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.
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.|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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: "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.|
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.|
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.|
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.|