After a gayer than usual month here at the Fop, lets check in with that poster child for heterosexual male dysfunction, good old Frank Castle to finish the month off with. I probably shouldn't be so flippant, this is an incredibly powerful arc that finally causes Frank to seriously question why he does what he does. It is also tremendously brutal, and although Goran Parlov's artwork is a little more "cartoony" than the grittier artists of the series before this, it still results in some grotesque and uncomfortable physical violence that's hard to look at in places. So be warned. This story sees the return of Barracuda whose first appearance in volume five I couldn't cover because it's out of print and costs a fortune. Briefly he's a African-American bounty killer and assassin who'll do anything for a big payday, and in their last meeting Frank injured him badly enough that he lost the use of one eye. So in this arc he's focused on purely on revenge. He wants to really hurt Frank and events conspire to give him the ability to actually achieve this. Another thing one needs to bear in mind, the passage of time since the events of volume four is around a year and a half, why is this important? You'll see. Doing the artwork for issue #50 is legendary artist Howard Chaykin, I loved his eighties work but he is very styalised and his attempt to fit with the tone of the Punisher results in some pretty weak stuff. Nevermind, the writing is superlative.
We start at the home of Yorkie, a retired British soldier who we met in books two and seven. His wife is dead, he's been shot in the stomach and is bleeding out. Barracuda is after something he can use against Frank that he knows Yorkie has. However Yorkie tells Barracuda he is no match for Frank.
Yorkie: "He's going to kill you...because you're a joke in spite of it all. And he's the most dangerous man that ever walked this earth."
These words will haunt Barracuda as the book continues, but for now he shoots Yorkie dead having got what he came for.
|Barracuda kills Yorkie.|
We then get a few pages of pure gun porn as Frank goes out to some land he owns far away from civilisation, somewhere he could "disappear" bodies for good. As he target shoots he contemplates how the rhythm of the shots help take his mind off his dream and he mentally gives us the history of the various guns he is using to shoot with. The dream however is still bothering him sometime later when he hears of a meet up in a hotel of various gangland bosses looking to carve up what's left of the mafia's holdings and decides to pay them a visit.
As the criminals talk and Frank hides under the floor, they realise they have all be tricked there. The Punisher is fearfully mentioned but it isn't Frank's doing. Then the lfit arrives and opens and reveals Barracuda who starts killing everyone. Suddenly Frank notices a bomb counting down next to him and he has no choice but to leap up and into the gun fire, "exactly as he wanted."
|Frank doesn't see them as moral equivalents.|
Later Frank comes to, shackled to a chair with Barracuda looming over him. Barracuda says his revenge plan was initially to capture Frank and torture him, but he realised Frank wouldn't give him the satisfaction that way and it would be "a 'anticlimax". One day he got an anonymous email from persons unknown listing "known associates of Castle". Yorkie was one of them.
Barracuda wasn't sure how Yorkie could help him but when he paid him a visit and threatened his wife "faggot gave you up in 'bout a second homie." Yorkie had a letter in his safe about ex-CIA Agent O'Brien (see books four and seven), who Frank had initimate relations with both times they met. Yorkie had written to her sister to tell her O'Brien was dead. Her sister wrote back saying O'Brien had always been fucked up and at least she was now at peace. But did he know how to get in touch with Frank Castle? She had something to tell him.
Barracuda leaves the room gleefully saying how long he's been waiting for this moment. And he brings out a baby in a child seat. A baby girl. Frank's daughter.
He thinks back to what happened. In a rage he snapped the cuffs holding him and hit Barracuda very hard. They went down punching each other and Frank bit Barracuda's cheek ripping the flesh in the process. Barracuda stabbed him in the side and then bashed him with a chair knocking Frank out of the window and onto a passing police car. So now he is under arrest.
He tells the policeman in charge they need to let him go, because Barracuda will cause all kinds of collateral damage coming after him. His request is refused, the doctor then tells all the cops to leave the room.
Frank: "I didn't mention the baby. I couldn't let them turn it into a manhunt. I either stayed between the two of us.. or else he'd kill her."
Barracuda is at his friendly neighbourhood junkie doctors having his cheek wound seen to. The doctor makes the unfortunate mistake of noting Barracuda got his ass kicked. This causes Barracuda to recall Yorkie's words about him being a joke and in a rage he breaks the junkie doctor's neck.
|Frank, somewhat inconvenienced.|
Later he searches online and finds a broadcast of O'Brien's sister pleading for help in finding the kidnapped child, her name is "Sarah". Frank realises that between him and Barracuda each will be wondering how to draw the other out. He suits up and starts driving to O'Brien's sisters, thinking of Barracuda that he'd have the same idea and "knowing coldly certain, that he couldn't fail to get there first".
|Sarah's family appeal for help.|
Frank remembers his family. How they got him through Vietnam, "they were the only light in all that darkness." But the real war was back home where he lived and his family showed him that in the worst possible way. After all this time was he ready to face the parental fear all over again?
At O'Brien's sister's house, Barbara says she is going stir crazy and goes to the mall. Frank uses this opportunity to drop a mobile phone and a note in her bag. Barracuda is also in the area, he tells Sarah he isn't getting attached to her. She'll live long enough to fuck her dad up real good then "you ain't gonna last no longer 'n that."
|A clandestine phonecall.|
Barbara: "She said you were the only man on earth she believed she could really trust."
And her trust was not something she gave away lightly. Frank says he needs her help in drawing out Barracuda, she needs to leave the house with her family, make a big scene about it and he'll confront him there. So she does so, and the police surveillance goes with them leaving the O'Brien house empty. That night Frank breaks in and is closely followed by Barracuda holding a baby shaped bundle in his arms.
He starts spouting threats again, but Frank calmly asks if Barracuda replied to the anonymous email sender. When Barracuda says no, Frank thinks to himself that it means that person doesn't know about Sarah. Thus satisfied he tells Barracuda:
Frank: "That's all I wanted to know. I'm going to kill you now."
|Would he really do it?|
Frank: "He was bigger, younger, stronger. It was nice to find out I was faster."
And Frank lets loose a volley that hits Barracuda in the shoulder and knocks him down. Frank stamps on his head until he knocks him out and the bundle is revealed to be a doll. He then takes him to his car and chains him up then applies jump leads to his testicles.
Frank: "And I'd been turning the key in the ignition for fifteen minutes and he'd shit all over himself and the world was a beautiful place."
After forty-five minutes of this, he asks where Sarah is. Barracuda manages to whisper she is in a parked car in a lot close by. Frank forces Barracuda into the boot of the car and drives to her. When he lays eyes on her, "if you have to ask, you'll never know." He checks the car over and finds plastic explosive attached to her car seat and he doesn't have his bomb disposal gear with him.
|Barracuda's horrible childhood relived.|
Frank: "And I wanted Sarah out of there. Hearing her scream through the firefight made me sick to my guts. Like all her terror and confusion was on me.. and in a way it was. She was precious beyond gold and I couldn't have her hurting for another second."
As he runs into the forest he reflects that in the past week she'd been kidnapped, drugged and surrounded by carnage. "My world was an abbatoir. Everyone it touched it cut to ribbons, whether good or bad." He starts disarming the bomb when Barracuda comes up behind him and attacks. He kicks Frank's gun away and starts beating him with his fists, "he'd gone the kind of place you don't come back from.. this time he was the one with madness on his side."
Taking a terrible beating, Frank manages to grab a hold of the pliers he was using to disarm the explosive. He gets hold of Barracuda's nose and rips it clean off. Given temporary respite, Frank picks up Sara and runs into the nearby elementary school. Delirious Barracuda flashes back to a life full of violence, from school student to soldier and he makes his way into the school.
Frank: "I thought about what I'd look like through her eyes. An animal. A monster, standing in another's blood."
He disarms the explosive, and finds himself unable to keep his usual amotional distance. She has bought back all his parental feelings and made him feel like a human being for the first time in a long while.
He checks himself and Sarah into a motel and reflects on O'Brien. How in the end she couldn't stand to be in a world where bad men lived. And maybe she didn't want to inflict her "fucked up" life on the kid. Frank spends the day with Sarah then calls Barbara to tell her she's safe.
|Just one day with his daughter.|
He drives home and he realised that no matter what kind of life he tried to build with Sarah, the Barracuda's of this world would always be out there and some thing would need to be done about them. His war would never end.
Frank: "The sun slipped away behind me. The last sliver seeming to pause on the horizon then succumbing to the black. And I drove on through the shadows of America. Through the long, cold, dark night that I've made of my life."
Oh and if you're interested in checking out the Punisher MAX series, they are now being reissued as thick trades containing a couple of arcs apeice, and including "Born" in volume one as well. This has had the knock on effect of dropping the price of one of the two arcs I was missing, so once I am done with volume ten next month, I shall jump back to volume five - "The Slavers" and hopefully volume six "Barracuda" and the prequel "Born" will similarly become available at cut price. I hope my whining about the cost of the series helped a little in getting these reissues out. But I am probably being big headed, heh.