So I managed to get an hour and I wrote this. So, you know, it's hardly incisive or anything and certainly not structured but I hope it entertains. People like seeing other people fail, right? Tuck in! PUNISHER: BARBARIAN WITH A GUN By John Buscema (Artist), Chuck Dixon (Writer), Tom Palmer, Klaus Janson & Art Nichols (Inkers), Kevin Tinsley (Colourist and Jim Novak (Letterer) Collects PUNISHER: WAR ZONE #26-30 (Marvel Comics, $15.99, 2008)
This comic features the character of The Punisher created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Snr and Ross Andru here presented in an adventure I was drawn to purchase by the title and the presence of John Buscema. Also - it was on sale at my LCS for a fiver. In fact I was initially misled by the presence of John Buscema and the title to expect Frank to be swept up by a Time-Space vortex and dumped into Hyboria where he would initially act like Conan but with a gun but upon exhausting his ammo would then turn his 'Nam sharpened reflexes upon the populace of the stinky primitive land before being hailed King. This does not happen. However, if there is a comic where this does happen (and how could there not be?) then I am all ears.
What the comic delivers is, I guess, the next best thing. On the trail of a drug dealing brother-sister combo Frank is soon removed from the civilised and hygienic milieu of lovely America to the stinky and primitive land of The Caribbean jungle. No offense to my Caribbean chums but that’s how it’s presented here. This is a tale from the time before The Punisher was taken seriously (if anyone can in fact take PUNISHERMAX seriously; which it appears they can) but after the time when he wore white disco boots. The boots have been ditched by this stage which is a shame because I always believed they were his dead wife’s and he wore them as tribute to her memory. Luckily he still retains several of the goofier elements that I always enjoy about The Punisher. In several scenes Frank is pictured in a nice Hawaiian cut shirt emblazoned with his TM skull motif. This suggests that either Frank, like myself, holidays in Whitby and is partial to frequenting the make-your-own design T-Shirt shop just back from the sea front or that he spends his free time sewing and indulging his passion for crafts. Also, early on in the story Frank adopts a disguise. Now, Punisher disguises are one of my favourite things being as they are so terrible as to inspire hooting. My favourite was in the Punisher/Ghost Rider/Wolverine one-shot HEARTS OF DARKNESS written by Howard MacKie and illustrated by John Romita Jnr. In that one Frank grew a pencil tache and slicked his hair back. Luckily Wolverine’s acute smell sense pierced this quickly. I think he used his smell-sense but in all honesty he could have just used his eye-sense. In BARBARIAN WITH A GUN Frank wears a brown wig of no fixed style and another mustache. This works out pretty well until he meets a woman who had earlier seen him shoot the guy he’s disguised as and was also physically pleasured by said guy. Oh, Frank undone by sentiment!
So. Yes, it’s one of those old timey adventures where Frank has all the moral complexity of a brick and just batters himself against the obstacles in his way until everybody who should be dead is dead and then he gets on with a nice bit of sewing. It’s pretty well done, too. Chuck Dixon is certainly a professional at this stuff. He’s certainly professional enough not to let his personality infect the work and thus Frank never spends anytime whatsoever worrying about what consenting adults of the same gender choose to do with their genitals. Dixon is also professional enough to deliver a satisfyingly violent action-adventure romp that takes itself seriously enough but never too seriously. He does a really smart job on Frank’s clipped narration which includes gems like, “Carbine goes Winchester on me.” and “He’s asking for mercy. Sorry. Fresh out.” I dig that stuff, that He-Man steak and taters stuff and it’s all over this one.
There’s no politics either despite the fact that the island of Porta Dulce is bursting into revolution more often than a teen’s face bursts into zits. The ruling class are corrupt and violent, the peasants are corrupt and violent, the Americans there to make a buck are corrupt and violent even the crocs are violent (but not corrupt). The nicest character is a pig that just ambles through and rescues our bunch of heroes with its unerring sense of direction. And it is a bunch by this point because Frank has called in Micro and Ice Phillips. This latter character is a new one on me but he’s obviously got some “juice” because the back of the TPB declares “Guest starring Ice Phillips from Marvel’s controversial series The ‘Nam!” (The ‘Nam was indeed controversial since (at least for a while when it was written by Doug Murray and illustrated by Michael Golden) Marvel published it and it wasn't awful and was in fact quite good). So one for Ice Phillips fans here! There’s a great scene between the trio where Micro almost spills the beans on why Frank does what he does to Ice (who apparently thinks Frank is just doing it for chuckles or something) and Frank says, “Don’t tell him. Don’t ever tell him. He doesn't deserve to know.” Which is super-pissy of Frank. Then he just flounces off! Ooooh, get her!
Of course all this is illustrated by John Buscema. Or John “The Don” Buscema. Now John Buscema wasn’t really the paterfamilias of a crime family in much the same way as Gene Colan wasn’t the head of a faculty in a school or college but Gene was still “The Dean” and John will always be “The Don”. He was also referred to as The Rembrandt of Comics which means he was frickin aces. It’s important to remember that John Buscema was frickin’ aces because the production of monthly comics didn't do him any favours really. He was mostly relegated to pencils so they could get more of him out there but, man, he loved inking his own stuff. And if you see any you’ll love it too. BARBARIAN WITH A GUN is typically Marvel Buscema as here he provides pencils and as bare as they may seem they still display his talent for framing and generally getting the stuff that matters into the panel in a way that’s unfussy and pleasing. Oh, and he still got emough ink on his brush to draw smoking hot ladies that embody the word "fleshy". Mind you he’s not helped by the buggers muddle of inkers, sometimes there’s more than one of them having a pop at his pencils in one issue.
These comics were originally published in 1994, I think, and John Buscema died in 2002 so we're definitely looking at a Lion in Winter here or at least one that’s feeling the chill a bit. It’s all still there though, all the Buscematic bustle and muscular pop just a bit sticky with the ink of others. It’s a bit odd really because we’re talking about John Buscema here and you’d think he’d have been treated a bit better. It isn't as though Marvel were unaware of the importance of Buscema’s work in identifying Marvel as being quite good. In fact as far back as 1978 Buscema was chosen to illustrate the book HOW TO DRAW COMICS THE MARVEL WAY. His art was chosen as the template for the sausage factory. Not Gil Kane or Jack Kirby,no, John Buscema. Mind you Jack Kirby and Gil Kane would probably have told Marvel to take a flying f*** at a rolling doughnut by that point. Or at least have pointed out that How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way was to have sound legal representation at all times, never depend on verbal promises and remember that you might need money in the future. So, John Buscema’s value was clearly acknowledged by Marvel but at the end they have him pump out some books that have to have the heavy hands of others all over them in order for them to come out on time. Kirby forbid John Buscema be given time to do some stuff the way he wanted at the end of career. Nah, just get those books out, Buscema? Never heard of him, never did anything for us. Where’s my Punisher comics?!?
This lack of respect extends to the physical artifact itself. While the creative contents are fine, even managing to entertain despite the mish-mash of inking, the physical contents lack even cursory care and attention. The cover is a graduate of the school of Intern With Photoshop, the colouring in general is imprecise and wishy-washy and when blood is shown to fly from punctured bodies it is coloured yellow. Yellow. Maybe The Punisher fires harmless custard bullets? Maybe the people he kills are aliens? Maybe Kevin Tinsley needs biology lessons? Maybe Marvel don’t give a chuff? Which, y’know, is their prerogative and all but this costs $15.99 and I don’t think it’s whiny for someone handing over that amount of cash to expect a decent product in return. I hear your TPBs don’t sell so well, Marvel? Maybe that’s why.
Despite all that it is still a sound piece of hugely testicular entertainment which does its job well due to the professionalism of Dixon, Buscema et al. but the fact that it’s such a cheapjack package makes it only EH! If, however, you like John Buscema, daft violence and got it for a fiver it’s really GOOD!
And that’s it from me and now...back to the COMICS!