Sunday, August 26, 2007

You Strange, Sad Creature:
The Punisher #49

Five "mafia widows" team up to get revenge on the man who murdered their husbands: The Punisher. Then a sixth widow hunts them down. Since Garth Ennis makes it a point to stress that the woman in question has had her breasts removed due to cancer, we know we are in for something "deep" about the female experience.I liked Punisher #49 in that voyeuristic, grotesque way I enjoy Rob Zombie movies. It's like Freud on crack, fear-and-loathing, bashed skulls, and orgasms. But as a meditation on the Female Vigilante, it gave me the squickies.

Our female-who-hunts-females, Jenny, is a battered wife with scars where her breasts used to be. The target of her resentment & anger are other women -- four of whom she shoots, one of whom she beats, in the nude, into a bloody pulp with a baseball bat. When she is done with her last victim she climbs on the Punisher's body and announces she is going to have sex with him.

Jenny is, as the Punisher puts it, "a strange, sad creature." She is a vigilante like him but "women really aren't supposed to be vigilantes," or so the story goes. She assumes a male job, and thus must have a chest that resembles a male, devoid of breasts. By assuming a male's job she is monstrous, she is aberrant, and so in the end she must shoot herself. Further, she attacks her own image (other women) and then f**ks/worships the male image.

Christ almighty.

One other point to note is that of the five members of the "widow gang," the three prettiest/most feminine ones are shot on their body but with their faces untouched. Of the other two, the butch-looking African-American woman with the short hair is graphically shot in the face, and the heavy-set older woman is graphically smashed in the head with a bat until her features are obliterated.

I have to give the proviso now that this isn't a screed against "Punisher" comics, as I enjoy them. I appreciate that Marvel puts the MAX label on these books as well as an "explicit content" warning on the cover. But when Garth Ennis throws out on the table so much fodder, one has to excuse me for grabbing my bowl of popcorn and digging in.

Edit: The Punisher has one hand handcuffed to the bed when Jenny is bashing the woman's face in, and when she has sex with him. But as soon as the sex is over and Jenny blows her brains out, the Punisher shakes his hand free from the handcuff -- almost immediately after the sex. If the Punisher was capable of doing this why didn't he free himself earlier and prevent the beating of the woman, or prevent this obviously crazy Jenny person from riding him like prize pony, or prevent Jenny from blowing her brains out?


  1. I don't buy it. It's extremism, but it isn't sexism. It wasn't racism when Ennis introduced Barracuda, a stereotypically black character with a mouth full of gold that said "FUCK YOU." And it wasn't sexism when O'Brien came off as a crazy nympho with a death wish in the first story arc, it was extremism. That's what Ennis' Punisher's always been about.

  2. I don't think the Punisher would really have had a problem with watching a mob widow who tried to kill him get beaten to death, especially by someone she also betrayed. And I'll be generous and offer that he was as stunned by the whole "post-murder sex" thing as the reader (well, me, anyways) was.

    And I suppose one could argue with the cause/effect order in terms of Jenny. Because her femininity was first betrayed (the rapes/beatings), then removed (her breasts), she transformed into ths more masculine vigilante figure as a means of defense.

    I'm not sure if I buy all that, or if it would even make it better, but, for the sake of argument, it's a theory - proving once and for all that I think way too hard about a series whose star is essentially a ruthless psychotic killer.

    But yeah, I felt a litle dirty after reading that issue; much the same as when Frank killed Microchip. Sure, I guess it makes sense, but... ew.

  3. Yeah-- I pretty much gave up on Garth Ennis as a serious writer midway through "Preacher." He bypasses armchair psychology and goes straight to the bar room "variety." Unless it involves period action, Ennis seems to only take the piss out of his subjects or goes transgressive for shock value and assumes that's all he needs. Oh wait, it's 2007. That apparently is all he needs (well, and a writer proxy...)

  4. "...why didn't [the Punisher] free himself earlier and prevent the beating of the woman, or prevent this obviously crazy Jenny person from riding him like prize pony, or prevent Jenny from blowing her brains out?"

    Because the Punisher is also a crazy fuck.

  5. I interpreted the story as being part of Ennis' continuing attempt to show that the Punisher is a really unique creature. It isn't just the loss of his family to mob crossfire, or his time in 'Nam, it's all that, plus a lot of other things, and how it all comes together in his mind.

    I really felt the story was showing, through both Jenny and Detective Budianksy, how people could think they were like the Punisher, but in fact were not. Budiansky can't be, because unlike Castle or Jenny, he still has something to lose, which keeps him from going completely over the line (he can be Punisher-like, but it's when the person is an immediate threat to people, ala the kid he shot in the school, and the drug addict that shot the detective's wife).

    Jenny doesn't have that, but like the detective, she's still operating on a "vengeance" mindset. She wanted to get back at the people who hurt her, just as Budiansky repeatedly shot a man who shot his wife, and wanted to kill the widows he believed were behind the hit. But Frank Castle, as he points out to Jenny, sees it as a mission. It isn't about getting revenge; it's about stopping innocents from getting hurt. As long as there are criminals, he's got to keep going. For Jenny (or Budiansky if he ever does cross the line), she killed the people she planned to, and had nothing left. I think she recognizes how messed up Frank is, and realized she, unlike him, can't keep going afterwards.

    Which I think says she's somewhat more well-adjusted than Frank Castle, because the death and brutality does get to her, whereas Frank can just keep going.

    As to the handcuffs, I think Frank had a surge of adrenaline which let him break the bedframe where the cuffs were attached. As to not stopping her from beating her sister to death with a bat, I think he figured Jenny had earned the right to take her vengeance. As for the sex thing, um, I'm not sure. Maybe to demonstrate that Jenny doesn't have anything else to help her go forward, now that she got revenge?