Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Punisher, Volume 2: Army of One Review (Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon)

Before I get into the review, let’s talk about Garth Ennis’ sense of humour: sometimes it’s a bit much, I agree. As big a fan as I am of the guy, I gave up on Preacher because the “jokes” just weren’t landing. I didn’t laugh at the guy who discovered he was gay after he was raped; I didn’t laugh at the “retarded because of inbreeding” descendant of Christ - but Ennis kept hammering these “jokes” over and over and over again until I gave up on the series in disgust (though I did laugh at Arseface!). 

The Boys - Ennis went a bit overboard in places and quite often the joke was “haha, they do drugs and abuse people” which isn’t funny. And sometimes Ennis isn’t even as one-dimensional as that - have you read Dicks, his first comic with John McCrea? It’s just blandly stupid potty humour for no reason and it’s unreadable! 

Ennis’ humour is crass, dark, and crude, and there’s a LOT of it in Army of One. But the difference is the joke is on individuals who aren’t real and are there to be laughed at, compared to groups of people Ennis point and laugh at in some of his lesser moments, eg. homosexuals or people born with learning difficulties (though the word “spackers” is freely tossed around in the first issue - it’s a derogatory term for someone with cerebral palsy). So, this one has a lot of off-colour humour in it, and not all of it works, but it’s ok to enjoy this one. 

And we can all agree the French suck, right? 

Alright, onto the review:

“So this is Christmas” deadpans Frank as he strangles a rapist, eyes not even fully open.

One of the greatest creative teams in comics, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, reunite for another brilliant Punisher book in Army of One. This is the Punisher Marvel Knights series, the unfairly out-of-print run (except for Welcome Back, Frank) that led into Ennis’ acclaimed The Punisher MAX series, which is actually MAX’s equal in terms of quality from what I’ve read of it.

Army of One is a rambling but compelling story that sees Frank save the European Union from a mad General with an atomic bomb. Along the way, Frank will have a brutal team-up with Spidey, fight a grotesque male Russian cyborg with giant bewbs, talk Detective Soap (yup, he’s back!) out of suicide, and take out a former Army buddy who once saved his life in ‘Nam.

It’s also an incredibly tasteless comic that I make no apologies for thoroughly enjoying. Ennis and Dillon bring so much pitch black humour and gory, righteous violence to the Punisher that it’s a delight to read. They manage to make Frank forklifting a cage full of men into the sea seem like a comedy routine (it’s alright, they were bad men)! 

Ennis is in full-on gross-out humour for much of this book, bringing back his punching bag, Detective Soap, for a single sick joke where Soap unknowingly sleeps with his mother (yes, I laughed)! After re-introducing the Russian, this time with huge boobs - seemingly for no other reason than it’s funny to see a butch man with massive knockers? – Ennis throws in Spidey who instantly gets punched in the crotch! (If you haven’t read The Boys, it’s pretty clear from his Punisher books what Ennis thinks of the masks and tights that make up the Marvel Universe – there’s a reason there are no Avengers/X-Men books with Ennis’ name on!)

But it’s not just over-the-top in a funny sense, Ennis gives Frank an endless array of targets to kill with a ton of devastating toys. In no particular order, Frank disappears into a tropical island’s jungle and begins taking out scores of mercenaries by setting death traps; he blows up a plane; and, the coup de grace, kills thousands in one fell swoop. I think it was Anton Chekhov who said that if you introduce a gun into the story, the gun must at some point be fired; Ennis applies the same rule to a nuke.

After the comedic madness of the Soap issue and the excessive everything in the main storyline, Ennis shifts gears to a more solemn tone. There’s a one-shot where Frank has to put down an old army buddy who’s gone nuts and, having murdered his wife and kids, has begun killing anyone in his way. Frank talks to the reader about the man his friend used to be, who was a hero who saved his life, humanising him in a way that makes Frank’s task all the more poignant at the end of the chapter. 

It sounds insane to go from farce to ultra-violence to slapstick to sombre realism, but Ennis manages it effortlessly here. It doesn’t feel awkward or out of place or even that surprising - that’s how talented a writer this guy is. 

The one issue I didn’t think worked completely was the silent issue scripted/drawn by Steve Dillon that closes out the volume. It took me a couple reads to get what happened but even then it wasn’t that great. Dillon may be the definitive Punisher artist - and he is - but he needs Ennis, and vice versa. 

Army of One is the funniest Marvel book I’ve read in quite some time. Maybe because Marvel just don’t push the boat out that much these days (this book’s over 10 years old) though it’s probably because there’s only one Garth Ennis. It’s definitely not for the kids but if you’ve got a flexible sense of humour and don’t mind a lot of twisted vulgarity in your comics, you’ll love this - I sure did! 

Another great Punisher book from Ennis and Dillon!

The Punisher, Volume 2: Army of One

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