I read the first trade of the Garth Ennis Punisher MAX series yesterday, and while I'm not gonna say that the book was bad or that I didn't like it, I will say that the book was deeply anti-social.
A lot of comic writers envision the Punisher as a kind of Chaotic Good character; he becomes a guy who is a mean-ass vigilante, yes, but a mean-ass vigilante who is ultimately trying to bring justice to the world. That is the take on the character that we saw in the first Punisher movie, and I think that’s the take that we generally see in most all-ages comics. Punisher loses his family and goes on a rampage, but he also at least attempts to connect with an informal community of weirdos in whatever storybook universe he’s involved in. He's a mean and violent guy but not a complete bastard. He's still human.
That is not the Punisher that Ennis has going in the MAX series. Instead, Ennis gets back to the character’s roots. Punisher started as a villain for Spider-Man and Daredevil, an out-of-control vigilante to contrast with their differently styled and motivated heroics. In the MAX series, Ennis is basically writing the Punisher as a serial killer, a guy who was broken all the way back in Vietnam and who's now using the excuse of his family's deaths to do what he really wants to do anyway—kill people who have it coming.
This Punisher is evil. The story opens with our protagonist attacking a mafia birthday party with an M-60 machine gun, and honestly, it goes downhill from there.
Like I said, I'm not gonna say that the book was bad because the truth is that in a lot of ways it was well-crafted and entertaining. It reminded me of some of the weirder parts of Sin City, the parts where Marv is cutting off dudes' arms and legs and feeding them to dogs and such. That said, this is a book that lives and dies by anti-social lone-gunman killing, and I wouldn't want it to go into the hands of the mentally unstable. But that's a kind of thing that I think recent history has proven to be tough to control.
I mean, yeah, all these MAX series are clearly labeled as adult books with “Explicit Content” and all that, but I'm not sure what that proves. I remember reading The Dark Knight returns at the age of ten or eleven and reading the first Sin City books as a very young teen shortly thereafter. And it's not like my folks were hands-off parents or anything; they just didn't know the first thing about comics and didn't care to learn. But there're a lot of really ultra-violent comics out there, especially stuff like Sin City, and I don't think it's doing good things to the young, angry, and impressionable. Unfortunately, that description potentially covers a lot of young male comic fans.
Which is not to say that I want to ban Marvel MAX books or that I particularly think that you personally shouldn't read this one. I read it, and I'm probably going to read the rest of the series, especially since they have the complete collection of trades at the local library. My issue is more that the trades are in the Young Adult section of the library, that these days it seems like there is a school shooting literally every week in this country, and that this is the kind of thing that influences people looking for an excuse to do seriously anti-social shit. And the fucking reality is that a lot of parents—even basically good parents—don't have the first clue what their kids are doing, reading, or getting into.
What is there to say about that? Reality is that angry kids are gonna find influences. They're gonna get inspired, maybe even to violence. I'd like to say that there was some way to deal with it socially, but I don't think there is, I think it's up to parents, and lots of parents are just too busy to be bothered.
If you liked the Avengers movie, and you're looking for an Avengers book to read, the one you want is the Jonathan Hickman/Jerome Opeña book, titled simply Avengers. I mention it because there are lots (and lots!) of Avengers books on the stands, and finding one that doesn't suck and is both relatively accessible and worth your time can be something of a challenge. Hickman's Avengers is that book.
Which is weird because it's the Avengers book that gets no hype. At all.
I honestly don't understand how the Big Two do their marketing sometimes. I used to go to church with Jim Krueger (Earth X, Paradise X, Universe X), and I remember when he was working on Justice with Alex Ross. Ross is one of the biggest, most influential artists in the industry, a lot of his books are literally legendary, and Krueger was coming off a very successful, long-running event in the Earth X trilogy, but Justice just got buried by DC Comics. As I remember it, the book came out around the same time as the weekly “52” stunt and some of the Final/Infinite Crisis books and at about the same time as All-Star Batman and Robin. And while I think a lot of folks liked 52, pretty much everyone agrees that All-Star Batman and Robin was a train wreck, and the Crisis books were at best a mixed bag. If they sold fairly well, it's also true that they were one event too far for legions of otherwise loyal DC Comics fans, and they made what were, I think, ultimately destabilizing and untenable changes to the DCU. Which is how DC came to the point of having to re-launch its entire universe. Meanwhile, here's Justice, a book that could have been an Event all by itself—with art by Alex freakin' Ross, no less—but instead of hyping the thing to the moon, DC instead let it pass through the marketplace with barely a ripple.
That's kind of how I see Hickman's Avengers book, too. Terrific story, really great, game-changing art; totally buried under the cover of Age of Ultron. Which, by the way, looks like total crap. Not that I've read it, but still... I was seriously annoyed this month when Dan Slott's super long-running Superior Spider-Man story was interrupted for a useless Age of Ultron one shot tie-in, and that's as much interest as I have in that shit.
Anyway, my advice to those who care is to ignore the Events but jump on board the long-running monthly titles that tell good stories. Hickman’s Avengers does that, and it only just started, and the art is literally the best art that Marvel’s had in a book in recent memory. Why they’re not hyping it more, I can’t understand, but don’t let that stop you from checking it out.