Tuesday, 30 December 2008

[110] The Punisher Xmas One-Shot (Aaron, Boschi)

I know this review is a little stale, considering the timing, but The Punisher MAX Xmas one-shot is a brilliant example of a comic short story. Whereas I really liked Alex Ross' Kindgom Come Special: Superman issue, with its resistance to tell a traditional narrative and steadfast focus on character, Jason Aaron here provides a well-rounded, conclusive, wham-bam tale that works entirely on its own.

Ignore the cover, which has no relation to the story either in tone or content (no quirky elves or ribboned-grenades). I don't know much about The Punisher. I don't really care for the character, actually, apart from the brilliant 1993 side-scroller video game. I've always felt that his character is surprisingly one-note, and tackles themes better-expressed in other series. What I do know about Frank Castle, however, serves me entirely well for the purposes of this issue. He is a messed-up war veteran, who turns to an extremely moralistic life of vengeance and vigilantism. An anti-hero who kills bad people. That's it, as far as I can see; there is no need to know the prevailing continuity, or the chequered publication history from inception to present.

This narrative unity and approachability are just two of the strengths of this issue. Aaron's writing is on-the-money, with a Christmas-set gangster story that manages to offer action and grit, but also a surprising amount of warmth, depth and unpredictability. On Christmas Eve, a high-ranking mobster's wife is going into labour with their child. His rivals take this opportunity to strike, aiming to kill the baby and the parents. But the Punisher is also doing his rounds. This main plot is underscored by themes of innocence, birth, faith and charity, elements forgotten by the sullied society the Punisher inhabits.

Roland Boschi's artwork exhibits a subtlety I wouldn't have associated with such a comic. The 'explicit content' that is advertised on the cover isn't as exaggerated as in some other violent comics; instead, the violence and brutality is depicted in the expressive, grotesque faces of the characters. The cast are a parade of leering, intimidating, creepy or unseemly people, not least of all is the Punisher, who is an ugly, grizzled man. These characterisations harmonise with Aaron's story of a world fallen from grace, tainted by crime and vice, with the Punisher as the avenging angel.

Hopefully this issue won't be forgotten due to its holiday tie-in nature, as it is a textbook, formally-perfect instance of concise comic storytelling.

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