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.|
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.
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.
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.|
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."
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.|
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.
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.
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.
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.|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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.|