The lovely CravenWild posted a lovely review blurb about Kingdom of Famine! Check out her website!
The lovely CravenWild posted a lovely review blurb about Kingdom of Famine! Check out her website!
I often end up talking Lovecraft with new writers who haven’t read him, and I make sure to bring up the following points:
Lovecraft wrote a variety of macabre tales: from short traditional spooks to sprawling novels of poetic horror, and some are more effective than others. Here are what I find to be the best of his works: the scariest, most accessible, and least unwieldy for new readers. If you haven’t read Lovecraft before, these stories make for a good introduction, and may convince you to give his longer works a shot.
THE LURKING FEAR. Something of a more traditional haunted house story, but with a cool new spin on the concept. The atmosphere is palpable in this one, and there are a number of climactic scares throughout, rather than a slow burn with no payoff til late into the story, like in The Shunned House (though it’s also a good read). The writing is as dense as you would expect from HP, but it’s worth it once he starts dropping the scares into your lap. Thinking of being in the protagonist’s shoes still gives me chills when I think of what he went through, and there are moments when the mere anticipation of a terrible event makes you squirm. A frightful delight.
THE DUNWICH HORROR. Many of HP’s works involve a lot of buildup for very little payoff, but this one constantly raises the stakes and the weirdness, lacing it all with a thick atmosphere that really makes the degenerate backwater of Dunwich come alive. The reader gets a better sense of involvement than in Call of Cthulhu: both are great horror tales written in an investigative journalism style (forgiving the dense gothic prose HP loved so well), but whereas Cthulhu leaves the reader feeling far removed from the events described, Dunwich somehow manages to feel more like an event in progress, and feels more intense as a result. The actual horror doesn’t kick off until the second half, and manages to predict classic creature features involving giant monsters running amok in human civilization. Many of HP’s “big reveals” are telegraphed pages in advance like always, but the overall experience is a great one and leaves you with a broad collection of unsettling images and ideas. Great spooky fun, and definitely worth reading more than once.
OUT OF THE AEONS. Essentially ghostwritten for Hazel Heald, this is a surprisingly effective tale of the mythos revolving around a strange mummy, an equally strange scroll, and one of the most frightening creatures in all of Yog-Sothothery. HP was fond of folk tales and mythology, and it really shows here: the story of the people of Mu is fascinating and feels like something out of a textbook, and the mystery of the mummy lends itself to a lot of spooky fun. It ends up feeling like the sort of yarn you’d read in a scary story anthology, albeit with a more archaic writing style. It’s underrated and highly recommended, despite the bogusness of the Mu culture irl, and a few questionable science fact elements.
I also want to give a shout-out to Robert W Chambers, who inspired Lovecraft and wrote The King In Yellow, a great anthology and fascinating combination of proto cosmic horror and romanticism; and Robert Bloch, who contributed a lot of great stories to the mythos, collected in the anthology The Mysteries of the Worm.
This rant got me kicked out of the “Creative Writers” Facebook group a few months ago. I seem to make a habit out of being banned from facebook writing groups.
So I’m reading the posts in this group and I come across a member’s post that apparently had comments locked by an admin. Reading the shitstorm that resulted from this post has helped me to realize why I keep getting into fights with so many people on facebook lately. I’m not going to requote the post or comments because I hate drama, but I AM going to talk in more detail and clarity than the OP did, even though many of you will not even bother reading to the end (or you will, but you won’t actually pay attention). This does have to do with authors, so bear with me.
I almost didn’t bother writing this, but I’m posting it anyway, partly because I have first-hand experience with this issue as a content creator and I’m tired of putting up with it, and tired of watching others fall victim to it; partly because posting elsewhere would feel like preaching to the choir, which is just pointless masturbation; partly as an exercise in “not being afraid to speak my mind”, as is the norm on the internet nowadays; and partly to point out how this sort of thing actually affects your audience. For that last point alone, you authors need to read to the end and think about it. Don’t argue: I know a lot of you are already opening the comments box to refute me, but you’re doing it out of anger and not thinking straight. Pretty sure the admins will close comments anyway, to prevent further drama — necessity of the topic notwithstanding. So don’t argue. Just think about it, is all I ask. Have a beer or a spot of tea while you think. If you HAVE to argue, first take a week off to calm down, then message me about it when you’re rational. (Again, coming from first-hand experience here, it really helps if you take a break before responding).
Here’s the topic:
The person in question argued that authors shouldn’t be required to use trigger warnings on their books or posts, nor should they be bullied into it. A ton of people jumped on him and called him a troll for saying this. I don’t know the context outside of that post and its reaction: maybe he had posted incendiary stuff before, or maybe it was his first post in the group on the subject.
The fact is, though, he’s fucking right. It IS ridiculous to expect me to add detailed disclaimers on a regular basis, for the sake of people who (theoretically) need professional help so badly that mere words like “rape” or “suicide” send them into a helpless, sobbing mania. Not just here in this facebook group, but anywhere. And whether he was serious or not, it’s the members’ reactions I’m more concerned about: the sincere and angry argument that it’s the author’s solemn duty to warn the reader of every potential trigger that pops up in their work, and if they don’t they’re an irresponsible asshole who should be ostracised. That is as ridiculous and unreasonable as it is impossible, especially these days.
I am NOT responsible for the mental stability of my readers. Not even on facebook. Argue the contrary all you want, you’re still wrong.
Rating systems like we have with films are more than enough, as unreliable as they are: R means adults only, and therefore all content is fair game, the theory being — flawed as it is — that adults are mature enough to handle things like death, sex, drugs, rape, cursing, etc. If a book isn’t for kids, it is not found in the YA or children’s section, and therefore the content is fair game.
However, the issue goes beyond merely having gruesome content in a work of fiction: trigger warning enthusiasts are championing for the weak and the wounded, worried that the poor dears will fall apart if they read a depiction of something they themselves experienced. If that’s ever the case, it’s because the victim isn’t getting the help they need (or like in a few cases I’ve personally met, because they WANT to feel like victims). In most cases it’s people who have no experience with the trauma in question, which is even more pathetic. In no case is it the author’s fault, nor is it the author’s responsibility to rectify it or pander to it. Nor should that author be crucified for being so insensitive as to include bad things in his adult-oriented story that happen in real life to real adults.
So I did an experiment that panders to the trigger warning demographic. Here’s what the front page of The Helios Legacy would look like if I adhered to this sort of mentality and listed everything I know someone would be offended or triggered by. Because let’s be real, listing one or two wouldn’t be enough if we want this to be a standard practice: we’d have to cover all the bases with a proper disclaimer, and make sure everyone knows exactly what they’re getting into, so nobody feels misrepresented or left out. These are all things that I’ve seen people flip out over. So hold onto your butts.
Trigger Warning: contains depictions of, or references to, the following:
– harsh language
– harsh language around minors
– harsh language by minors
– characters contemplating suicide
– attempted suicide
– attempted suicide by a minor
– sexual abuse
– sexual abuse of a minor
– use of the word “rape”
– use of the word “cunt”
– use of the word “fuck” and all its variants
– use of the word “suicide”
– taking the lord’s name in vain
– racial slurs
– homosexual slurs
– violence against women
– woman protagonist who shows vulnerability
– women who speak of subjects other than women
– unflattering portrayals of radical feminism
– references to and depictions of social anxiety
– references to and depictions of depression
– references to and depictions of wartime PTSD
– unflattering portrayals of radical leftist politics
– lack of trans characters
– scary imagery
I took about two hours making up that list, just to make sure I didn’t leave out any subject worth a safe space visit or an angry email. Now nobody can say I didn’t warn them about the content of the book…though I had to do it at the expense of misrepresenting the content of said book. You read “sexual abuse of a minor” and probably think of seven chapters of wanton kid-rape in excruciating detail, but in fact it’s just a vague reference to the fact that the kid was abused and you don’t actually see anything. I had to mention it as part of the trigger warning, so there it is, context be damned.
Did reading the disclaimer give you second thoughts about reading the book? Good, because that brings me to yet another reason trigger warnings are a stupid practice.
It’s anti-marketing. By scaring potential readers away with an out-of-context list of vague warnings (even if I had only listed rape or suicide), they miss out on a good story with engaging characters they can actually care about. They miss out on the soldier who helps the traumatized boy learn to trust adults again. They miss out on the damaged mom who finds the will to live after a terrible loss. They miss out on a villain who’s actually likable and sympathetic. They miss all the cool little moments between the guilty war hero and the mother of her dead teammate, or the flashbacks of a romance that was meant to be, but ultimately self-destructed. They miss out on the imagery: a nuclear winter city, a passenger train splayed across a snowy wasteland like a dead behemoth. They miss out on a really awesome scene with improvised firearms. They miss out on the surprise of picking up a random indie book they never heard of and actually enjoying it.
They miss out, period.
At some point we as a species need to stop babying each other. I’m very close to people who have actually suffered abuse or serious mental illness. If you told any of them that trigger warnings were essential for anyone, least of all for them, they would think you’re a condescending asshole out to empower yourself at the expense of others, and they’d be right. The world depicted in Demolition Man was intended as a joke, not something to aspire to.
Enforcing this kind of thing isn’t helping anyone. It turns people away from your books for superficial reasons. It empowers the self-righteous and makes people afraid to speak their minds. It forces people to be hypervigilant on a constant basis. It takes those who have actually suffered and paints them like blubbering infants. It ensures that those who THINK they need trigger warnings and safe spaces never fucking recover, and live the rest of their lives with a victim complex. Most of all, it insults your reader’s maturity.
So I urge everyone to drop this practice and start respecting their readers again. That’s ultimately what you’re doing when you include a trigger warning: you’re treating your readers like children. In which case, you’re probably writing in the wrong category.
So apparently Congo is a bad movie. I never understood this.
i wouldn’t call it great. It’s not Planet of the Apes. But they set out to make a cheesy tribute to old jungle adventure films, and that’s exactly what they did.
Was it bad because of the ape suits? How realistic were they supposed to be in 1995? Even the dinos in Jurassic Park, while amazing, were still obviously fake. The apes in Congo aren’t far beneath those dinos quality-wise, and they didnt rely on cg at all. The apes move like they should and have terrifically expressive faces. Did none of the critics who blasted those suits see Tarzan and the Lost City? THOSE were bad ape costumes. Getting real apes would be impossible and Crichton knew it. Between that and the fact that he was making a throwback to a genre that was cheesy and fake to begin with, i don’t get what his problem was OR the pretentious critics.
It couldn’t be the acting that puts people off. All the performances range from competent to wonderful. Tim Curry is a bad guy straight out of those old pulpy adventure flicks, and Ernie Hudson steals the show. I can’t imagine a Congo with Sean Connery instead of Hudson.
Is it because it’s not true enough to the book? I don’t see how that’s anything but an improvement. All of Crichton’s characters are unrelatable, unlikable shitheads. His female characters are hardcore inhuman bitches, cos apparently anything less is sexist and weak. I actually like most of the characters in the movie with the exception of the ape whisperer and his nonexistent learning curve. And Amy’s voice wasn’t unbearably annoying. Get over it.
I went into Congo expecting a killer ape flick and was surprised when i got a huge adventure instead. All kinds of crap happens in this movie and it’s almost never boring, with plenty of scenes with Hudson and Linney being badasses.
Maybe I’m just not as enlightened as a film critic. All i know is, anyone who went into this movie expecting high art is an idiot. Congo accomplished what it set out to be: a fun adventure pulp movie.
More lost “gems” from my Myspace blog archive. It’s funny how ten years later nothing has really changed in the realm of TV crime shows. A few people used to think my reviews were funny, mostly because of my idiotic MS Paint drawings I guess.
It’s funny to read my old writing and see how I’ve changed. I’m definitely not the sack of piss and vinegar I was in my twenties, probably because when you hit thirty you stop giving a shit. And yet the structure of my reviews and articles haven’t changed much since I first posted this review blog back in the early 2000’s. This may or may not be the first time I wrote a structured snarky review, so I guess I’ll keep it up on the site for now, MS Paint doodles and all.
Pent Up Frustration: Bones is a Shitty Show
Current mood: Bruckheimer’d
Guy Who Played Angel hasn’t seen many noteworthy roles since Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel were cancelled. He’s currently a lead player in the series Bones, yet another crime forensics drama using a specific gimmick to draw its audience in every week.
As you know, without a special gimmick, all these shows would literally be indiscernible from one-another. Jerry Bruckheimer kind of paved the way for this trend by having three CSI shows that take place in different cities. For example, CSI New York’s gimmick is that it takes place in New York, whereas CSI Miami takes place in Miami. A noble effort, but not quite enough to keep me interested or to convince me that switching casts randomly between these three shows would result in any noticeable difference.
Fortunately other producers and networks took the trend from there. Numbers features crime stories that are somehow always solved via mathematic algorithms. It doesn’t matter if the perpetrators are running around in a stolen ice cream truck selling black market Popcicles to kids, or if the FBI were on the trail of an elusive pair of shoplifters. The hero will find some kind of fucking algorithm that will somehow lead them to the criminals, like taking all the places they shoplifted on a map and plotting a curve and extrapolating where their next target will be, or studying the rhythm of the ice cream truck’s musical device to uncover their diabolical plot to rob a bank or something. It works without fail, and it’s usually ridiculous.
Then there’s Medium, which is about the exploits of an allegedly psychic woman who solves crimes by whining incessantly when people won’t let her read their minds. And of course there’s Cold Case, where the gimmick is that the heroes are investigating long closed cases nobody gives a shit about anymore. Hey, why don’t we make another show where the police investigate historical criminal cases where everybody involved has been dead for centuries? It could be called Why Not?
But I’m derailing myself. Bones has yet another gimmick to make it slightly unique from all these cookie cutter police forensics serials. In fact, it has several traits that make it stand out. And every one of them drives me nuts.
First, Guy Who Played Angel is in it, so you know it’s a winner off the bat.
Next, the main attraction. The heroine, Bones, is a boneologist or whatever the term is for someone who studies bones, and the crimes she faces all reach resolution through the analysis of a bone sample of some sort. It doesn’t matter what crime the asshole of the week pulled off, if this bitch gets her hands on his bone sample, he’s through. Arm bone with a slight scratch in it? Judging by the look of the scratch, this could only have been made by a serrated orcish battleaxe prop used in fantasy conventions. According to her skeletal structure, the victim also enjoyed playing tennis, was left handed, wore green apple lip gloss and had a big crush on Matthew Darling in her advanced biology class. The killer must have used his favorite prop to kill the girl after tennis practice because she liked Matthew more than him. Case kah-LOSED!
Another amazing ability the heroine has, other than being a more contemptuous bitch than Scully on X-Files, is that she apparently used to be an Olympian Amazonian princess like Wonder Woman, because it takes this scrawny twat zero effort to Steven Seagal a 500 pound thug through the floorboards. Aikido has taught me that you can be a scrawny princess and still subdue a giant beast of a man, but Bones’s martial arts prowess is never reinforced as part of her character except when it comes out of nowhere, so it’s cartoonish every time.
And lemme tell ya, the plot expositions aren’t that hot. I’ll give you an example of an episode I had the misfortune of watching.
Kid is found dead from a stab wound to the spine. Murder weapon nowhere to be found. Perfectly believable so far. The kid turns out to have been a comic writer, an employee at a bowling alley, and part of a band of role-playing geeks who like to pretend they’re super heroes. The kid’s comic features his own alter-ego as the hero. They question the nerds but get nowhere at first.
But then they find a chunk of bone. Hot damn, time to start fillin’ jail cells!
They try to match the bone sample to the kid’s own bone tissue and discover, lo and behold, he was suffering from a rare and highly lethal bone disease that he’d been keeping secret from his folks because he wanted to be a tough super hero. So they figure the fragment is from whoever killed the kid.
So now they start psychoanalyzing the comic the kid worked on. In it, his alter-ego keeps fighting this shadowy guy and trying to rescue a fair maiden who glows blue and whom he just can’t seem to have as his own. They figure all three characters are real people in his life, and start asking around again. While chatting with the bowling alley owner, Bones notices that his wife favors her left arm, a sign that she’s got broken ribs and is probably being slapped around by Hubby. Ah, but they can’t arrest someone on an assumption. They need proof. Just when they start wondering who to interrogate next, they make a shocking discovery.
The comic is written by the victim, but drawn by one of his friends.
Well, fuck me running, they’ve been on this case for a couple days now and looking in this self-published comic book for clues from the beginning and they never ONCE noticed the “Written By” and “Art By” section on the cover page? I hate this show already, but let’s see how it turns out.
So Bones and her pal, Guy Who Played Angel, question the artist as if he was being sneaky about it from the start — like it’s some kind of Scooby Doo plot twist that the writer and artist for a comic book weren’t the same person, unlike just about every other comic book ever put to print. With his insight they determine that the owner of the bowling alley was the shadowy guy, and his wife, whom he constantly abused, was the blue chick. Apparently, the victim saw an instance of abuse and tried to defend her with the weird triangular shank commonly used to clean bowling balls, jabbing the husband in the arm and chipping the bone (aha! our fragment!), but the kid was sick and weak and got pwned by the huge abusive pro-wrestler-looking asshole. So they go to the bowling alley and find the murder weapon, and hubby gets mad and throws a fit and gets Steven Seagal’d by Bones like he’s the size and weight of a toddler.
Bones could totally ruin Godzilla’s shit.
The epilogue would have been remotely touching had it any plausibility. Bones’s sketch artist makes a comic detailing the climactic struggle between the dead kid and the shadowy guy, and both of them vanquish each other, and the blue lady floats away to freedom saying “Thank you”. She gives this to the battered wife at the kid’s funeral, and had this miserable woman actually read any of his shit and understood the meaning behind his comics in the first place, which they never convey at any point in the episode, this might have had some kind of impact on her and on the audience.
I think in closing I’ll be brief and just state that television sucks. Go outside and do something productive.
After reading two dozen articles over at Mythcreants it dawned on me after the third “trigger warning” and the eighth “patriarchy-is-the-root-of-all-humanity’s-problems” that it’s not a writing site so much as a political site for SJW types — the kind of internet warriors that treat their readers like infants and elevate women beyond their position as the other half of a very flawed species. Nevermind the fact that this worldview is misguided and counter-productive to social justice: whether you subscribe to it is irrelevant. The real problem is that it dilutes every article and gets in the way of the whole point of a writing site.
Teaching people how to write better.
You don’t teach people how to write better by injecting your insane politics into their heads at every opportunity: that’s a brainwashing tactic, not a teaching tactic. You don’t teach them to freely express themselves by enforcing the use of “trigger warnings” so as to avoid traumatizing the poor babies who might have actually suffered a traumatic experience at one point in their life (read as: everyone on planet fucking earth) and ensure that they never recover from their trauma. You don’t teach them to avoid stereotypes by constantly talking about women as poor widdle victims and men as the scourge of humanity, however blatant or subtle you are about it (and no, one little article about sexism towards men doesn’t balance it, especially when you continue blaming men for their own situation). When you do these things in your writing, you’re appeasing a single dizzy cult on the internet, and pissing off everyone else. Sane people do not want to be treated like sniveling infants, nor treated like they’re the cause of the world’s problems; and sane authors do not treat them as such.
There are tons of blogs and websites dedicated to helping authors improve their writing. None of them do what Mythcreants does: use it as a platform for hypocritical internet politics. No reputable writing site needs to get more political than “Write people. Not men, not women, not blacks, not whites, but PEOPLE”. When you make their cultural club membership a mere trait — like hair color or Spotify playlist — you focus on them as an individual. Political BS and personal prejudice take a backseat, allowing you to flesh them out as a person and not worry about making them into misrepresentative stereotypes. You focus on WHO they are and not WHAT they are. It’s that simple. Later, when you’re a more mature and finessed author, you can find ways to use gender or race as an important part of their identity, but not until you’ve first learned how to flesh out a character without relying on that shit.
Here are four great writing resources that give the same advice as or better than Mythcreants, without the childish and intellectually stunting internet hippie bullshit:
Dan Alatorre’s Blog – Posts all kinds of tips and links to other articles on the subject on a regular basis, and responds to all comments and questions.
Writer’s Digest – Formerly a magazine, it’s still a great resource for writers.
Poets and Writers – Also includes contests, MFA programs, and other stuff.
Creepypasta Wiki – Believe it or not, there are a lot of great blog posts about how to improve writing, and other advice, such as “don’t be a whiny bitch toward criticism”. Highly recommended is ImGonnaBeThatGuy’s Unsolicited Writing Advice.
I’ve been a fan of the Punisher since I was a kid, probably because of the “one man army” action movie motif that started with First Blood. Seeing bad guys who are “above the law” get righteously gunned down is cathartic, too.
Punisher has seen a few different incarnations, but I never loved him more than in the late 80s and early 90s, when he was less of a generic do-gooder who happened to shoot people for a hobby. A one-man war on crime eats at a guy, and it’s eaten away almost every last scrap of Castle’s humanity. What’s left of it only occasionally comes out to remind him where he came from and why he does what he does: to punish those who victimize others, and to punish himself for failing to protect his family. But when you come right down to it, the best Punisher stories were 80s action movies with a military or crime garnish — the kind of stuff you’d expect to see on a TNT movie marathon.
Due to the short shelf life of a Punisher villain, the bad guys were often pretty generic. If they ever survived for a comeback, they were usually cartoon characters, like Jigsaw, Barracuda, or the Russian, which didn’t always quite fit the Punisher mold in my view: I always felt Punisher baddies should be as grounded in reality as Castle himself, plus when you feature an established comic baddie in a Punisher yarn, you KNOW he’ll always get away. With the more disposable bad guys, you were never sure: Castle might nail ’em, or they might come back to haunt him later. Either way, sometimes they were memorable for one reason or another despite being “throwaway” characters doomed to eat a bullet within two to five issues.
The following storylines are my favorites because they combine the above into great stories. I’ll add more as I stumble upon them. Sometimes I give what I believe to be the official title of the storyline; other times, if the chapters each have unique titles, I’ll choose the most relevant one to encompass the whole story; still other times I’ll just invent a title myself.
Oh yeah, probably spoilers. Heads up.
(Punisher #8 and #9)
Punisher tries to nail a Zaibatsu CEO and his American cohorts for insider trading; meanwhile a serial killer runs amok killing Wall Street’s hoboes. Turns out the two are more connected than Castle realized, but our man takes down white collar crooks the way lower-class Americans would love to see them taken down. This is the arc where Micro actually loses his son and cements his role as the Punisher’s sidekick.
It’s refreshing to see the Punisher butt heads with white collar crooks instead of the usual mafia or ganger fare. The featured bad guy Sijo is a menacing dude, a silent bodyguard/assassin who’s as tough as Godzilla and almost as big. He’s reminiscent of Professor Toru Tanaka in The Perfect Weapon: a big, bad bruiser who can crush people’s skulls with his bare hands. He gets a particularly gruesome death in a gravel crusher for killing Micro’s boy. His sidekick, coked-up insider trading prodigy Roky Vance, is a memorably creepy douche with a fetish for killing bums.
(Punisher #89 through #92)
While Punisher hunts for a Jamaican drug lord, he stumbles onto a plot to rescue South American dictator General Carranza from his American prison before he can stand trial. Despite a staggering body count, Carranza escapes on his plane and mocks the vigilante as he flies back to his home country, Bosqueverde. For a while Punisher considers him lost, but a news report informs him that the dictator is chilling in his jungle villa, pretending to be under arrest. From there the story becomes Predator as the Punisher stalks through the jungle, killing Carranza’s mercenaries one by one.
This four-issue arc is reminiscent of pre-Comics Code military comics, back when war was hell and death was gruesome and vividly narrated — see Castle’s description of one soldier’s sucking chest wound. You almost feel bad for Punisher’s marks: they don’t stand a chance. Only Rabio and his mercenaries ever have a clean shot at the Big P, but he quickly turns the tables on them and plays some guerrilla games that even John Rambo would call fucked up. Definitely features some of Frank Castle’s baddest kills.
The artwork in this tale is superb, especially the environments. You can feel the humidity as Castle stalks through the jungle, or the frigid embrace of the ocean as he goes to work in a frogsuit. The most memorable baddie is definitely Carranza, basically a suave and handsome Manuel Noriega, who constantly throws his weight around like he’s got the biggest cojones on planet earth and nobody can touch him. His death via helicopter minigun is nothing short of spectacular.
I can see Thomas Jane turning this one-shot street justice tale into an awesome short film. An adolescent boy named Gonzalo is fed up with his barrio being ruled by the Razors, a brutal street gang that has been extorting the neighborhood. He starts hanging up posters asking the Punisher for help. Punisher agrees to handle the situation with a clever disguise and some choice gunplay for the finale.
One memorable character is the tie salesman who stands up to the Razors and beats the hell out of them more than once. The kid believes him to be the Punisher in disguise, and is devastated when the gang’s leader cuts him down. Turns out the Punisher was casing the situation all week before making his move on collection day, when the neighborhood pays their protection money — makes me wonder if the Punisher was in the john when this poor salesman got whacked. Beyond that minor gripe, it’s a solid urban western.
The bad guys really aren’t even a challenge to Castle here. Wiping out a street gang is the sort of thing he would do nonchalantly on his way home from picking up groceries or doing laundry. What makes it interesting is that this little kid reached out to him for help, basically committing contract murder at age nine. It shows that Castle is kinda like a really brutal Superman: no innocents are too insignificant to help.
(Punisher: War Zone #1 through #6)
The War Zone series kicks off with a real bang. In order to bring down the Carbone crime family from the inside, Punisher enlists the help of Carbone stooge Mickey Fondozzi and poses as his cousin from Kansas City: the big, imposing Johnny Tower. The Punisher has a field day with this mission: by day he’s Johnny Tower, obliterating rival mobs and destroying their rackets so the Carbones can’t take them over; by night hes the Punisher, using his inside info to whack Carbone operations. It’s all fun and games until he’s outed and handcuffed to a car with five pounds of plastique in the passenger seat. I had to wait a decade before I would finally collect the missing issues and find out how he escaped and destroyed the Carbone outfit.
Johnny Tower is a great Punisher story all-around, if you can forgive the terrible Liefeld anatomy and unnecessary Liefeld-esque sideways two-page spreads. Where the anatomy fails, the mood and environment succeeds with flying colors: in particular, the sequence of Punisher shadowing Micro to a mysterious appointment oozes atmosphere and tension. The Micro subplot is one of the better ones, and resounds throughout this story arc and its follow-up.
The Carbone brothers are what you would expect for Italian mafia dons, but they’re distinct from one-another: Julius being a dandy patriarch in contrast to Sal, the big, brooding former enforcer. The star gangster of the story, though, is Mickey the Dumbass: a common hoodlum who’s in over his head, both as a Punisher sidekick and a wiseguy climbing the mafia food chain. His recruitment is where the Thomas Jane film got the brilliant popsicle interrogation scene. Honestly I wish this had been the plot to that movie instead of a hammy origin story (as much as I liked Howard Saint, Harry Heck, and the three outcasts in the apartment). There’s also a guy named Shotgun who only vaguely factors into the goings-on of the plot, and whose equipment is a bit over-the-top even for a Marvel comics story. He lives up to his namesake at least, specializing in combat shotguns and using a wide variety of custom ammunition to bring the house down around his targets.
(Punisher: War Zone #7 through #11)
After leaving a smoldering crater where the Carbone syndicate once stood, the Punisher goes on vacation…and by that I mean he goes hunting a serial rapist in Central Park (with the help of a very sexy policewoman). In trying to run down the rapist, he discovers that Rosalie Carbone — daugher of the late Julius, the new head of the Carbone mob, and Johnny Tower’s spurned lover — has hired the seven deadliest contract killers in the world to hunt him down for a million-dollar prize. Issue 2 has the best cover of the series, pictured below in all its rainy glory.
This story is nonstop action, and I can’t fault it for that. The seven killers are all distinct from one-another, though I wish they’d been given more creative handles: Garrotte kills with a garrotte, Stiletto kills with stiletto knives, Combat kills people with martial arts, etc. My favorite is Cane, the old gent with an arsenal of weaponized walking sticks. He’s the smartest and most experienced of the lot, mostly hanging back and letting the others get killed. Rosalie has a great introduction, indignantly storming into a Carbone capo meeting and taking over the organization that’s rightfully hers. From there she becomes mostly comic relief, as she quickly reverts to the pampered, mall-hopping brat she was in the Johnny Tower arc. She doesn’t know or care that she’s totally unsuited to the task of running a criminal empire. I guess even in the underworld, the idiots always get to be in charge.
I also love Castle’s pretty cop sidekick, Lynn Michaels. She takes the vigilante thing in stride and looks great in jogging gear. She appears on and off again throughout the comic series and begins to embrace the vigilante thing more fully, eventually taking the Punisher’s place in later storylines (temporarily at least). She even gets her own skull-torsoed getup!
(Punisher: War Zone #12 through #16)
Just as the Punisher is bearing down on terrified mobster DaRosa, both men are seized by mobs of pedestrians. The next thing Frank Castle knows, he’s living a happy suburban life with a wife and two kids. He’s been added to a small city full of psychotics and killers, all brainwashed by Dr. Shane to be sleeper agents for political assassinations.
Frank’s conditioning is fun to watch unravel bit by bit, as seemingly insignificant things nag at his subconscious, trying to remind him who he is. Most striking of all is the memory of the terrifying, grinning hitman who mowed down his family. When he finally snaps out of it, his resulting killing spree wakes up the rest of the townsfolk, and bedlam sweeps across the phony city. It’s all pretty glorious.
I only have a couple complaints about an otherwise brilliant Punisher story. The twisted Dr. Shane isn’t memorable on his own: he’s a generic mad doctor, and a mild-mannered one at that. But his awesome assassin program makes up for it. The other complaint is that Castle’s kids turn out to have the most cartoonishly evil rap sheets once their identities are revealed. The girl murdering her foster siblings, okay, but burning down a petting zoo and a nursing home, too? Come on, guys, a little subtlety wouldn’t hurt.
The issue covers are probably the best part, depicting a very rigid Castle doing everyday suburban shit: watching TV with the fam, mowing the lawn, etc, looking like he’s being forced against his will to live the American dream. Which of course he is.
(Punisher: War Zone # 26 through #30)
Hot on the trail of Caribbean gun runners, Castle travels from the Florida Keys to the fortified country of Puerto Dulce…which is on the eve of a violent revolution. There he meets rich, despotic siblings Ernesto and Carmelita Villamos, one of the five families who are basically keeping their people in poverty (hence the revolution). Outed by the sexy sister, Punisher is shipped off to a brutal sugar cane field where he is worked nearly to death from sunrise to sunset, and forced to fight other workers for the fat pit boss’s entertainment. Micro recruits an old buddy, Ice, to rescue Castle and flee the country before the revolutionaries raze it to the ground.
What makes this story stand out is the sheer amount of awful shit Castle goes through. He bakes under the hot sun while cutting razor-sharp cane that dices his feet to ribbons. He’s fed maggoty food and dysentery-inducing water. He develops a fever and is beaten by the guards frequently. The heat and misery of Puerto Dulce is palpable with every page, and you suffer right along with the heroes. It’s a great way to get the reader to root for them to escape at any cost. The action sequences are top notch, too, including a battle with some hungry crocodiles, and a great skirmish with some camping soldiers. The art style is gritty and makes everything look worn and haggard, and the anatomy is better and more dynamic than the Liefeld art style of the Johnny Tower story. Castle has a striking resemblance to Charles Bronson that doesn’t go unappreciated.
Watching the fall of the Villamos clan is cathartic as hell, too. Their bad karma thwarts their attempts to flee their dying regime at every turn. Nothing goes right for these two pampered assholes, and when faced with the brutal justice of the revolutionaries should they be caught, they opt for double-suicide instead, which is probably more satisfying than if Castle had nailed them, himself.