Sing hosannas! After nearly two years I can finally bring the ten volume Punisher series written by Garth Ennis with various artists to a close. If you've been following this blog for a while, you might recall I had to skip volumes five and six on my romp through the series as they were out of print and insanely expensive. Thankfully the series got omnibus reprints fairly recently and so the missing two volumes are finally in my hands. I've did Book Five: The Slavers a while back and now I am looking at Book Six: Barracuda. This volume introduces the MAX version of Frank's ultimate nemesis. We saw him killed in Book Nine: The Long Cold Dark, but here he's at full power. He's a large, muscular black man, fiercely intelligent, with a savage sense of humour, he's also an assassin for hire and will do anything for a paycheck. He's almost as skilled at fighting and gunplay as Frank and has the advantage of being younger than him. Frank in this story is on the trail of corporate scum, taking him to Miami where Barracuda waits to take him on.
We start at the end, Frank on Barracuda's boat looking down at sharks and dead bodies churning amongst bloody water. Then we return to the beginning. Frank is on the trail of some particularly potent cocaine. He kills the last armed man in a gang hideout thinking "the trail eventually led to these boys". Before he can leave the scene of the massacre he hears cries coming from the bathroom.
|Frank finds Stephens.|
We then cut to some businessmen at a party. A younger man, Dermot is telling the older man Harry that something has happened that is "serious shit".
Harry: "What I meant Dermot, was why you didn't come to me the instant this faggot developed a conscience? Since when do you handle shit like this yourself?"
Dermot says he wanted to show some initiative and Harry leads him into his office where his wife is snorting coke and refuses to go and mingle in the party, but Harry sends her on her way.
|Dermot and Harry.|
Harry facepalms and asks Dermot if he realises "how badly you fucked up here?" He tells Dermot could have been bought off, or talked round but Dermot decided to get criminals involved. He asks what precinct Stephens is in, it's the sixty-third.
We then cut to Frank enjoying a burger in a diner which is playing the news on the TV. It reports on the shooting of a Puerto Rican drug gang and how only one man survived. He's been taken to the sixty-third precinct where they will question him after his symptoms of shock subside. As the radio waffles on about an anti-Punisher initiative, Frank ruminates how that was his reward for stepping on the wrong toe investigating the slavers.
He watches the story on TV and suddenly sees a policeman called Billy Lacarda walk past the camera. After writing two books so in-depth about the mob he was accused of having ties to them, he kept his badge just about but his glory days were over. He remembers Stephens (for it was he) pleading not to be left to the cops and decides with Billy Lacarda showing his face again, well it was time to investigate more closely.
Using a fake ID he goes to the sixty-third precinct and bluffs to the desk sergeant saying he was hoping he could get a couple of minutes with the prisoner. The sergeant says he's in luck there's been a delay with the paperwork for Lacarda to take him out of the city. He says he'll buzz Frank in when he wants to see the prisoner.
|An assassin approaches Stephens.|
Lacarda tries to bribe the policeman with money, but that doesn't work. So he pulls a gun and hold it to the policman's throat. Then Frank sounds the fire alarm. He knocks Lacarda out with one punch and tells the policeman to swap positions wth Stephens and he locks him inside. He then drags Stephens away how says " so you... do you like believe me now, is that it?"
Using white phosporous grendaes he gets him and Stephens out of the precinct in the chaos that ensues, helped along by people evacuating because of the fire alarm. He ponders Stephens and thinks "thing was. He probably thought that meant he was safe."
Back with Dermot and Harry, Harry puts down the phone having been told Stephens is gone and Lacarda has been arrested. He has lost a valuable asset trying to clean up Dermot's mess. He then tells Dermot he doesn't know much about the Punisher. But he's dangerous and a big gun requires a big gun in return. He picks up the phone and says to Dermot, "I do not do what I am about to do lightly". He gets through to Barracude who picks up the phone, tells the out-of-it looking woman to keep sucking his dick then make some eggs, and then begins his conversation with Harry which ends this chapter.
Later we see he is on his boat, smoking crack with a woman and has a large pet snake. It bites the woman, so Barracuda picks it up and smashes its head against the mast. The woman dies from the poison and Barracuda just says "shit", tips her overboard and sails off.
He first fired ninety percent of the workforce, then got the rest to actuall work together. He turned them into a team with two golden rules, "always stick together, and if you've got a problem, always take it to him first." It worked and their stock went through the ceiling, the parties they had were legendary. Frank asks how they managed it.
Stephens: "Harry found out... and I shit you not here. This is legal... that you could base your accounts not on your actual profits, but one what you expect them to be. Simple as that. You like the sound of one point two billion for the quarter. Go with it. Knock yourself out."
Frank says, well if it was legal what's the problem? Stephens says the next thing they were planning was anything but. We cut to the Dynaco executives on a sking retreat. Dermot manages to piss Harry off and he skis off. Harry's wife then asks Dermot if he has ever fucked a trophy wife before.
|Stephens spills the sorry tale.|
It was at this point Stephens spoke up saying that crippling the infrastructure like that would be illegal. He said they could get into so much shit if they were found out. But the rest of the executives looked at him and he realised it was "time to shut the fuck up". However he refused to and told them that soon Dynaco's profits would come out and "the projected terms we'd been trading under would be worthless. That behind all his alpha male bullshit, Harry was desperate for capital."
Stephens: "And I guess at that point I was less scared of him than I was of going to jail. Either we shitcanned this right then and there, or I'd call the F.B.I."
The next morning he was taken hostage my Enrique's gang. He admits other shady stuff that happened before, like a hooker O.D.'ing at a party, one of the guys being caught in a coke bust and being released the same night, which is how he knew he wouldn't be safe with the cops.
He wonders if Harry is just carried away, creating sheer chaos and making it work for him no matter what the cost, "so long as it turns a profit." We then cut to Dermot dressing after having had sex with Harry's wife Alice. She is teasing him saying was the reason he was so quick because he imagine Harry standing behind him telling him what to do. He grabs her by the throat and she laughs saying "that's the fucking spirit...!" He demands to know if she wants him to fuck her, "that'd do for starters cowboy" she grins.
|Barracuda, taking care of business.|
Back with Frank, he has left Stephens "mewling into his breakfast". There was no way to get Dynaco investigated legitimately, not on Stephens' evidence alone. But leaving Stephens behind "that was my first mistake." Back in his safehouse he wonders if this is something he should be concerned with at all.
Frank: "Then again, if Dynaco went ahead, Florida would have a body count. So that decided that."
He decides to get a public confession from as senior a figure as possible. Find Ebbing and put the fear of God into him. There was a major shareholders meeting in Miami which seemed like his best bet. His second mistake was thinking he could find what weapons he needed once he got there. Later when he was beaten, cut and bleeding, with a shark closing in on him, "I remember thinking just how wrong you can be."
We then cut to Harry on the phone to Barracuda who tells him that his target is in Barracuda's neck of the woods. And Barracuda spots Frank walking across the airport floor, "you know, somehow I 'spected the muthafucka be taller". Frank remembers back to him thinking he could get this done quickly and not need to hire a car, "stupid and sloppy". His mind wandered in the car and he didn't react fast enough when Barracuda rammed the taxi and sent it careering into a tree and Frank passes out, "I'd have to say I deserved it".
We then see Dermot on the phone to Alice, she asks him to talk dirty to her, "no time like the present cowboy". He does so, she asks him to say what he'll give her, he says "I'm gonna give you the whole four inches." Thankfully we then return to Frank, bound in the boot of Barracuda's car, but he always has a small knife secreted in his sleeve for just suck instances and cuts himself free, then when Barracuda opens it boot he attacks him.
We then cut to Dermot and Alice walking along the beach and she admits to being "a real fucking bitch". She says Harry doesn't fuck her he just has her bend over the bed and stares up her ass while he jerks off. How charming. She says before the married he shake her hand after sex and thank her for a wonderful evening, "you know who else was into that? Hitler." She says she stays with him for the money, Dermot whinges about how Harry treats him., a "stupid shit one minute and son the next". Alice says she knows the combinations to his safe and she used it before they came to Miami.
Back with Frank and Barracuda, they are grappling fiercely. Frank wraps some barbed wire round his neck and starts choking him. Barracuda headbutts him and gets free. Frank punches him and knocks out one of Barracuda's front teeth. Barracuda grabs some wood and smashes it over Franks head and Frank falls to his knees as Barracuda tells him he has somewhere he has got to be.
Harry and Dermot in Harry#s office overlooking the beach. He says Alice likes it, "nothing but the best for the little woman". Dermot asks him what he's going to says to the shareholders. Harry says he won't tell them they plan to black out the Sunshine State.. They've hired a boat and they'll take them for a pleasure cruise. He'll get them drunk and tell them they are about to enter the "most exciting phase of the operation yet". Top secret of course. He tells them their "little problem" had followed them to Miami but he got a call from a most unexpected source. And Stephens shuffles into the room.
Barracuda is now on a boat with Frank tied up again with Horace, the gangbanger he had in his boot too. Barracuda tells him a story about the first time he saw a shark eat a person, savage shit "but hard to stop watchin' knowumsayin'?" He tosses Horace into the sea. He then tells Frank he has his fingers on ice, but Frank tells him that destroys the nerve endings so the can't be reattached. Barracuda picks Frank up saying "that a fact. Guess the muthafuckin' joke's on me, huh?" Frank thinks as he sinks into the water that he's in the worst shape he's ever been in and still be conscious. Then a shark starts bearing down on him.
|Texting'll become a pain now.|
We cut to Harry, Dermot and Stephens. Dermot is angry that Stephens is still alive. Apparently Stephens was the one who told them the Punisher was targetting them and when he was to arrive in Miami. Stehpen then tearfully says he so sorrry to Harry. He says he should have come to Harry with his fears. Harry asks if he thought calling the F.B.I would be morally correct. Because he would have lost everything he had for the satisfaction of knowing he did the right thing.
Harry: "Oh Jesus Christ Harry. That's the life I want back..! I don't want to be out in the cold. I don't want to be alone... I want it to be like it was. With the guys. With the team. I'm sorry Harry. I truly am. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
He drops to his knees and when Harry says it's OK, he wraps his arms round his legs and thanks him. Dermot scowls and when Stephens leaves to get cleaned up, he says to Harry he can't believe he's doing this. Harry says Dermot created a very dangerous mess that's cost a lot to clean up. When Dermot says fuck you to him, Harry backhands him and says not to talk to him like that, "you stupid little cunt". And he walks off.
Then we're back with Frank. He holding onto Horace as the shark circles them and Barracuda looks on with glee. Horace tries to bribe Frank to help him, but when he admits to being a gangster. Of course Frank won't stand for that and jams Horace into the sharks mouth. Frank then dives under the boat as Horace gets chewed up thinking "Horace played his part to perfection".
And we are back with Barracuda sailing his boat back, thinking Frank is dead as well. But Frank is hanging onto a tire hanging off the side of the boat. On the shore, Harry introduces him to Stephens and Dermot. Barracuda makes a joke about raping them, then shakes hands with the terrified pair. Harry dismisses Stephens then sits down with Barracuda. Noting Barracuda's missing fingers he says he'll double the agreed fee. Barracuda asks him what he wants him to do next?
Frank crawls into a small pier, it took him a hour to get that far and he stands thinking he has nothing left inside him. He staggers towards a small hut, but then he collapses thinking that Barracuda will find and kill him and he'd have to kick the shit out of Barracuda in hell.
|Alice and Dermot having soapy fun.|
He walks inside shouting "naughty muthafuckin' children...!" He tells them Harry knows his wife has been up to something and now he's going to kill them. Alice begs him not to saying she'll do whatever it takes as long as he doesn't kill them. This gets through to Barracuda and he stops for now telling them to get room service to bring him some pancakes.
Frank is still out cold, but slowly comes round to find a seagull has crapped on his face. He staggers to his feet thinking "fucking birds". Back with Barracuda sitting with Alice and Dermot eating his pancakes. Dermot's been having Alice followed for a while. He also admits he has no loyalty to Harry, either they make him and offer or he does his job saying Alice was "spreadin' it for his buddy Dermot". Alice and Dermot's plan is they are going to get Harry busted for his plans to black out Florida then Dermot will take Harry's place.
|Well that was convinient...|
Frank meanwhile has made it to the shack and luckily for him it's one of Barracuda's safehouses. It's full of guns, medical supplies and food. He patches himself up, eats some food and reflects on what happened. He realises Barracuda was hired by Harry, he decides to take Barracuda's boat "motor over to Miami. Find them. Kill them. Then go home. Nothing clever. Nothing subtle."
Barracuda is reporting back to Harry. He lies to him about what Alice was doing the previous night, she was just clubbing and showed no interest in the men who approached her. Harry thinks that's strange as he has photos showing she's "sucked at least half the cocks in Manhattan". Barracuda says maybe she's turned over a new leaf. Harry says that's unlikely.
Barracuda says why did he have him follow her when he knows what she's up to. He says so he can get revenge on some of the men she's been with, "she has no idea how many of her one-night-stands I've sent people to visit". He doesn't tell her because he wants her to be happy. He is twice her age but quite devoted to her, can't satisfy her and can't abide the thought of the men who can. Sitting behind them, listening in is Frank who thinks, "nice".
Harry tells Barracuda he wants him on the boat with the shareholders to keep an eye on her. He says he has something to annouce and he doesn't wants any distractions. Frank thinks this must be the Florida plan. He decides rather than hit Harry and Barracuda there and then, he'll sneak onto the boat in the hope he can take down the entire Dynaco operatin. He leaves to go get tooled up while Barracuda and Harry talk.
|Dermot murders Stephens.|
Barracuda: "Only thing 'bout a ho lets you do anything is sooner or later you done it all. You look at this bitch got no kinda limits at all, An' you start to hate her for it... I mean you fuckin' despise her man. Knowunsayin'?"
Later on the yacht, Dermot is annoucing to the shareholders that Harry will be joining them soon so everyone grab a drink and enjoy themselves. Alice and Barracuda are watching and Barracuda says that Dermot is "some smooth shit".
Alice says he learned from the master. Barracuda says he learned so well he going to replace him. Alice notes the ships crew is staffed by Dynaco security, she says he always keeps his people around him. Barracuda says if you know the right man "it makes all the goddamn difference in the world.". She says meaning him and he says who the fuck else? Dermot appears and Barracuda leaves him and Alice to talk. Dermot says Barracuda is going to take Stephen's body to the Everglades and let the alligators have him. Dermot says he's a useful guy to have around. Alice says he's incredibly niave. Barracuda is the most dangerous man they'll ever meet and they are going to have to kill him.
|Frank enacts his plan.|
The final chapter begins with Harry running from the huge number of reporters. He gets into his helicopter and tells them to take off. On the yacht they are watching the expose of the plan to black out parts of Florida to increase the company's share value. Down in the bowels of the yacht Alice starts coming onto Barracuda as she starts sucking his cock, Dermot creeps up behind him and hits him over the head. Meanwhile the panicked shareholders are wondering where Dermot is.
|Dermot takes on Barracuda.|
They spot a bomb Frank planted and Dynaco's men disarm it. Dermot then smartens himself up and goes to meet the shareholders saying Harry has to go, but isn't the company bigger than just one man? He continues his speech saying Harry's mistakes were his own, after taking this hit they'll dust themselves down and come back stronger than before. "We are Dynaco" he concludes, "This is absolutely nothing". Then a bomb goes off, "there were two charges" narrates Frank.
He had planted one on the outer hull. If the one inside had gone off as well the ship would have sunk immediately. He radios the yacht saying he wants to talk to Harry, Dermot answers saying Harry is not aboard the ship. Frank says they need to give him Harry and Barracuda and then give themselves up to the F.B.I. Dermot says Harry is no longer part of the company and he doesn't know who Barracuda is. Also they found his bomb in the engine room, "you really are a fucking idiot, Punisher" says Dermot.
He goes on an epic rant saying they are not some tangible thing he can defeat with bullets, he says if they blacked out Florida would anyone give a shit? They do it, the stock goes sky high and the shareholders get a return on their investments, "what they care about is doing business." No one will stop them because everyone who counts is on our side.
Dermot: "So why don't you leave us alone, and go and kill some fucking nigger drug dealers?"
But then Barracuda appears and climbs off the back of the yacht and to Frank yells that the charges are live and to set them off. Frank presses the button and there is an huge explosion on the boat.
|And the yacht asplodes.|
I have to admit, this is probably the weakest of all ten collected trades of this run. There isn't enough Frank in it and he's an odd fit for a story about corrupt corporate shenanigans. Harry's fate is left unclear after the major role he played in it. He's last seen opening the helicopter door on the way to the yacht. Suicide? Who knows. That said, the introduction of Barracuda is extremely well handled, and we can see why he's such a match for Frank. He's a brute but he's not a mindless one, his weak point mainly being his overwhelming arrogance. And you can see why he concocted such a vicious revenge plan for Frank as seen in volume nine, "Long Cold Dark". Dermot and Alice are a pretty loathesome pair, Dermot especially deserved getting blown up, shot and then eaten by a shark. You can see why he is so bitter in some ways, but it comes out so self-pitying and whiny. Of course his treatment of Stephens was pretty appalling too. Stephens being pretty much the only likeable character in this tale, and after all he goes through you have sympathy for his reasons in betraying Frank and wanting his comfortable life back. Goran Parlov is definitely the best artist Ennis collaborated with on this run, and you can see why they went on to do Fury MAX together after this. Anyway, this finally brings my look at Punisher MAX to a close. There is the prequel mini-series Punisher Born to come at some point in the future, but now I can close the book on one of the best mature reinventions of a classic Marvel character. It's been one hell of a ride.