Friday, 7 August 2015

The Punisher MAX Book 2: Kitchen Irish (#7-12)

 "You start a war and then whine about the way we fight it.  Typical fucking paddy" - Yorkie

The Punisher MAX was a sixty issue series written by Garth Ennis and drawn by a variety of artists, set out of the main Marvelverse continuity and aimed at adult readers, it does not hold back on the swearing, sex and extreme violence that logically would be the reality of a man like The Punisher's life, unlike his relatively neutered mainstream anti-heroic portrayal in the 616 Universe.  Here Vietnam vet Frank Castle is just another criminal, a man who lost his wife and two children in 1976 when they were caught in the crossfire of a mafia territorial battle and since then, despite approaching sixty in the mid-noughties when this is set, he keeps up his neverending Sisyphean fight against crime both organised and disorganised. In book one which I covered last month, Frank, with the help of a large machine gun wiped out a good portion of the East Coast Mafia high command.  This reverberates through the rest of the series as other gangs start trying to take advantage of the sudden power vacuum.  In this volume we learn more about New York City's Irish mobsters as a deceased man called Nesbitt head of the major Irish mob family "The Westies" pulls a massive dick move on all the Irish factions based in Hell's Kitchen.  Once again, I would remind readers that Garth Ennis is a NORTHERN Irish atheist, hence his somewhat cynical attitudes towards the US and it's Irish community's support of the IRA.  Of course the British military aren't depicted as perfect either with wetwork peformed in the US here and without the US government's knowledge, but he obviously has far greater respect for them than he does the IRA and those who sought to keep The Troubles alive after both sides stood down and sought a peaceful solution to a horrific and long running conflict.
Cuntinuity IRA more like.
The story begins with Frank having a drink in an old skool Irish pub in Hell's Kitchen, reflecting on the gentrification of the area right down to the change of name.  Suddenly a bomb goes off, turning the pub into an inferno of fire and flying glass.  Frank comes around, mostly unhurt and is greeted by the horrific sight of a woman missing her arms stumbling towards him.  He freezes but she "vomits blood and glass" and drops dead, to his relief.  He then discovers a young man with a hole in his chest but still alive.  Frank reaches in and manually keeps the man's heart pumping with his hands.

Frank: "For no reason I can pin down, it becomes very important that this guy makes it.  Maybe he has a wife and kids.  Maybe he wants to see them again like nothing on earth".

A young paramedic arrives and they get him stabilised.  Frank gets his arm injury stitched up them makes himself scarce.  Later on he returns to the scene and overhears two cops discussing the fact that it looks very much like the IRA set the bomb off.
Finn Cooley.
The action then moves to three men, Michael, Peter and an Irishman with a horrific burn scarred face Peter calls "Uncle Finn".  Finn set the bomb up, but the radio detonator got triggered too early and they missed their target.  Finn says now that it'll be them "the Rats. The Westies and that fucker MaGinty" all doing their level best to butcher each other.  Peter passionately exclaims that they need Nesbitt's money for weapons because the people back home have sold out to the "farce" of the peace process.

Back with The Punisher, he is spying on the leader of the Westies - Tommy Toner - and plans to kneecap him and take him somewhere to find out what he knows about the bomb.  Before he can do it, a van pulls up and Tommy is dragged inside.

We then see an old man in a park watching his grandson playing.  A black man with an Irish accent identifies him as "Napper French" who used to "disappear" people for The Westies. He tells Napper he is MaGinty and he wants Napper to "disappear" a man but keep him alive as long as possible.  And if he doesn't his grandson will be killed, simple as that.
We are then introduced to two members of the British military undercover in New York.  Yorkie, an older man who owes Frank from way back, and Andy a young soldier, both of them here looking into Finn Cooley.

Back with MaGinty, he has Tommy Toner tied to a bed and it's going to be Napper's job to cut bits off him to be mailed to Tommy's wife while keeping him alive as long as possible.  Napper's grandson is handcuffed to a heater, utterly terrified.  We then meet the "River Rats" a small Irish gang who rob luxury yachts like modern day pirates.
Frank meets up with Yorkie and Andy.
Frank meets with Yorkie and Andy and they tell him about Finn's background and how he got his facial wounds when a bomb he planted blew up in his face.

Yorkie: "If there was one thing garanteed to warm the heart of any British soldier, it was one of thise fucking wankers blowing himself up by accident."

Yorkie says that strictly speaking Finn isn't in the IRA anymore, but the "Continuity IRA" the fucks who rejected the Peace Process.  He's hooked up with Michael who is likely the only man at the US end of the operation sympathetic to him still.

Yorkie and Andy have been sent to deal with him, without Washington's sanction.  Yorkie believes Frank can help them as he is the local expert.  Andy is there because his father was the last British Soldier to die in Norther Ireland, shot by a sixteen year old Peter Cooley.  Realising Andy is there to avenge the death of a loved one, Frank agrees to help, "just make sure this is a one off."
Talking tactics.
Peter, Michael and Finn are drinking in another Irish bar.  Finn sneers at the Irish Americans "Narrowbacks" he calls them.  Michael says they did well enough out of the shitheels over the years funding the IRA.  Then one of the patrons recognises Finn and drunkenly toasts him and everyone loudly joins in, only to be silenced when The Punisher appears in the doorway.

Frank: "Anyone not wanting to die for Ireland better clear on out."

Behind him are Yorkie and Andy.  Andy is impressed with the effect Frank has on people.  Yorkie tells him no killing yet, Frank wants a prisoner.  Frank approaches Finn and says he wants answers.  Unfortunately the River Rats are also in the bar and armed.  Frank blows the face off one of them before she can shoot him and a full on gun battle breaks out.
In some ways Frank is a monster.
Finn takes a hostage and he and Michael manage to escape using him as a shield.  Frank clears the bar usings a grenade killing most of the River Rats.  Peter Cooley has taken two bullets to the legs and has been left behind, now Frank has a hostage.  The last few River Rats lick their wounds elsewhere.  Their leader Polly says she can rustle up new members easily.

Back at Frank's safehouse, Peter is tied up.  Yorkie reels off the murders he knows he's done and introduces Andy to him.  Peter says he "won't scream for you, ye fuckin' British bastard."  Yorkie says he'll probably scream for The Punisher.

Yorkie: "All in all boy.  I'd say you were fucked."

A messed up Finn and Michael nurse their wounds in a bar elsewhere.  Michael fills Finn in on who the Punisher is.  Finn loses hims temper and starts ranting that all his life he's been "someone's nigger".  The black gentlemen in the bar they are in however do not appreciate his language.
Peter meanwhile is refusing to co-operate.  Peter says he won't betray Finn to him even though Finn left him behind.  "Oh hard man" mocks Yorkie, but then says he knows Peter isn't.  He never got caught and has some enhanced interrogation administered to him by the R.U.C, so is he sure he doesn't want to talk?

Frank goes to remove the bullets in Peter's legs with a knife.  Andy is getting a little queasy about all this, Yorkie tells him to go outside and get some fresh air while Frank gets to work.

Tommy Toner's wife Brenda has received his hand in the post, she is somewhat unconcerned.  She mentions MaGinty is trying to spook her over Nesbitt's will.  She calls a meeting of the Westies and tells someone to throw Tommy's hand in the bin.  MaGinty meanwhile has more pieces to post, Napper still can't believe Tommy is alive after all he's done to him.
Special delivery.
Peter has folded quickly.  He tells Frank and the others it's all about ten million dollars.  To be shared by his lot, The Westies, The River Rats and MaGinty.  The bomb in the pub was a failed attempt to take out the Westies and River Rats so the money would go further.  Frank thinks there is more to be told and suggests Peter tell him, "unless you thnk you can handle some real pain."

Peter tells them everything about Old Man Nesbitt.  He was apparently a horrible man to whom everyone was a cunt.  He led the Westies and used to run Hell's Kitchen back in the day.  "Uncle Finn" ran guns for him, he was related to the two kids who started The River Rats and even MaGinty hung around him, we later find he was Nesbitt's "pet" who he called "Paddy the fuckin' monkey".

Anyway, after he died his will said his money which was ten million dollars, was to be split four ways between Finn, The Westies, The River Rats and MaGinty.  Each one was given part of a code and if they all co-operated and put their parts of the code together they'd have the location of the cash revealed to them.  His letter said he wanted them to take the cash and fuck off and stop tearing the old neighbourhood apart.

Tommy Toner has invited everyone to a sit down in the pub that got bombed.  Finn had decided ten million could go along way if he didn't have to share it.  The plan was to kill the others and get the full code out of the lawyer who executed the will.  After this confession from Peter, Frank doesn't like it. "Once a bastard, always a bastard.  So what was he really thinking?"

Brenda and the Westies have been mailed more pieces of Tommy.  Brenda declares Tommy dead and herself the new leader of the gang, and she isn't afraid of MaGinty either.  Frank decides to lure the Westies to a safe place for a firefight.  He calls them pretending it's MaGinty and that they'll trade Tommy for Brenda's part of the code and to meet on "Pier eighty-six" a ship called The Intrepid.

Michael and Finn are lurking outside the Westies club and when they leave they follow by car.  Polly and the River Rats have heard about the meeting and set off for the pier as well.  Back with Napper, he despairingly asks Tommy, "why won't you just fuckin' die?"  Then MaGinty brings Napper's grandson into the room and he screams in terror at the sight of his blood covered grandad and the half dead Tommy.  MaGinty laughs at Napper's distress then says he needs one last bit of Tommy.
Brenda, new leader of the Westies.
On the Intrepid, Frank lays into the Westies with an assault rifle while Yorkie and Andy fire at a distance.  While Frank concentrates on The Westies, he doesn't notice MaGinty has climbed up behind him. The police start to arrive and Yorkie yells to Frank that he and Andy can't be caught here.  At the last minute Frank clocks MaGinty and shoots at him.  MaGinty manages to avoid being hit and runs off, tossing Tommy Toner's head onto the deck as he goes. 

The head is spotted by Brenda as she and the few remaining Westies make their escape.  The River Rats, Finn and Michael and MaGinty also all make strategic withdrawels.  MaGinty arrives back at his flat alone and is knocked out by Napper who ties him to the bed and gags him telling him he'll get to see the master in action now.
The Punisher gets to work on The Westies.
Back at The Punisher's safehouse they discuss the fact all the factions are out of cannon fodder now and might get desperate to actually co-operate.  Yorkie goes and gives a tearful Peter a sandwich, Peter wails that it's like torture not knowing when he's going to be killed.  At the Westies club, Brenda is getting some buckshot pulled out of her arse, when Finn shows up and lays out the case for co-operation now they seem to be out of options.

Peter and Yorkie then have a long chat about the Northern Irish situation.  Yorkie tells Peter that no way was Finn going to spend the ten million on guns for the Continuity IRA, more like plastic surgery and other luxuries.  He says he's not like Peter, not the one with the all consuming cause.  Peter says the army fought them for thirty years, was that not a cause?

Yorkie: "A job, you dickhead.  I'm a British soldier, I'll fight any cunt who tries it on."

Yorkie says the IRA never seemed to understand that.  That the other side "might not give a fuck."  He says they never invaded his country, never turned it into a fight for survival.  Peter responds by saying they hit the mainland loads of times.  But Yorkie says "you never hit my house."  They never turned it into a fight for survival in a way that counted.
Peter and Yorkie talk politics.
He says it was a game since it all kicked off in '69.  The army couldn't sweep in and kill the lot of them, the IRA had to limit their atrocities to avoid freaking out the yanks backing them, Omagh and Enniskillen being own goals in that way.  The army kept a lid on them and that's all they had to do.  Peter angrily says they sent many soldiers back home in boxes, Yorkie says the IRA were good target practice.  And now there is a Peace Process that Peter wants to ignore:

Yorkie: "Is never giving in, never compromising.  Is that really so great?  When many parts of your country have been turned into hell? While three thousand have died for sweet fuck all?"

Yorkie then tells Peter to make his peace with God as when he has killed Finn Cooley, "young Andy out there's going to shoot you in the head."  As Frank cleans and prepares his guns, Andy and Yorkie chat.  Andy says he feels like he's up to his eyeballs in blood, well "welcome to Ireland" responds Yorkie laconically.
The Troubles keep on troubling.
Napper starts working on the restrained MaGinty and starts with his fingers.  But before he can do much more, a couple of MaGinty's boys arrive and blast him in the face with a shotgun.  They free MaGinty, who comes to a decision.  He goes to the club where Brenda and Finn are, ready to work with them.  The River Rats also turn up ready to play nice.

Everyone takes out their part of the code.  It forms a grid reference which points to the money being stashed on an old abandoned boat owned by Nesbitt.  They all leave together and Frank, Yorkie and Andy follow them.  Frank is still suspicious of Nesbitt's motives. 

The Kitchen Irish all board the boat and start looking for the money.  Yorkie and Frank also board and start to fight, Frank tosses a stun grenade but Finn recovers from it too fast and throws a grenade at Frank who gets caught in the explosion.  Finn starts beating a stunned Frank with his fists, but Frank retaliates by biting Finn's face, who then runs off.
And Nesbitt gets the last laugh.
Yorkie drags the still mostly incapacitated Frank out of the hold and back onto the deck.  Then Polly of the River Rats, Brenda, MaGinty and Finn all converge on Nesbitt's stash.  They open it and it contains no cash, just a huge bomb with the word "CUNTS" written on it.  It instantly arms and blows up everyone on the boat bar Frank and Yorkie who escape with Andy in a raft.

The next day Andy walks Peter to a quiet spot and executes him.  Frank takes his leave of them, and Andy says to Yorkie that he feels no different.  His dad is still dead and he feels no different.

Yorkie: "Look at old Frank there.  He's been doing this for thirty years.  D'you think he feels any different?"
Cue sad theme music and... we're out.
And that concludes the book.  Kitchen Irish is a good book with lots of colourful and interesting characters.  Yorkie is especially good, a likeable career soldier who seems in places to be a mouthpiece for Garth Ennis's views on The Troubles.  The fact that several pages is taken up with characters from both sides simply sitting down and having an argument makes the book have a polemical feel in places.  And Ennis seems very much on the side of the British soldier in this case.  Yorkie will show up again in a later book as he is too good a character not to be reused.  It also makes a comment on the essential hollowness of revenge, with Andy recieving no satisfaction from his vengeance, the same way Frank seems to take no pleasure in doing what he feels needs to be done to avenge his own gaping loss.  The artwork is suitably moody and has dingy colour palette well suited to the story where there is no black and white.  Just awful people doing awful things to each other.  Still a good read though, but not for the easily depressed.


  1. "If there was one thing garanteed to warm the heart of any British soldier, it was one of thise fucking wankers blowing himself up by accident." In other words, "'tis the sport to have the engineer / Hoist with his own petard."

    Those two panels in the bar with the idiot and the black men are hilarious :-D

  2. Indeed, more IRA scumbags needed to be hoist in such a fashion. I was in Manchester the day after the bomb in '96. Seeing the city of my birth defiled like that, I never knew I could hate so much. Still I'm glad the Peace Process went ahead, sometimes you have to give ground to those you hate for a higher purpose. Bleh.

    They manage to wriggle out of a beating in the bar because Finn's face is so messed up by that point it freaks the black guys out long enough for them to make their escape. It's a good moment of black comedy though, Ennis's run on this comic is very dark so it's nice to have the odd funny moment now and then.

  3. the IRA were a bunch of fucking fucks, glad this book didn't take their side. i wish these punisher books were in print, i'd like to read them but some are so expensive :(

  4. Yes it's ridiculous how expensive half the series is on Amazon and eBay. I managed to find two of the pricey ones in Forbidden Planet, but books 5 and 6 I have had to pass on for now unless I get lucky and/or much richer.