Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe Review (Garth Ennis, Doug Braithwaite)

Set in an alterna-verse (where else?), Frank Castle’s family are murdered in the park when they’re caught in the crossfire of a battle involving Avengers, X-Men and supervillains. Blinded with rage, he begins his campaign of punishment against all supes. KILL THEM ALL, FRANK, MAKE THEM PAY!!! Ahem. 

The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe is a double-size one-shot issue from the mid-90s and marked Garth Ennis’ first work for Marvel. You can see Ennis’ clear enjoyment writing Frank here as an indicator for his defining run on the character a few years down the line, as well as the blueprint for his bestselling creator-owned series, The Boys.

It’s an incredibly nihilistic comic but so much fun because of that quality. Ennis’ disdain for superheroes is expressed so palpably in this story that it becomes enjoyable to see Frank gunning down Earth’s Mightiest Heroes with remarkable ease. Some of the deaths are even comical like how Frank deals with the X-Men (all of them!), and some, like the Hulk’s death, are a bit questionable in how straightforward they are. 

And Wolverine - can he be killed that way? I’ll say this about that scene: it was better than how he died recently at the hands of Charles Soule if only because it was more final. Thor isn’t mentioned because how could Frank kill the God of Thunder? He couldn’t, so he’s conveniently pushed to the side, hopefully to be forgotten by most readers. Everything happens a bit too quickly without much difficulty, but Ennis only had 45 pages to play with and yet he managed to construct something awesome with that space.

Ennis is at his best when writing street-level characters which is why most of his Marvel output is Punisher-related. He’s written some really good Nick Fury books too and one or two rare comics for Hulk, Spider-Man and Thor (try finding those!), but, looking at his extensive Punisher catalogue, it’s clear he has little to no interest in the bright, costumed superheroes that make up the Marvel Universe – unless Frank’s putting a bullet in their heads! 

If you enjoyed Ennis’ Punisher books and The Boys, you’ll like this one too as it’s essentially more of the same but much more over-the-top and silly. And even if you don’t think you’ll enjoy seeing your favourite heroes getting murdered by an angry man with a skull t-shirt over Kevlar armour, Ennis’ obvious pleasure in killing your darlings is so visceral and his vision so vivid, you’ll nevertheless find yourself smiling even when Daredevil’s pleading for his life! 

Ennis’ The Punisher Kills The Marvel Universe totally fulfils its title and does more in 45 pages than Jonathan Maberry managed in four issues of a similar storyline over ten years later. It’s pitch black nihilism covered in red, red blood but with Garth Ennis in the driving seat you’ll read it with a grin on your mug!

The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe

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