Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Punisher MAX Book 5: The Slavers (#25-30)

"Should have been simple.  But nothing ever is" - Frank Castle

So although I ostensibly finished the sixty issue run of Garth Ennis's acclaimed on The Punisher for the mature readers imprint Marvel Max, with Book Ten in May, I had to skip past Books Five and Six due to the fact the whole series was out of print at the time and both cost an absolute fortune.  Now with the omnibus reissues of the series coming out, Book Five: The Slavers fell from around £60 to less than a fiver.  I hope Book Six: Barracuda will do the same when collection three comes out.  Anyway, before I continue as the name implies, this book deals with people trafficking and the modern exploitation of young women from Eastern Europe a sex slaves in the west.  It is an incredibly Angry book, definitely the most passionate on a subject I have ever read Ennis get and deals with it in unflinching and horrifying detail.  There is ALOT of very graphic violence including a sequence where Frank beats to death one of the female members of the trafficking ring that is hard to look at no matter how much her evil behaviour invited such a response.  There is also talked about but not depicted gang rape so if you're easily triggered by such things, don't read on.  This story is set not long after the events of Book Four wrapped up, but narrated from around a year in the future, mainly so we can get a "what happened next" wrap up at the end. Art is by Leandro Fernandez.
Introducing Viorica.
Frank: "It began a year ago in the rain.  On a pitch black night in Brooklyn.  By the time it had all finished I knew the rain would fall forever".
He was staking out a gangster called Antony Pavla, who sold coke and smack, "nothing special".  Then they are shot at by a tearful looking woman who runs into a blind alley.  Frank decides to go after her, but not before shooting Pavla.

We are then introduced to two beat cops Russ Parker - a black, gay man - and Marcie Miller his female partner.  She is apologising to him for the fact he walked in on her laughing at a racist and homophobic joke  She says she'll make it up to him when he comments how he defended her for being called a "breeder" by one of his acquaintences. They get a report of shots fired and go to check it out.
Cops Russ and Marcie.
Frank is look down on the four men surrounding the woman.  They are going to sexually assault her, Frank can't shoot down in case he hits her so decides to deal with them in person.  He kills them all quickly and starts to turn away from the woman when she says "help me!".  He says the cops will be here soon.  She says they'll send her back she is from Moldova.  "Too bad" says Frank.  Then in tears she says "these men.  Kill my baby.  They murder my baby!"  This gets his attention.  He asks how many men? She says "many".

Russ and Marcie appear and tell Frank to "Freeze!"  He turns and they nearly shit themselves when they realise who he is.  He easily disarms the more gung-ho Russ, while Marcie yells to let him go.  He takes her gun too and locks them in the trunk of their car. Then he takes the woman and leaves.
Vera and Cristu.
We then meet two of the villains of this book, Cristu and Vera.  They don't want Cristu's father "The Old Man" learning of this attack by The Punisher, because he'll want to go after him himself.  His sound and fury might be the end of them all.  They decide it is time to call "the little shit".  Who turns out to be detective Westin of the NYPD. They tell him to deal with The Punisher, to which he reluctauntly agrees.

The woman had passed out a few blocks from where he found her, he later found out she had been awake for days.  Frank takes her to one of his lock-ups and puts her to bed.  She cries and screams in her sleep and Frank thinks:

Frank: "She'd been a long way in the dark.  That much was obvious.  Been damaged in ways that ran too deep to be forgotten".

Meanwhile Westin approaches Captain Price with his plan.  Because The Punisher "attacked" two cops they should make it a priority to capture him now. The Captain is unsure, The Punisher has a lot of supporters both on and off the force.  Westin says it would still be a feather in the cap of the man responsible for his capture.  You'd have to be promoted.
Corrupt cop Westin and Captain Price.
Won over, they decide to holds a press conference with Marcie and Russ to announce they are cracking down on The Punisher.  Westin says, "the motherfucker bugs me.. we are cops and what's right it right."

At Frank's lock-up, the woman, Viorica is her name, tells Frank her whole story.

Frank: "About the day she left her village.  About the Old Man.  About Cristu and Vera.  About the things her father said.  About her baby.  When she was done I knew a lot of men would have to die."
Bad things are going to happen to bad people.
We are then told Viorica's awful and upsetting story in detail.  When she was fifteen she was abducted and taken to an apartment where she was raped by four men for twenty-four hours and beaten until she bled if she resisted.

Then they put her to work. "Every night, twenty men.  Or I do not make quota".  If she stepped out of line, the four men would beat and rape her, every night. One day she escaped and ran home to her parents but her father is ashamed of her and says "I am dead to him".  Then she got pregnant.  She is recaptured and is told someone is coming from America.  "The Old Man" wants girls to take back with him, "he puts his fingers in me.  His skin is cold like ice".

We are then shown said Old Man racially abusing a black gangster whose gang have infringed on his territory.  He uses his thumbs to gouge the man's eyes out then machine guns the rest of his gang to death.  Annoyed, Cristu calls Vera privately and says to her that the old man couldn't give a shit for police or repercussions or about everything they have built here.  "I'm thinking of killing my father, Vera" he tells her.
The Old Man.
Viorica tells Frank about Cristu saying he is bad but it is all business to him, the Old Man "is like the devil".  She is brought to America to work.  She has her baby, Anna.  She is taken from her and allowed to see her once a week so she doesn't try to escape.  The place where Pavla had them used was an old club.  She asks Frank if he killed Pavla last night.  He says yes.  "Thank you, thank you" she tells him.  She goes on to tell Frank about Vera, who is cruel "she gets in your head."

Last week another girl got out and got the number of a social worker who can help them.  Next time she is with Anna she trades sex for more time alone with her and manages to escape with her.  She says she made contact with the social worker and she is a "stupid bitch".  She put Anna, and Viorica up in a hotel room while she collects her information on Cristu's operation.

She recorded everything on her computer, Vera finds out about her and hacks her computer.  They leave Anna with the social worker's boyfriend while they go and buy clothes.  When they get back the boyfriend lies beaten and Anna is gone.  Yesterday the social worker got an email with a photo attached.  It's Anna, dead.
You don't need to see what Viorica and Jen are seeing.
Viorica took the gun belonging to the social worker's boyfriend and is so crazy with grief she goes gunning for Pavla.  She says to Frank that America is supposed to be the "promised land" but, "I come here and it is like a nightmare."

Back with Marcie and Russ they are being told to wear crutches, bandages and neckbraces for the upcoming anti-Punisher press conference.  Before the assembled reporters the Captain says "the days of ignoring The Punisher in the vain hope he'll go away are over".
Russ and Marcie reluctantly play along.
The Punisher goes looking for a way into the house where the girls are being kept, to draw the attention of Cristu.  Two customers, one very unsatified are leaving in their car.  The Punisher accosts them and says they'll go back, make some excuse about leaving a wallet behind and he'll be hiding out waiting in the car.

Unfortunately a passing cop sees him and sounds the alarm.  Frank, his cover blown, vaults the fence down on to some train tracks.  The cop follows but misses his footing and lands on his face.  The Punisher looks down on him and drily says:

Frank: "Time for the sustained and brutal beating.  Unless someone is maybe full of shit."

And he takes off, realising he's lost his lead as the house will be moved now.  He needs a new way in, "thinking back even I was surprised where it came from".

He goes around questioning pimps for a while but "no one was talking because no on had anything to say".  The cop who fell chasing him is used in another press conference covered in plasters and shown as more evidence that The Punisher is suffering "mental disintegration". 
"Questioning" Punisher style.
Watching the news item on it, are Cristu and his father.  The Old Man says The Punisher will be "an interesting man to kill".  Cristu pleads with him saying everyone who fights The Punisher ends up dead. They should just let the police deal with him.  His father doesn't listen and Cristu storms off saying "in an uncertain world, we can rely on you to do whatever the hell you like".  Out of the room he calls Vera, "enough is enough.  Do it" he tells her.

Meanwhile Russ and Marcie find the other "injured" cop, Ernie Mostow and compare notes.  Ernie asks if they are trying to clear The Punisher's name.  They say "we decided we don't like being used."  Ernie admits he wasn't attacked, but told to play up his injuries.  However he won't help them, he owes some people money and Westin has him by the balls.

Speaking of Westin, he is in with Captain Price who is complaining about the mountain of shit going after The Punisher publicly has given him.  Turns out The Punisher has more support than they realised and see it as a waste of resources going after him.  Now due to the press attention, "I'm in a position where I need results."  Westing says they are hurting the bastard and just need to wait for it to bear fruit, then he takes a call from Ernie giving him a heads up about Russ and Marcie.

Frank has put Viorica up in a hotel room and asks her about the social worker.  Viorica says her name is Jen Cooke, and Frank says he knows her.  We then cut to Jen giving a lecture about human trafficking.  She tells the audience that the women are not prostitutes by choice, they have been bought over illegally and when the police here find them, they deport them to their certain death.
Jen's lecture on sex-trafficking, all sadly true.
The business of people is more profitable than drugs because a woman can be reused.  It's become a big part of the economies of places like Albania and the Ukraine.  There are places where ninety percent of teenage girls don't leave the house for fear of abduction.  She finishes her lecture tell them to imagine their sisters, wives and daughters in such a situation. Afterwards, Frank makes himself known to her and she panics and thinks he is going to kill her.  But he says actually he wants her help.

At the police station Marcie and Russ are set upon in the locker room by seven other cops for stepping out of line, which they later find out was arranged by Westin.  Frank and Jen talk in her office.  She says she can't even get the police to investigate the death of Viorica's baby because a photo isn't considered sufficient proof of murder.

Jen: "They'll be no justice for the child my stupidity got killed."

She says she knows what Frank wants and is trying to convince herself that giving him what he wants is the right thing to do even though it goes against everything she believes.  She says she left the really appalling stuff out of her lecture so as not to scare people off.  She says the horrible cruelty makes her not want to be a social worker, but an angel cleansing the world with a fiery sword.
Jen decides to help Frank.
The gives him the files with all the information on Cristu's operation she has gathered.  She wonders why he didn't just break in an get it.  "Sometimes it's easier to ask" he says and leaves.  Frank looks through the notes and finds a trail he can follow related by another escapee.

Frank: "The things I'd have to do to break these men - to make them talk - would be extreme".

Back with Jen and she is vomiting in a toilet at the full realisation of what Frank is going to do with the information she gave him.

The Old Man is in his home making tea when a gang of men break in and try and kill him.  He easily takes out all but one of them.  He says to the survivor, "someone told you where to find me, golliwog".  The man refuses to talk so the Old Man pours boiling water over his hands and starts torturing him.
The Old Man really is a monster.
Russ and Marcie are nursing their new wounds in a bar.  Russ says he things the beating was a set up by Westin for stirring things up with Ernie.  They've been fucked so they should "fuck back".

Frank drives out of the city following one the directions one of the escaped girls gave to another house.  Vera calls Cristu to tell him his father called her and told her he was alright and implied he knew he'd been set up by them.  Vera asks if he has enough men for protection, Cristu says yes and that "it was probably always going to be like this".

Frank watches the house which is by a lake.  He notes all the hardware the men are packing and wonder if it's because they are expecting him.  "I'd find out soon enough.  At supper", turns out he's managed to drug the food the men and girls were eating.  One man is still concious who didn't eat the food due to "A.. allergies".  Frank blows his head off and kills all the unconcious men.
Frank takes out one of the trafficker's houses.
He calls Jen and tells her he has four girls for her to come and collect.  She soon arrives, he tells her to drive them back in his van.  He'll stash her Subaru and she can come get it later.  She freaks out a bit but Frank tells her the girls won't come to until tommorrow night.  Jen says she can put them up in a temporary shelter, Frank says he'll see what he can come up with on a more permanent basis.

After she has gone, he regards the unconcious Cristu and drags him into the woods.

Frank: "Prison held no terror for a man like him.  Neither did torture, nor did death.  How would you make him afraid?  How would you even talk to him? You'd start by showing you speak the language".

Jen arrives back in New York and is startled by Russ and Marcie and panics when they identify themselves as cops.

Frank goes to work on the unconcious Cristu.  Then gives him a shot that starts to bring him round.  As Cristu wakes he hears Frank say he wants Vera and his father.  What he has done to him is survivable but only if he acts quickly.  Cristu wakes fully and finds himself restrained with his intestines pulled out and draped over some tree branches.
Monster has monstrous thing done to him.
Cristu finally bleeds out at noon.  Frank has just disposed of all the men's guns in the water at the end of the pier when the Old Man and his mob come screaming up to the house.  Frank is annoyed because he left his shotgun in Jen's car and only has a pistol on him.  He decides to take a run at the Old Man anyway, "I'm only human".

He soon realises he's made a mistake when the guards fight back like soldiers.  He takes three shots to the vest and makes his escape via the water.  He finds a car and phones Jen and tells her to leave her house because The Old Man may be able to find her through her car.  With Jen are Marcie and Russ who tell her to arrange a meeting with him.

After Jen hangs up, Russ tells her to get the girls somewhere safe, while Marcie complains that she can't believe they are going to meet with The Punisher.  The Old Man meanwhile, pays a visit to Vera.  He tells her the "black boy" who came after him says they were sent by Cristu but a woman's voice arranged it.  He says he only found The Punisher where Cristu should have been and the fact she is still alive means she might be innocent.  Having comprehensively threatened her, he leaves.
The Old Man threatens Vera.
In the diner where they are meeting, Frank walks in to find Jen with Russ and Marcie.  They tell him they used their time off to see Ernie Mostow again.  Marcie beat it out of him that he'd been doing jobs for Westin including surveillance on Jen Cooke for about a month. Which is why they came to see her, they didn't know she was working with The Punisher, she just panicked and blurted it all out.

It's likely Vera ordered the surveillance after the first girl escaped and where making their minds up about whether to kill Jen or not in that time.  Which is how they knew to hack her computer when Viorica fled.  Westin is in it up to his neck, but they want to take him down themselves.  They can't allow The Punisher to kill a police officer.  They'll give The Punisher a clear run at the rest of the trafficking ring if he can find them uncontrovertible dirt on Westin they can use.
Russ and Marcie team up with Frank.
Vera calls Westin in a panic and tells him Cristu has vanished.  Then another cop tells Westin that Ernie Mostow overdosed on pills earlier, though was saved before he died and he looked like he'd been worked over beforehand too.  "What the fuck is going on?" asks Westin to himself.

Frank arrives at Vera's office, "Cristu told me everything" he says as he pushes her back inside and then smashes her face first into the window.  He keeps picking her up and throwing her hard against it, "you'll fall apart before the glass does" he tells her.  He says that Cristu told him "rape them to break them", the girls had to be shown right away who was in control.

Frank: "They had to understand they were powerless to prevent anything being done to them".

She's the one who makes the operation work, who launders the money and puts up a legitimate front.  He grabs her again and says "I'm stronger than you, so I can do anything I want".  Then he hurls her so hard against the glass it pops out of it's frame and she plunges several story's to the pavement below.  As he looks down at her dead body he thinks:

Frank: "It had been a long, long time since I hated anyone the way I hated them".
Monster has monstrous thing done to them part 2.
Frank goes to Viorica and tells her he'll be finishing the last of the operation tonight.  When she asks what happens next to her, he says Jen will take her in.  Viorica is unwilling to trust the "stupid bitch" who got her baby killed.  "How does she not fuck up again?  Throw me to the wolves this time?"

Frank: "Because by this time tommorrow, the wolves will all be dead."

Marcie and Russ are waiting to hear back from The Punisher who took a file on Westin from Vera's filing cabinet.  They are arguing the ethics of working with him.  Russ seems to think taking down Westin might make them detectives.  Marcie is disgusted that he is thinking about promotion when they are dealing with a slavery ring right here in New York.  He says she can walk away anytime, she says no, she'll "sit tight and watch out for my partner".

Frank, using the information from Vera's office, finds the latest house.  With Cristu and Vera dead and no one to organise a nights work, the scumbag in charge of the house would have no option but to call the Old Man.  He and his cronies arrive by car and Frank notes what good fortune it was that there was a drainage cover outside the front door, which he just happened to wire with thirty pounds of TNT.  He sets it off, taking out a lot of the guards.
It wouldn't be a Punisher story with out a big Kaboom.
Frank runs in and takes out everyone bar the Old Man who hides behind one of the women he has at knifepoint.  But Frank says to him one word in his own tongue, "coward".  This makes the Old Man charge him and Frank knocks him out.  He tells the girl to take the other two and call the number he hands to her for help.

Marcie goes to see Jen alone saying she and Russ didn't hear from The Punisher.  She says she's been wondering about the girls and they sit and talk and Marcie reads Jen's reports getting angrier and more distressed as she does so.  Marcie says it does no good, The Punisher's way of doing things.  Jen just sighs and says she spent so long beating her head against a brick wall that she just wanted him "to end them".
Jen gives Marcie a lesson in the evil of sex trafficking.
She tells Marcie some horror stories, then says if you tell men these facts "they can't quite rid themselves of the idea the girls deserve it or even want it".  Then she takes a call.  "Motherfucker, he's just stuck me with three more." she says in exasperation.

Frank has the Old Man tied up in the basement and has called Westin to witness what happens next.  He tells Westin he won't kill him, he just wants him to take a package to Moldova then he'll give him Vera's file on him.  He also wants the same person who arranged Cristu's mobs passports to do eight for the girls he's rescued.
And there goes The Old Man as well.
Then the Old Man wakes up and Frank pours petrol over him and sets him on fire, recording the whole thing on video.  This is what Westin is to deliver, and once he has made sure Westin got on a plane to Moldova he sent the file to Parker.  Wasn't any use in the end, Westin never came back.

The people trafficking carried on with other outfits getting more sophisticated by the day. Marcie left the force to go and work with Jen, "they do it their way.  I do it mine".  Of the girls rescued, one went back to hooking, one disappeared, two are dead.

Frank: "And Viorica?  Some days are good.  Some days aren't.  All she can do is live what life they left her."
Ennis once again punches me in the feels.
Powerful, powerful stuff.  It manages to be furious with the cruelty and injustice of it all while providing an unflinching account of just what despicable things are done to the women and the level of collusion allowing it to continue.  It's a hard read in places, and knowing how much Ennis researches his work, I wouldn't be surprised if the examples given in various places are either true real life ones or close to them, and yes Alan Moore is is possible to use rape and gang rape as a plot device and not make your female readers want to vomit.  It's made quite clear throughout that this is really only revenge on one outfit, and that others will spring up in their place.  But given Frank's sheer bloody rage at what happened to Viorica and what the mob she escaped from was up to, it's a little hard not to feel some catharsis in seeing him mete out his terrible punishments.  The character of Jen is an interesting counterpoint to him, trying to take them down the legal way and offering help and support to the girls where Frank can only offer vicarious vengeance.  Even the "happy" ending has a sting both with the fact half the women saved were beyond help and with Viorica shown unable to look at a woman with a child without having to run outside of where she works and cry.  This is definitely the darkest book in the series, not surprising given its subject matter.  It's a hard hitting look at a modern day tragedy and a useful read if you have any interest in supporting charities that deal with women rescued from such abuse.  Only one volume of this series left to get, hurry up and drop in price volume six.


  1. wow, now Im depressed and angry >:( Glad it's on wide release though, I'm buying the first collection as soon as i have the money spare.

  2. Glad you'll be picking it up, hopefully I've shown you won't regret your purchase. Take them an arc at a time though, it's really heavy if you try marathoning it.

  3. I'm glad I didn't read this comic.

  4. It's definitely a depressing read knowing that apart from the Punisher it's al based on truth.