Sunday, 13 March 2016

Punisher MAX Book 8: Widowmaker (#43-49)

"Cunts" - Jenny

With the end of the sixty issue run in sight, Ennis starts to take a long, hard look at just what choosing a life like The Punisher's can cost a person.  In this book he explores it via a surrogate, preparing the way for his delve into Frank's psyche proper in book nine.  Although there are still loose ends left over from the deaths of those involved in the Russian operation from book seven, this book returns to the mafia plotline begun in book one where Frank killed forty-two mafiosa and gutted their east coast operations.  This book looks at those left behind - the mafia widows plus the widow of the black gangster John James Toomey who Frank killed in the previous book.  They are going to attempt something their men never managed, which is to kill The Punisher.  However there is a wildcard in play in this book.  Someone with every reason to hate those women and who has been inspired by The Punisher to take revenge herself.  This is more her story than Frank's but by exploring via proxy we see just how much Frank had to sacrifice in his lifelong pursuit of revenge upon organised and disorganised crime.  Once again this is very dark and violent stuff and contains significant brutality inflicted upon women in case that triggers you or something.  Also there is a female-on-male rape sequence that is deeply uncomfortable (but it's meant to feel that way as the messed up main character's story reaches its emotional apotheosis).  The art is by Lan Medina and while it fits the styles so far, is somewhat indifferent and rough.  Luckily the writing is powerful enough for this not to really matter.

The story begins with Frank walking away from a criminal he has just shot and killed.  He contemplates all the horrific things he could have done to him like he did to the bad guys in Book 6 "The Slavers" (which I haven't covered as it's out of print and costs a mint).  He got information from the man about a kiddie porn ring and he is off to do something about it.
One way to pay your taxi fare.
We then shift to four women in a fancy house, the new arrival is blowing the taxi driver instead of paying the fare.  The older woman is called Annabella, she introduces the newly arrived Barbi to Bonnie, Lorraine and Shauna.  They sit and Annabelle says they are all widows, their men killed by The Punisher.

Annabella: "So what about us?  What about what happened to our families?  Is no one gonna be made to answer for that?"

Barbi interrupts saying "why is this person here?" pointing at Shuana.  She says this is family business.  Elsewhere in a bar, an attractive, short haired woman picks up a man by saying frankly, "do you want to fuck me?  Then let's go."

Back at Annabella's place, Barbi is still protesting the inclusion of Shauna, who threatens her with a razor blade.  Shauna is the widow of John James Toomey and has known and done work for Annabelle for a long time.  Annabella says they are going to study everything about The Punisher:

Annabella: "An' whenever we're through we're gonna do something a thousand men already failed at:  We're going to kill The Punisher."

The short haired woman is having sex with the man she picked up.  He reaches for her breasts (she still has her bra on) and she tells him not to touch her.  Then she punches him in the face and rains down blows upon him saying "I can't feel it.. you asshole.  I can't fucking feel it."  And she leaves him bloody and beaten in the bed.
Not sexy.
The five women recount how their men were killed.  Toomey was shot in a basement in the previous book.  Lorraines husband took a shotgun blast to the face.  Barbi's was caught up in the Nicky Cavella mess recounted in Book four and Bonnie's husband was burned up with a flamethrower.

Annabella says she had it the worst.  She lost her grandfather, father, husband and two sons in the massacre The Punisher unleashed on the mafia party at the start of book one.  She says they need to find a way to fight him.  We then return to the shorthaired woman who has photos of the five women taped to a mirror.  As she blankly regards her reflection we see she's had a double mastectomy.
Jenny and her hitlist.
Frank arrives at the home of the married couple who film the kiddie porn with their own kids.  He walks them down into the basement and kills them, then goes upstairs and regards the children.  He thinks the girl might make it.

Frank: "The boys looked like the damage was done.  I had a sinking feeling I'd be seeing them again in twenty years".

And if that doesn't sum up the sad bleakness of Frank's world I don't what will.  He waits for the police to arrive and slips out the back door.

We are then introduced to a new character, a cop called Paul Budiansky who is seeing a psychologist after killing a teenager engaged in a school shooting incident.  When she asks how he feels having shot a child he says when the kid pulled the trigger "he grew up goddamn fast".
Paul Budiansky.
The widows are sifting through all the information they have on The Punisher.  Annabella discovers Barbi can't read and calls her a liability.  But Barbi doesn't want to be shut out of their vengeance.  Shauna then says she can do something, there is a man she can sleep with to get them guns.  Barbi leaves and starts to express gratitude, Shauna smiles and says "Don't mean shit bitch."

Back with Paul and the psychologist says by not waiting for the tactical unit he put himself about "regular authority".  Paul turns the conversation around saying he speaks pretty fluent "passive-aggression". She wants to know what he thinks he'll achieve with that attitude.

He says he is here because his captain is pissed he didn't follow orders, he blocked his commendation, forbade him from talking to the press and then fucked him over by sending him for "mandatory trauma therapy".  He says she is gathering stories for her next "shitty psychology book" and he departs saying:

Paul: "Because for all your bullshit.  You're just another racist bitch."

The short haired woman is sitting outside a cafe, a man comes up to her saying he recognises her as "Jenny Cesare".  She says she isn't that person and because he seems like a nice guy he shouldn't be within a thousand miles of her.
Jenny out stalking her prey.
Paul Budiansky is at home soaking in the bath while his wife chats with him.  She is pissed at the treatment he's been subjected to.  He comments that a child porn ring was bought down the previous night, most likely by The Punisher.  He wonders how far away he is from him.  His wife assures he he is not even close.

The widows are out for a meal together, they believe they have found a way to defeat The Punisher.  Because of how violent he was towards the human traffickers in Book six, they realise he seems to have a weakness for avenging exploited women.  So if one of them poses as an unwilling sex worker they can lure him into a trap.  They all look at Bonnie to be the damsel in distress.
Jenny eavesdrops on the plan.
A convoy of mafia travels through some woods, suddenly some of the cars blow up, then the whole convoy goes up in flames and The Punisher comes striding out of the trees to mop up.  There is a flashback to the widows trying to figure out a target The Punisher will want to hit and how to get their damsel in distress in it without getting her killed.

Lorraine says she's had no luck finding things out.  Now their men are dead they've been frozen out of the workings of what's left of the mafia.  Barbi offers to fuck a man called "Tony Pizzo" and find out what he knows.

Back in the present, Frank finishes off what mafia escaped the explosions with masses of bullets.  A flashback again, to Barbi in bed with Tony. She flatters and sweet talks him and finally he tells her how much The Punisher's war is hurting them, but he and some men he can trust are going to go pick up a man called "Pat Migliorato" to help them out.

In the present, Pat is sufffering a severe case of glass embedded in his face and The Punisher puts him down.  Then he discovers Bonnie in one of the car trunks and she begs him not to kill her.  In the past, Barbi comes out to where the convoy is starting out and performs oral sex on Tony to distract him while the other widows hide Bonnie in the car trunk despite her uncertain protests.
The bait is proffered.
Bonnie once discovered, plays her part.  She tells Frank the men tossed her in the back like luggage and she works out of a house where there are more women like her forced into prostitution.  Frank asks where it is, she says she'll show him, she doesn't want to be left with all the corpses.  He leads her away and her nervousness is showing:

Frank: "Calm down.  Nobody dies that doesn't deserve to."

They drive to the house in question, he asked why it is unguarded and she says they are all paid up with the cops.  Inside are the rest of the widows, "holy shit, she actually pulled it off" one says.  And they get ready for him, tooled up with rifles and shotguns.

Frank starts to suspect this is a trap and he is about to leave when Shauna fires on him and hits him in the shoulder.  Before they can shoot him some more, Bonnie starts kicking him, blocking their shots.  Then the short haired woman appears and guts Bonnie with a knife and opens fire back on the other women with Frank's assault rifle.
Jenny defends Frank.
They duck and cover and she gets Frank up and helps him leave the scene, then the cops arrive.  The widows are interviewed by Paul Budiansky.  They concoct a story that Anabella was out checking a property that belong to Shauna's husband and the others were along to see if they wanted in on buying it.  When asked about the shooting, they blame gang bangers.  Shauna says, "Jus' the hood is all.  We go now?"

Paul and another cop check over the house and are curious as to why there are dropped weapons inside it. They also check over Bonnie's dead body and that she was killed by a knife wound.  The short haired woman helps Frank back to her place and he asks who she is, "your number one fan" she replies.
Jenny tends Franks wound.
Back at the house, Paul's captain has let all the women go, believing them to have nothing to do with the violence.  This annoys Paul who says they'll all be getting their story straight.  When his superior scoffs at the women having anything to do with the gun battle, Paul lists off just who their dead husbands are and this revelation embarrasses his captain.

The widows are back at Annabella's place removing and get rid of their clothes as a forensic counter measure.  Annabella says she knows who it was that killed Bonnie, it was her younger sister Jenny.  Who she asked Shauna to kill ten years ago.  Shauna insists she is dead.  Barbi asks if maybe Annabella has made a mistake.

Annabella: "I know what my own sister looks like!  I know it was her!  I know what we did to her.  I remember every last fucking thing!"
Annabella realises they are in big trouble.
They have her out there, the Punisher still alive and a cop who is going to "connect the dots".  So they need to get it together and make a new plan.  Back at Jenny's place, she tosses the photo of Bonnie in the bin.  Frank asks why she is helping him.  She kisses him and says:

Jenny: "You're the man who killed my husband."

We then are told the sad story of Jenny's marriage to a mafiosa called Tim.  After a fairytale courtship and wedding from the honeymoon onwards he started regularly beating and raping her.  After a year of that it wasn't enough and he began bringing home men and forcing her to have sex with them before kicking her around again.  She believed there was a hole deep inside him he tried to fill with evil, "but it was never enough".

Then one day, someone came along and gave Tim exactly what he needed, and we see Frank blowing his brains out.  "You did a wonderful thing that day" says Jenny to Frank.  He asks her that if her husband is dead, who is she still after?  She says it was the women she really blames.
Frank killing Tim.
We then cut to the women in question arguing if it was Jenny or not and if they managed to kill The Punisher.  Shauna is about to walk out when Barbi pleads with her to stay and figure things out with them.  Shauna finally admits she didn't actually deal with Jenny herself, she got two of Toomey's men to do it.  One of them is still alive so Annabella tells her to go and talk to him.

Paul Budiansky is back at home, he's got confirmation the dead woman was Bonnie, another mafia widow.  He's been left to work the case alone and his wife tells him to be careful.  Back with Jenny she says she chose to ignore where all the money was coming from, like all the mafia wives and girlfriends do.

Most of the men were bad boys.  Tim was different, his first wife had died in a car accident (actually she committed suicide) so there was a "kind of sadness about him".  The other women sold him to her as "the kind of man you could make a home with."

Jenny: "They made quite a team.  Bonnie with her huge wide innocent eyes.  Barbi being just outrageous. Lorraine never lost for a line.  And my big sister Anabella.  They told me everything I wanted to hear.  They sold me."

Jenny enjoying the mafia life.
Tim was a mafia superstar and needed a wife, the fact he wasn't right in the head was ignored. "The beast was fed its meat.  And those four bitches were my bridesmaids."  When the abuse started, Anabella was the worst, always stressing the value of family.  The four of them were there after every beating, rationalising it and taking her shopping.

Then one day she found out she had breast cancer, she felt like Tim's evil had infected her.  In great distress she went to Annabella's, who had Shauna round there at the same time.  Jenny freaked out saying she was dying and that she was going to tell the F.B.I everything she knew.  And Shauna brained her with a jug.

As she lay on the floor she heard Annabella and Shauna arguing about what to do with her.  Before she passed out she heard Shauna say she'd deal with it.  We then return to the present.  Shauna has found one of the men she ordered to kill Jenny.  Seems they crashed the car she was in and tired, the man threw Jenny off a railway bridge.  Jenny miraculously survived the fall onto a train and woke up some way away.
The night she "died".
She found people to teach her weapons handling because she was going to come back and get revenge even if she had to go through the whole Cesare family.  But when she returned, they were all dead courtesy of the Punisher and the women were widows now.  She admits to Frank that she likes to pick up men and see if she can feel anything when she has sex with them, but all they do is remind her of Tim.  Some things you can never recover from can you she says?  Frank agrees.

Paul Budiansky interviews the not so merry widows.  He is somewhat suspicious of the fact they claim not to know Bonnie nor that they have a very convincing reason for being at the house in the Bronx either.  He says he knows The Punisher is suspected of killing all their men and that one of the weapons found at the scene of the crime was most likely his.  He asks if they were taking a shot at The Punisher?  Annabella says that's ridiculous and tells him to leave.  He says he's going to ask around and when he confirms they knew Bonnie he's going to come back and arrest them.

Jenny is getting ready to take out the rest of the women.  She says the last man who looked at her ravaged body threw up but Frank didn't even blink. "I've seen scars before" he says. She says the stuff that happened with her husband and with his wife and kids has made them the same.  Then she admits the cancer is still inside her.
Paul and his wife are attacked.
Shauna returns to the others and they tell her about the interview with Paul.  Shauna says it's only a matter of time before he gets proof of his suspicions and she isn't going to jail.  She makes a call.  Paul is sitting with his wife Gina outside the hospital she works in sharing a coffee and chatting.  Then a man comes up and opens fire on them, he hits Gina several times and Paul, unharmed, unloads a full clip into him.  The paramedics come rushing out to help her.

The police captain arrives later, worried about the racial implications of the killing.  It's pointed out to him that Paul was defending his wife.  Paul is told by a doctor that though she was badly wounded, she'll survive and she was lucky in a way to be outside a hospital when it happened.  One of the senior cops shares a hip flask of booze with Paul and says they need details of all his open cases and who might be bearing a grudge.

The shooting is covered on TV and the watching Annabella goes absolutely berserk at Shauna for pulling such a stunt.  Barbi breaks up the fight and when things calm down Annabella says they'll have to leave the country.  Barbi says that Jenny is still out there, and "I don't think she's got our best interests at heart".  So what are they really going to do?
Jenny suits up.
Paul is phoned up and told the gang banger had links to Toomey.  He darkly reaches for his spare gun and leaves his home.  Jenny tells Frank she is going to "finish it" now but she wants to borrow his skull shirt to do it in.  She leaves saying could he wait as she has one last thing she wants to show him.  He agrees to stay until she comes back.

While he waits he watches a TV report about the shooting of Paul's wife and his retaliation.  He thinks that he doesn't have much choice about staying he's still too weak to make it out the door.

Frank: "The last battle would be hers alone.  All I could do was close my eyes... and imagine a world of hurt."

And he nods off.  In the end, the remaining women are easily dealt with.  Jenny guns down Shauna, Lorraine and Barbi, but has something special planned for her big sister.
Jenny's revenge.
Paul Budiansky arrives on the scene and discovers the three murdered women.  Then back with The Punisher, he wakes up and finds he's been cuffed to the bed.  Annabella is also there, tied to a chair. "I'll... I'll scream" she stutters.  Jenny looms out of the darkness armed with a baseball bat, "Yes you will" she says coldly.

She tells Frank she cuffed him in case he tried to stop her from doing what she has planned.  When he starts to say he wouldn't, Annabella hysterically asks what she is doing with the man who killed so many of their men and all the widows and orphans he left.

Jenny: "You're a believer to the end aren't you?"

Annabella: "I believe in family, Jenny.  Not getting in bed with the fuckin' devil!"

Jenny says it's a strange family that puts its members at risk by being criminals and leaves its orphans to grow up monsters when growing up with a daddy gives you a Tim.

Annabella says she was given no choice, Tim needed to be kept happy so their grandfather ordered Jenny be married to him.  Jenny says of course she has a choice, but:

Jenny: "You stay.  And you bitch about it.  And you enjoy the money."

But tonight she is going to show her where the money comes from and brutally beats her sisters face to a pulp until she is quite dead. 
Jenny punishes Annabella terminally.
Exhausted emotionally, Jenny says she knows now why Frank wears the skull shirt, the look in their eyes "when they saw what it was had come to get them".  She takes the sheet off his naked bottom half and climbs on top and basically starts to rape him saying she just wants... something.

And finally, she feels.

Jenny: "Aaaaahh!  It's too much... all the sadness, all the death, it's too much for anyone to carry with them.  Anyone but you."

And she takes his pistol and shoots herself in the head, slumping forward onto his chest, finally at peace.  Later Frank manages to find the gun and shoots off the cuff, cleans and covers Jenny then gets dressed and leaves.
Her revenge complete, Jenny has nothing left.
Outside he finds Paul Budiansky waiting, pointing a gun at him.  Paul demands to know if Annabella is in there.  Frank just walks into point blank range and says to him, "you want to be me?"  We then cut to Paul by his wife's bedside saying she was right, he is nothing like The Punisher.

Frank watches the body of Jenny being taken away, she's given him food for thought about how only he can deal with what he does.  And he flashes briefly back to another woman who died and all he could do was be there, O'Brien in the previous volume.

Frank: "Goodbye, I thought.  You strange, sad creature.  If I could I'd kill every single one of them. I'd wipe them out.  And you'd never have had to exist at all."
A haunted Frank leaves.
And that brings this book to a close.  Powerful stuff, I'm not ashamed to admit when Jenny killed herself I got very moist around the eyes.  Even if she is basically committing rape as she does so.  I know Frank wouldn't think of it that way, but if the genders were reversed and a man (or another woman) forced himself on a naked, cuffed and wounded woman it would be obvious what was happening so I have tried not to fall prey to the double-standard.  The concept of the widows coming up with a plan to take down The Punisher is an interesting one, and they come pretty close to pulling it off.  The utter hypocrisy of the mafia's idea of what makes a good family,(women sacrificed to keep psychopaths happy and their own women acting in collusion because the benefits of the life outweigh the negative ones) is exposed as just as repellent as all other aspects of organised crime.  Jenny, poor damaged Jenny as a sacrificial lamb cum avenging angel is a very compelling character, her suicide death once her mission was complete leaves one wondering if the same might hold true for Frank, except of course his mission will never end as his fears when checking out the kids in the kiddie porn ring are that he'll one day be dealing with them as criminals because he plans to be doing this the rest of his life.  This book wraps up the mafia plotline, all that is left now are the plot threads relating to the Russian mission in book three, join me in a couple of months for my look at that one.


  1. whoa. just when I think garth ennis cant go any darker, he does so. I may have to check out these on kindle despite how much they cost!

  2. They do seem pricey on kindle, they cost more than I paid for them in the shop. Well worth it though.

  3. It depends whether or not you want the paper copy, of course. Some may find this stuff too dark to exist in a physical copy ;-)

    I'm lucky enough not to be triggered by scenes of violence depicted on women, but I appreciate that not everybody is so fortunate.

    Re those women and their plan: it reminds me of what Mrs Thatcher is alleged to have said. "If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman."

    I must say, that panel with Jenny looking in the mirror is excellent. Very well drawn, realistic and not at all exploitative.

    If everybody thought like Frank, children wouldn't get the care they deserve :-(

    No way to treat your sister, is it? Bad Annabella.

  4. Paper all the way for me, I can't read a Kindle in the bath :p

    Heh, much as I hate to say it that's a pretty good quote and the women do come pretty close to pulling it off, they just didn't factor in Jenny.

    The artwork is a little careless in places for me, but I agree that is a good depiction.

    Frank's had a lifetime of seeing the worst humanity can stoop to, I guess it's made him pretty cynical.

    Annabella's betrayal of her sister, getting her married to a psycho and then sanctioning her murder is just appalling. I can see why Jenny wanted to take her time with her, even though I would never condone what she did either.

  5. I'd never do what Jenny did either, yeah. Not to my worst enemy. (If I had any enemies.)

    It is a good quote. I have a sneaking admiration for the way in which Margaret Thatcher worked at least twice as hard as all the men around her and made sure that they knew it. I think that she changed the way we see women in this country.

  6. Ugh, it may be our age difference and having a very socialist mum but having lived through all the awful shit the Tories did under her in the 80's I just can't warm to her, ever. Most women who were feminists actually spent their time denying she was a woman. I believe Power is inherently genderless it's just always been associated with men because they traditionally wielded it. So she was a woman, just not a very nice one.

  7. I agree. She did lots of horrible stuff that I was lucky enough to be born after, but to say that she isn't a woman is just silly. Like, what part of feminism says that all women are saints?

  8. Feminism was in a bit of a weird, transitional place in the 80's, obviously I was only a kid/young teen, I didn't declare myself a feminist until the 90's when I found fellow feminists who celebrated equality and diversity and weren't fighting the same old gender wars from the 60's.

  9. What gets me is feminists being horrifically transphobic, openly, in public :-(

  10. Yeah the TERFs are fortunately a tiny minority, and there has been transphobia in feminist and lesbian/gay circles as well at least since I started getting involved in activism. At least the internet has given trans folk the ability to unite and defend themselves. Which is good.

  11. Yes, it is. I just wish that the TERFs weren't the ones making the most noise and getting the most column inches.

  12. Unfortunately the mainstream media likes to pick up and run with the worst aspects of feminism to demonise and smear the wider movement. That's been a thing ever since feminism started. But trans folk I think are in a place where lesbian and gays were about ten-twenty years ago, and acceptance will come in time and I think it's older feminists who make up the TERFs so hopefully they'll die off leaving the only inclusive feminist behind. I hope anyway.

  13. "and basically starts to rape him"

    Yeah, because rape is something that one asks to do and both people take part in... good god, you are one pathetic little cunt... Thunderfoor is right, feminism poisons everything...

  14. *waves* Hi there brave Anon, I was under the impression one of the things you MRA's boo and hoo about is that female on male violence isn't taken seriously by feminists. But thank you for your opinion which, as you mentioned Thunderfoot I know is totally worthless, cheerio!