Welcome to part two of my look at Garth Ennis's first crack at The Punisher which managed to rescue a character from the laughing stock he'd been turned into by an ill-advised reinvention as a supernatural agent of Heaven redeeming himself by killing for God and which resulted in Ennis not only writing the character in the mainstream Marvel Universe but also writing the much acclaimed MAX run as covered by me previously. After rejecting Heaven and picking up his guns to focus upon taking out the Gnucci Mafia family in New York, we closed out part one on cliffhanger where he'd been tracked down to the address he was living anonymously at as "John Smith" and although he'd taken out his attackers he passed out in a nearby alley after taking several bullets to the torso. Living in the same place are hyperactive "Spacker" Dave, the meek Joan and the obese Mr. Bumpo. There is also a plotline with two cops, Lieutenant Molly Richtofen who has been tasked with taking down the Gnucci family and detective Martin Soap who has been tasked with catching The Punisher joining forces to wait until they take each other out before moving in and "arresting what's left". There are also three men following Franks examples as vigilante killers, the snobbish "Elite", the class warrior "Payback" and the crazy priest "The Holy". On art duties are his Preacher collaborator Steve Dillon as penciller and Jimmy Palmiotti inking. Time for the conclusion as the grotesque Ma Gnucci goes all out with her intentions to destroy The Punisher before he destroys her.
|A somewhat inconvenienced Frank.|
We cut to Ma Gnucci who is mad that the men reporting to her didn't check The Punisher actually died. She orders them to get back down there and find out which apartment is The Punisher's and if they stay alive and get it right she can call the other families and arrange for reinforcements. We see Frank having reached his flat and says to himself all he has to do now is dig the bullets out, "how hard can that be" as he pitches forwards onto the floor.
We rejoin Molly and Soap at the church where The Holy in the guise of Catholic priest Hector Redondo has been killing criminals after they confess their sins. They tell him that he's the one thing the men had in common which Hector agrees is a strange thing. He tells them that he took their confessions regularly and he knew all five men. "Four men" corrects Molly. Hector says he can't break the seal of confession and we see inside the confession booth another man dead with an axe buried in his chest.
At the apartment building, Joan sees a trail of blood going into Frank's flat, she follows it querously asking if Mr. Smith (he's going by the name of "John Smith" here) is OK and he rises up behind her. We then cut to Elite who is telling a hot dog seller he doesn't want him in his neighbourhood and he puts a grenade inside his cart and blows it up.
Back with Frank, Joan pops her head round Dave's place and asks him to come help as Frank has passed out again. When he sees "John Smith" is really The Punisher he is really excited. Joan hasn't heard of The Punisher, she doesn't watch the news because it scares her. He tells her what The Punisher does and she asks if they should call an ambulance.
|Joan and Dave to the rescue.|
We then see a woman interviewing the chairman of the Wall Street Investors about the antics of Payback. But while he is talking Payback comes up and shoots him in the head then rants down the camera which is still broadcasting about his mission to take on corporate crime and defending the rights of the workers. He then scarpers before the cops show up.
The two men Ma Gnucci tasked to find The Punisher walk to the house. One notes that now would be a good time to send "The Russian" which the other agrees is someone who would stand a chance against The Punisher. They reach the house and Joan opens the door, they flash fake N.Y.P.D credentials but she says she lives alone in her flat, while we see Frank lying on her bed behind her. They knock on Dave's door and he panics:
Dave: "Aaah! You're not the cops! I know who you are" You're here for him, but, but I'm not saying anything! I'm not betraying The Punisher to punks like you! So you can get lost you hear!"
One of the men responds with, "really". We then return to Joan and the prone but concious Frank. She asks him "why do you kill them?" Frank says he hates them She says the thought it might be because he wanted to make the world a better place. As he lies there he thinks that of all the ways he could have checked out, "this has to be the dumbest."
The two men who spoke to Dave call Ma Gnucci saying they have a man who knows where The Punisher is. They have him tied up and one of them has a pair of pliers. They hang up and Ma Gnucci tells her goon to look for the contact details they have for The Russian.
In a local bar Soap is telling Molly the sorry story of his career so far. She asks what's eating him and he says it's The Punisher being the latest in a string of disasters. Molly reassures him that nothing will go wrong, The Punisher will come after Ma Gnucci, they just have to be patient. The barman hits on her but she rejects his advances saying he's definitely not her type, which makes Soap smile.
|FRank can still do the business even when seriously wounded.|
Back in the bar with Soap and Molly he asks how someone as young as her gets to be a lieutenant. She says it was by being better than most people around her which wasn't difficult considering the rest of the department. She says the rank and file are good people doing an impossible job, but the brass are all in bed with the scum they are supposed to be taking down. Soap then starts to hit on her and she curtly tells him she's a lesbian. He quickly changes the subject and then somewhat crushed orders some more drinks.
Frank is lying on the kitchen table. He has called an alcoholic doctor who specialises in patching up wiseguys no questions asked. He found his contact details in a dead man's wallet. "Wanted to do this myself" he thinks, "but the boy's involved and he deserves the chance to keep his face". The doctor downs some booze and asks if Frank wants anesthetic. Frank says no and holds a pistol in one hand and a bullet between his teeth. The doctor gets to work and Frank digs into a lifetime of blood and fire to keep him going.
|Frank gets ready for surgery.|
We cut to Kazakhstan. A team of Green Beret's are about to take on The Russian in the house they tracked him down to. We then get a sequence of panels showing the house as noise and gunshots ring out finally ending with one surviving Green Beret running out stark naked with a rifle bent round his neck calling for his mommy. Inside the house we see the shadow of The Russian pick up the phone and it's Ma Gnucci, he says he'll be on the next plane to the U.S. "for you Ma.. anything".
It's now three weeks later. Ma Gnucci is trying to get the other families to help with reinforcements. But she is having no luck, none of them want to face The Punisher. Angrily she calls them worthless cowardly scum. But then some good news for her, "oh my dear, sweet Russian. I had almost lost all hope."
Back with Ma Gnucci and The Russian, she asks why it took him three weeks to get here. He says he forgot he was wanted in forty-eight states, so when the plane was five miles above Canada he made the plane crash and he ended up confused for a while. But he remembered, crossed the border and now he is here. Ma Gnucci tells him she wants him to kill The Punisher and gives him a photo. She will give him ten million to do it. He says it's a deal and she tells two reluctant goons to drive him to the apartment building in Manhattan The Punisher is holed up in. He hugs one of them, crushing him to death leaving one to escort him.
Frank confronts Dave saying he told Mr. Bumpo who he really was. Dave said he couldn't resist, the whole thing is just too cool. Also he says that Mr. Bumpo deserved to know it's dangeround for him too. Frank says he's leaving. Dave says he can't, having him here is awesome. But Frank sternly says that if he's not out of here before Ma. Gnucci's boys come after him he, Mr. Bumpo and Joan will die in the crossfire. Because of the pain Dave took for him he won't threaten him with death, he's going to trust him to stay quiet "and call it even, okay?"
|A TV report on the vigilantes of New York.|
In the bar Molly has The Russian's dossier. She says he's "a walking death camp". They look over photos of the various atrocities he's committed, and Molly says everyone wants him - the Feds, the D.E.A, every state force and sheriff's department, Interpol and so on. He first shows up in Afghanistan on holiday during the Russian invasion. Then he just goes everywhere there's trouble, Lebanon, Iraq, East Timor, Chechnya, Balkans, Belfast and that's not counting his normal criminal activity.
Molly: "Sometimes he does it for money. Sometimes just for fun. Pretty much everyone wants to kill him... and now he's our problem."
Ma Gnucci's brought him in to deal with The Punisher. Now they have two choices. They can call in tactical and immediately lose their case as well as triggering an enormous bloodbath. Or they can leave The Punisher to The Russian and "then we step in and arrest what's left: right? Why me lord?" groans Soap. Molly says give it twenty-four hours. Soap orders more alcohol.
|Joan confesses to Frank.|
He asks why she doesn't leave. She says she'd love to have a house in the country with a pond and ducks and a dog to throw sticks for.
Frank: "Then you should just go. You're right about this city, Joan. It is a bad place. Bad things do happen Just go."
She says she's scared to. She doesn't have enough money and she is scared to think about changing her life. Why does Frank stay? "Because I like it" he replies. "This is a terrible world" says Joan. And as we see The Russian approach the house Frank says "Yes Joan. It's a nightmare."
The next chapter starts with Frank taking a punch to the face after answering his door without checking who was calling. He is knocked face down and The Russian treads on the back of his head before picking him up and smashing him through a wooden panel.
|Frank Vs Russian round one.|
The Russian goes to jump on Frank who puts a boot up which smashes into The Russian's groin. This makes him pause for a moment, then he helps Frank up who grabs a chair and smashes it over The Russian's head. The Russian leaves for a moment then comes back with the toilet which he smashes a dazed Frank in the face with.
Soap and Molly are back staking out Ma Gnucci's place. Soap is having a bit of a tearful breakdown. He says her plan was stupid and they are doomed, Ma Gnucci and The Russian are going to cause havoc and it'll be his fault and he'll get fired and jailed and they'll do terrible things to him in prison and also his partner is a lesbian and she'll never falll in love with him.
She tells him, "now stop whing, you loser." She says they are both losers, he's the unluckiest cop on the force and she refuses to sleep her way to the top. They are expected to fail, they have no back-up and no support only what they can do themselves, "and if that means doing something crazy... so be it." Soap looks at her in awe, "you're... you're so decisive." She tells him to shut up and watch the house.
Back at the fight. Frank pulls out his boot knife and stabs The Russian, which doesn't faze him at all. Meanwhile Elite is executing a drug dealer on his turf and is being watched by Payback in his car. Frank has had his head jammed in the fridge and The Russian is banging the door repeatedly on him.
|Ah the old head in firdge door gag.|
Who is being soundly thrashed. The Russian bangs his head on the cooker and Frank lights up a ring burning The Russian's hand and making him howl in pain. Frank makes a note to remember he doesn't like heat. Elite and Payback are crusing around arguing about their differing ideals when an injured man comes out of the church chased by Hector with a bloody axe. Elite shoots the man dead. Hector is pleased to see them, and they make a pact to work together and also find The Punisher to lead them.
Frank lies on the kitchen floor, The Russian says "end of round one". He starts singing the praises of American superheroes and that when he is done here he'll go looking for autographs. Frank spots a gun under the cooker and crawls over to get it. But as he picks it up, The Russian takes it off him and snaps it in half, then says "Okey-dokey, big boy. Seconds away. Round two."
The Russian: "Ah! These are your little friends, yes? When The Russian gets through with you, imagine the terrible things that will happen to them!"
Frank yells for them to go, and then gets punched through Mr. Bumpo's door where he is feasting on fresh pizza. Landing by Mr. Bumpo Frank asks if it is hot? Mr. Bumpo says yes and as The Russian bears down on him he slings a pizza in his face causing him to react in great pain.
Frank trips him up as he claws the burning melted cheese of his face and as The Russian lays face up on the floor, Frank pushes Mr. Bumpo on top of him and suffocates him. He asks how long it's been and Mr. Bumpo says about twenty mintes. "We'll give it another ten" says the tired Frank.
|A very American way to go.|
Hector: "You two idiots had better start shaping up before the wrath of God descends! I'm not kidding! We've got to get this together! Because right now, if we ask The Punisher to join this little band, the our particular battle for justice will be over before it's begun!"
Speaking of The Punisher, The Russian is dead and Frank says "he got me mad." He tells Mr. Bumpo, Joan and Dave to go inside and lock their doors and not come out until he is gone. "How do you do it Frank?" asks Joan. He says it's a simple as her desire to live in the country.
Frank then throttles the goon who drove The Russian there and with something in a bag, takes the wheel and starts to drive to the Gnucci HQ. Ma Gnucci is convinced The Russian will be back soon with The Punisher's head. Outside Soap and Molly are still watching, Soap says the hunt for The Punisher is being called off, which Molly realises means the Gnucci's know he's dead But the "dead" Punisher drives past them at that moment and Molly is gleeful, "go Punisher! Go Punisher! I knew he wouldn't let us down."
In the church Hector tells the other two they need to confront evil, every monster every piece of scum, "we have to go out and kill it." He puts out his hand saying it's the judgement of The Holy. Payback puts his hand on saying they need The Punisher's weapons and expertise. Elite adds his hand saying he'll be their leader. Hector says he'll lead a crusade to cleanse the city of its sin as well as casting the moneylenders from their temples, "he will lead The Vigilante Squad".
|Frank goes to confront Ma Gnucci.|
Inside her room Frank starts pouring petrol all over the floor. She wants to know why he is burning the place down, "talk to me, you pig!"
Frank: "Because I want you gone from the face of this Earth".
Ma Gnucci: "You scum! You vicious evil scum! You're no better than I am, Punisher!"
She keeps ranting at him saying he isn't on the side of justice, he's a serial killer and insane. He's a mass murderer and he should put a bullet in his own head to get peace for himself. "You are damned!" she shouts. "Tell me something I don't know" says Frank, now outside the house and he tosses a grenade through a window and the place starts to burn.
|The end of the Gnucci family.|
Frank appears behind them, Soap whimpers that he doesn't want to die. Frank tells him not to do anything stupid then. He asks for any information they have on the copycat vigilantes. They say they don't have much. Frank tells him he blew open Ma. Gnucci's safe. He found a million dollars which he is keeping, and also found some photographs. When Molly asks what kind he says "The career-making kinds". In exchange for all they have on Elite, Payback and the axeman they'll get the photos.
He then departs as more cops arrive. As the fire is brought under control they look at the photos he gave them. And it's the incriminating ones of the Mayor and the Commisioner doing something extremely blackmailable. Molly and Soap both exchange broad grins upon this discovery.
|Our intrepid cops get their happy ending.|
Frank. "Best I can do Joan. Dave. Mr. Bumpo. Maybe I am damned. But I'm not dragging you good people down with me".
And he walks away. Meanwhile, thanks to the photos Soap is the new commisioner. He is looking at a photo of a beautiful woman and Molly has written on the back "Might stay an extra couple of weeks". She is running for mayor herself and Soap sets up future meetings between them.
He asks the receptionist where the previous commissioner kept his cigars. She says that he took his after he left in a hurry, but she took the liberty of leaving a new box for him. He lights up and goes and stands on the balcony.
Soap: "I love this city. Heck, even a loser like me can blackmail his way to the top. And now I'm going to give this place the N.Y.P.D it's always deserved".
At that moment a bird craps on his face. As shit runs down his cheeks he just smiles and says, "...man. I love this town."
Frank is dealing with the vigilante killers as loose ends. Elite seems to have quit his patch and Payback could hit anywhere. So that leaves The Axeman. He finds the church they all went for confession to with Hector Redondo. The three of them are still arguing, with Elite and Payback still at ideological odds and Hector caught in the middle. Then suddenly Frank appears and Hector says "I knew you'd come. It was inevitable". Frank scowls, saying "It certainly was".
They say that he inspired them and now he can lead them. This bemuses Frank who points out that Hector is a "lunatic". Elite is a "Nazi" and Payback, does the name Maria Lopez mean anything to him? She was a cleaner at World Wide investments and was killed when one of his bullets went through a wall. She's one of four innocents who have been caught in Payback's crossfire because he couldn't be bothered to plan properly.
Payback mumbles that there have to be sacrifices in war. Frank readies his gun. The three of them say they thought he'd be with them. They have it all worked out, The Vigilante Squad with secret plans and codewords and passwords and things. They can punish the guilty, clean up the city once and for all. Hector yells, "In heaven's name man! Isn't this exactly what you wanted?" Frank opens fire on them saying just "No". And that brings this storyline to an end.
|Frank is the only vigilante the city needs.|