta team trying to take down Frank. The artwork is moody and dynamic, with great camera angles to tell the story, and he has the ability to draw menace in the face using the eyes alone. Superlative stuff.
This is an incredible comic book; it looks at the effect of war and the way people profit from it, all in the context of an exciting thriller story. Ennis continues to amaze with ability to tell a story, especially when it comes to his obsession with war and the people who fight them. Coupled with a fantastic artist, this is so much more than ‘just’ a Punisher comic.