Greetings, Legions of the Unspoken, and welcome to Week Three of Six Weeks of Punishment, leading up to the premiere of the Punisher on Netflix’s Daredevil! (You’d think with how much shilling we’re doing for Netflix that they were paying us. Or at least giving me a free subscription. But honestly, my subscription is the $8 a month I mind parting with the least because of how much use I get out of it. And no, Netflix didn’t ask me to say that either.)
No, the fact of the matter is that we’re just stoked for the possibility of the Punisher being done really well on the screen, and if you knew, even slightly, this very site’s fine proprietor, Dean Compton, you’d know he needs no excuse to talk about his favorite scourge to mooks everywhere, Mr. Frank Castle. We’ve had a great time so far looking at Punisher vs. Nick Fury and Punisher vs. Batman, but today I will be looking at Punisher vs. not just any ol’ crime and corruption, but future crime and corruption in Punisher 2099.
Beginning in February of 1993, the title ran for 34 issues, which were mostly written by Pat Mills and Tony Skinner, with later issues penned by Chuck Dixon. Though it’s an American comic, the British influence of its authors and their work on comics like Judge Dredd is evident in its particular tone of satire and brand of dystopia. Many elements of this world, like the influence and power of the sinister corporation Alchemax, which owns the Public Eye Police Force, will nonetheless be familiar to anyone who has glimpsed into the sci-fi future. Or at the news. (I almost said “at a newspaper” until I remembered we’re enough into the future to not really have those anymore.)
Punisher 2099 was one of four initial titles in the Marvel 2099 imprint, which later expanded to include titles like the X-Men and the Hulk. (This very site was christened with an article on the only new character of those initial four, Ravage 2099.) I will let five seconds on Wikipedia explain, if you’re really interested, which continuity is what and which world’s future the world of Marvel 2099 is because it’s convoluted and not especially pertinent to our topic at the moment. What is pertinent, what is most pertinent, is that Punisher 2099 is AWESOME.
Seriously, of all the comics I have read for this site, this is the one I had the hardest time picking a stopping point so that I could actually, you know, write the article. From the first cover, I was sold:
Is it over the top? Yes. Is this comic full of ludicrous and head-shaking things? Of course. Does it sometimes teeter on the edge of self-satire? It had better. Does its greatness lie in no small part in its extremeness? Well I certainly think so. This comic is ridiculously fun and cool, and there’s no point in trying to justify it or gussy it in with any kind of analytic or pseudo-intellectual nonsense. That’s not to say it doesn’t have depth or that you can’t take some of the same messages about authority or society away that you can with, say, a movie like Dark City (we use 90s references here, people), but that’s just not where my mind focuses when reading this. The fact that there are frequent examples of legitimate social commentary is icing on the cake. A very large and flamboyant cake with, like, sparklers and moving parts and a megaphone announcing it’s time for cake.
The particular trappings of this particular vision of the future are just so great that I had to make myself start taking notes that were more than just, “That’s awesome,” over and over again. I know I’m gushing, but I don’t have anything in particular to criticize about this comic. I’m sure if you felt like rolling your eyes at some of it, you could, but if you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into when you look at that cover, that’s really on you because it’s very much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get scenario in an incredibly unsubtle way.
I also had to stop myself from including just about every page because the art (penciled by Tom Morgan, inked by Jim Palmiotti, and colored by Ian Laughlin), is no less top notch. I read the entire thing from page one with a huge grin. Seriously, from page one:
Already, what’s not to like? If that weren’t great enough, this is page two:
The Street Surgeons, despite being sort of horrifying for most people who aren’t the Punisher, put up about as much of a fight as you’d expect, and we quickly learn a couple things about our future crime fighter. First, despite his high tech arsenal of Plasto-Armor and ‘Mean Mule’ Turbo Kick-Boots (any excuse to say it), he still uses regular bullets to put holes in people. Second, no matter the incarnation, the Punisher doesn’t have that name for nothing.
The Public Eye Police Force is peeved at the Punisher, not because he is, you know, murdering people or anything, but because he is giving away freebies, and “Special Operations” Agent Jake Gallows is called in to investigate the menace. As you might be able to guess from that incredibly subtle name or the fact that a cop being brought in to investigate himself feels like a common trope (even though I can’t think of an example off the top of my head), Jake Gallows won’t have any harder a time investigating the Punisher than Peter Parker would getting a picture of Spider-Man.
The Punisher may no longer be Frank Castle, but if there is one thing these two men have in common, other than a hatred of criminals and disturbingly large pectorals, it’s their need to display a skull somewhere on their person as much as humanly possible.
The skull comes courtesy of a face scrambler, and as amazing as it is, it still manages to be the second coolest bit of technology on this page, after the geri-toxin Future Goldust receives as a sentence, apparently without trial, for straight up murdering 15 people. Or maybe it’s for being a techno-shaman, which sounds like everything awful about ravers and hippies all rolled into one person. Regardless, this isn’t the only way crime is sentenced differently in the world of Marvel 2099 than in our own. For instance, Kron Stone, the guy who kills this Punisher’s family, is charged 2.2 mega dollars for the crime, an amount he claims is less than the cost of his suit. I mean, where do these writers come up with this stuff? What a ludicrous idea, a world where rich criminals don’t really get punished! Good thing it’s just a comic book. *uncomfortable laughter*
Stone, the son of a bigwig at Alchemax, isn’t just any old rich criminal daddy’s boy, though. That would be far too mundane for Punisher 2099. No, Stone, is certifiable, killing happy families, believing them to be liars, because there can be no such thing as a happy family. After taking out Gallows’ mother, brother, and sister-in-law with what appears to be an insta-cancer gun, Stone refuses to kill Gallows himself because he is no longer a family and therefore of no consequence to him. (You’d think you maybe wouldn’t save for last the only member of this family who already looks like a criminal killing vigilante, but I might be looking for logical decisions in the wrong place.)
After the sentencing, Gallows returns home to the massive arsenal he has assembled, the most important item of which, even more than that sweet jet pack, is the diary of Frank Castle. It charges whoever finds it to carry on his work, so lucky for him it ended up in the hands of someone else who also just happened to have his entire family murdered in front of him, amirite? Actually, what I find most interesting about Gallows’s connection to Castle is that Castle’s “work” seemingly spoke to him before his family was murdered, with that event acting as the final catalyst to turn him into another incarnation of the Punisher. Castle and Gallows are very similar, one might argue too similar, but their biggest similarity appears to be that their great personal tragedies only unlocked a dormant black and white sense of justice within them both rather than causing it.
After saying goodbye to his family with a Viking funeral officiated by a pretty good Thor cosplayer at the coolest looking church ever…
…Gallows tracks down Stone at an amusement park, where the latter is attempting to kill a ride’s worth of children because in his mind, it’s better for them than sending them home to their parents. The children are floating in a No-Grav Ring, and a fight over the controls leaves one child outside of the ring’s safety. Of course, this chain of circumstances leads to the classic hero conundrum whether to save the innocent or go after the bad guy, but Stone and Gallows discuss whether he has time to save him for so long it seems like the kid would have splatted to the ground already no matter how much gravity there is. In the end Gallows makes the catch, of course, but Stone makes his getaway in the most obnoxious manner possible.
Gallows is even more resolved to take down Stone and everyone else who believes they are above punishment, a couple of whom we are briefly introduced to. Their names, along with the names of some of their crimes, are enough to make me excited for future issues. We meet the Fearmaster of Alchemax, who tells Under-Capo Multi Fractor of the Cyber Nostra that they will have to increase revenue by 20%, which means they will have to expand into total reality drugs and holo-porn clubs. (Does any part of that sentence not make you want to read more?) This comes directly after the Fearmaster telling Police Commissioner Bennelli that he expects a 20% decrease in crime in return for their sponsorship. Seems like the Punisher will have no trouble keeping himself busy, but the upside is it will constantly sound badass as hell to explain.
Of course, now that his family is gone, there isn’t anyone to explain much of anything to, except his Microchip analog, Matt Axel, who helps Gallows fill his empty home by building him a huge, terrifying torture prison. I suppose this is a good sort of friend to have if you plan on being an unstoppable vigilante and a bad sort of friend to have if you are literally anyone else. Even the unstoppable vigilante might think twice about angering the guy who gifts invisible, armed 800 mph motorcycles.
Now that he’s fully tricked out, Gallows is ready to take on Stone, who, when cornered, gives us a sob story that I think is best heard from the source:
That story encapsulates everything that is great about this comic. On the one hand, it’s not outlandish to think that we will one day, not long in the future, live in a world where children do get abused by their robot nannies, and it says plenty of things about society and people that are worth reflecting on. On the other – yo, that story is HILARIOUS. It’s so over the top in the best way that I’m all the more on board with the Punisher doing something I wouldn’t especially be ok with if it were really happening. Oftentimes art set in a dytopian future, no matter how entertaining, can be depressing, not because it warns us about what’s to come but because it reminds us of the way things already are. While reading Punisher 2099, it was more, “Well, yeah, corporations control everything and police are corrupt and, sure, the rich can basically do whatever they want, but damn, if I could do some total reality drugs and go on the No-Grav Ring, maybe I wouldn’t mind so much! Everything and everyone is amazing!”
I can’t tell if that means I’m taking the comic too seriously or not seriously enough, but it’s irrelevant. I loved it, and I hope you do too because I fully intend to look at more of this insanity in the future! To entice you further, I’ll leave you with the cover of the third issue, which previews what I can only imagine is the equipment so scary even Matt Axel sort of put his foot down. I also hope you haven’t had enough punishment because we still have three weeks to go, continuing later this week with Dean Compton taking a look at Marvel Super Action #1 over at the fabulous Longbox Graveyard!