Sunday, 28 August 2016

Dragonball Book 4: Strongest Under The Heavens

" matter how great you are, there is always someone even better" - Kamesen'in

This is my cut n'paste intro for my end of month indulgence (if I feel like it) as I make my way through all forty-two collected volumes of the enduringly popular and influential manga Dragonball. The series used to be split into the fantasy and whimsy filled Dragonball and the more serious, sci-fi orientated strip it became after sixteen volumes known as Dragonball Z, but now the series is being released under the one "Dragonball" title again; uncut and with a spiffy new translation.  The series first ran in the famous anthology magazine "Shonen Jump" from 1984 to 1995 and was written and drawn by Akira Toriyama (It has been translated here by Mari Morimoto and adapted into English by Gerard Jones, the western publisher is Viz Media) and pretty much set the standard for the similar shonen manga and anime that came after like Bleach and Naruto.  It follows the adventures of the kindly if somewhat sheltered and simple "Son Goku" as he trains, goes on adventures and enters competitions all with the aim of making himself a stronger and better fighter.  Along the way he accrues a colourful cast of friends and rivals in a world where humans live alongside anthropomorphised animals, dinosaurs never died out and tiny capsules can contain vehicles and houses to be easily carried around.

[Note:  This manga is "unflipped" so must be read from right to left]

Previously On Dragonball:  After the hunt for the dragonballs was over, Goku parted from his new friends to go and train to become a better martial artist under the tutelage of the perverted old Kamesen'in (Kame for short).  Joining him was a young buddist monk called Kururin and they initially had an antagonistic relationship before bonding through nearly a years worth of training.  Kame entered them in the Tenka'ichi Budokai or Strongest Under the Heavens tournament to finish their training on a high note and they easily fought their way through the qualifiers to the final eight and are now fighting in front of the crowd which includes their friends Bulma, Puar and Oolong who are also there supporting Yamcha who has made the final eight as well.  Kame himself has also entered in disguise as "Jackie Chun" because he doesn't actually want his students to win in case it stops them wanting to improve their skills.  Book three ended with Kururin winning his first fight and going through to the semi-finals.  And now the continuation.
Kuririn and Goku.
As this whole volume is just one long series of fights it'll probably be pretty short.  I find the tournament arcs work better on TV than on the page but they're still fun to read.  Anyway, Goku congratulates Kururin on winning his fight.  They wonder if Kame saw it, and Goku says he swore he could smell him around somewhere close.

Match No. 2 is Yamcha versus the disguised Kame. The fight begins and Yamcha goes into a stance but Kame just stands there relaxed. He rushes in and attacks but Kame dodges every one of his attacks easily.

Kame: "You look like you've been forged by some real battles.  But you still waste so much excess movement. Tsk tsk."

Yamcha's Wolf Fang Fist.

Yamcha realises he'll have to unleash his secret weapon, the Wolf Fang Fist.  He attacks with it, but Kame jumps over his head.  Then using just the breeze made by his punch sends Yamcha flying off the stage resulting in a ring out victory for Kame.  Kururin realises he'll be fighing Kame next and doesn't feel good.

The next bout is between Namu and the only female contestant Ran Faun.  Curious, Kame reads Namu's mind and finds he is from a desert village who is starving to death due to lack of water for the crops.  The band together and give him the money to enter the tournament and win the money to buy water for them. "Something tells me... we aren't getting many gags out of this one" says Kame to the foruth wall.

The match begins and Ran Faun attacks Namu.  But when he attacks her she bursts into tears much to Namu's chagrin.  He holds off attacking her and when his guard is down she attacks him again.   So Namu decides:

Namu: "I will imagine that you are a man and my arch enemy. And I will battle you to my final breath... your city girl wiles are useless now!!!"

So Ran Fau responds by stripping down to her undies.  The way "Jackie Chun" letches over her makes Yamcha think he must be Kame in disguise.  Ran Faun backs the hugely embarrassed Namu to the edge of the ring, but he manages to rally and knocks her out with a blow to the neck, winning his round.
Ran Faun plays dirty against Namu.
Goku versus Giran is next.  Giran is a dinosaur with wings and a tail.  He arrives on stage but Goku doesn't.  Turns out Goku was taking a nap and Kururin drags him to the ring. The fight begins and Goku starts to get the upper hand when Giran spits a liquid at him that hardens into unbreakable bonds.

With Goku trussed up, Giran picks him up and hurls him into the air for a ring out, but Goku calls his flying cloud Kinto'un to catch him and drops back down on the stage. Giran says that's cheating, the judges confer and decide to allow it this once, but not again.  Goku is still bound up though and Giran goes to throw him again.

Giran starts beating on him but this causes Goku's tail to spontaneously grow back much to the fear of Bulma, Yamcha, Puar and Oolong.  This increases Goku's strength and he bursts his way out of the spit ropes and smashes the green room wall to test his new strength.  At this, Giran waves the white flag and Goku wins the match.
Giran gobs on Goku.
The commentator interviews Goku and asks how old he is, Goku says he is twelve.  He got his age wrong before because he didn't know how to count properly. The commentator asks if his tail is real and Goku pulls down his trousers to show it off.  Kururin tells the comentator they trained under the same master Muten Roshi which shocks the comentator as no one thought the "invincible old master" took students anymore.

Inside the green room, Yamcha confronts Kame saying he knows he is pretending to be Jackie Chun. Kame just brushes off his suspicions and goes out to fight his match with Kuririn.  He grabs the comentator's microphone and performs a song for the audience that doesn't translate very well.  Then takes his place for the fight.
Kuririn Versus "Jackie Chun".
The fight begins and Kuririn goes in hard, "Not bad. Actually making me work" says Kame.  Then he does a quick jab that sends Kuririn flying into the green room wall. Goku leans over the wall as says he saw the punch, Kuririn just needs to look harder.

Kame: "Ho!  Won't give up eh?  This time I won't take it so easy on you!"

They clash again over and over, with Kame noting it's the first time anyone has kept up with his speed. They smash into each other and end up the other side of each other.  Kuririn falls face down and looks like he might be out of it.  The count starts...

But Kuririn gets back on his feet shakily. The comentator asks what happened in that last attack as it was too fast for anyone to see.  So Jackie and Kururin act out a lengthy series of movements they had carried out in a split second.

Commentator: "You expect me to believe that in a fraction of a second...?"
Kuririn and Jackie do an action replay for the crowd.
Kuririn and Kame nod. Then they get back to fighting and Kuririn uses a secret weapon he'd been hiding after noting what a perve "Jackie Chun" was. He tosses some woman's panties onto the ground and this distracts Kame long enough for Kuririn to kick him very hard and knocks him flying out of the ring.

Left with no choice, Kame has to perform his ultimate attack the Kamehame'ha, which blasts him backwards and he lands back in the ring. Everyone is amazed that "Jackie Chun" knows The Invincible Old Master's secret attack.
Forced into a Kamehame'ha!
Yamcha thinks this is proof Jackie Chun is Kame.  Flustered Kuririn decides to go for an all out attack.  He charges Kame, hits the wall then when he gets up, Kame gets behind him  with a teleport move and chops him either side of his neck, this time Kuririn is rendered fully unconcious and Kame wins the match and advances to the final.

Inside the green room, Kuririn comes round.  "You need more training" says Kame.  Yamcha tells the others that Jackie Chun is Kame.  Goku says he can't be, the master is bald.  Yamcha says it must be a wig and tries to pull it off but can't. Yamcha asks if Goku can smell him as being Kame, but Goku says Jackie Chun smells weird.  He is wearing cologne.  "I'm quite the dandy" says Kame.

Goku is called out to his match with Namu. Goku copies Kame's teleport move but Namu manages to dodge him. Their battle is fierce as they exchange blows. Goku uses his tail to trip Namu up, who is surprised to see he has one. Goku then says he has thought of a new move and starts whirling like a spinning top.
Goku loves pulling new moves out of his ass.
He pushes Namu towards the edge of the ring but before he can knock him off he collapses on the ground dizzy.  Namu decides to finish him off from the air. He leaps up incredibly high in the air then rockets down on Goku and delivers a double chop to the neck of the prone young boy. Namu tells them to start the count but that Goku will not recover in time.

Namu: "I am a peaceful man, I would not kill...but no one who receives that blow can awaken in less than ten days."

But awaken Goku does.  Namu is shocked and thinks he must have missed a pressure point. He decides to try again and jumps up high, but Goku jumps up with him and goes even higher.As they fall they fight and Goku unleashes a mighty kick which sends Namu hurtling out of the ring as they hit the ground.  Goku wins.

Namu congratulates Goku and starts to pack up to leave to go back home and report his failure.  Kame finds him, reveals he really is Kame and offers him an empty hoi-poi capsule he could use to take some water home with him.  Namu says he has no money to buy water, but Kame points at a nearby well and says it's free here in the city, take as much as he can carry.
Kame'senin gives his reasons for competing to Namu.
Namu is full of gratitude and Kame asks him if he can do him a favour before he goes.  Namu puts on dark glasses and a false beard and when Yamcha spots him in the audience he realises Jackie Chun can't be Kame.  Namu smiles and leaves the tournament behind.

Now it's the final, Kame/Jackie Chun versus his student Goku. "No holds barred lad" says Kame.  "You said it" responds Goku.  They exchange blows in a flurry and Kame kicks Goku out of the ring.  Unable to use his cloud, it looks like the fight will be over before it's begun, then Goku has an idea and uses his tail like a helicopter and flies back into the ring.
Goku meets Kame's Kamehame'ha with one of his own.
Kame decides to unleash his Kamehame-ha upon Goku, who decides to retaliate with the same move.  Their Kamehame-ha's make contact and neither of the two of them end up getting hit by them. The crowd goes wild at the revelation another person knows the legendary kamehame-ha attack. Kame thinks to himself:

Kame: "He's even better than I dreamed. Not only can I not relent against him... but I need a strategy..."

So he uses his teleportation attack and generates false images of himself surrounding Goku. He kicks Goku into the green room wall which smashes to bits and covers Goku in rubble.  Kame thinks he's won, but Goku picks himself up and dusts himself off.  "My turn!" he says gleefully.

And Goku imitates the attack only this time he generates more false images and hits Kame hard on the head.  "Little ingrate.  Clobberin' your own master's head" grumbles Kame.  But this confuses Goku and flustered Kame says Goku must have hit him harder than he thought.

Kame starts a new strategy, durnken boxing.  And manages to lay some hard hits on Goku.  So Goku makes up his own style of fighting.  He growls and snarls and attacks on all fours and Kame takes several hits from him too.  Goku says his new style is "'Mad Fury' attack".

Commentator: "What a move!!  What a counter attack!!  What a comeback!!  And what a victory this will be for Son Gokuuuuuu!!"
Goku gets the upperhand for now.
And that brings this volume to a close.  As I said it's mostly fighting, which is beautifully coreographed by Toriyama but makes for a pretty quick read.  It is the first time Goku's fighting skills have been put to a real test.  It shows all the hallmarks of how fights would got for him in the future, his ability to copy and improve opponents moves, his sheer joy at being in battle and his refusal to ever give up and the fact while somewhat dim outside of combat he is actually an intelligent fighter able to plan on the fly when things don't go his way.  Tournaments play a big part in Dragonball, each one showcasing how much the main characters have grown in strength and ability.  The battle with Kame will be resolved in the next volume which will then return to the other main plotline of early Dragonball, the actual quest for the titular balls.  But for now, this is a cool example of well drawn shonen fighting manga, yes it's aimed mostly at ten year old boys, but I find it fun and charming to read.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Hellraiser The Dark Watch Book 1 (#1-4)

"We have such sights to show you" - Female Cenobite

Regular readers (hi all several of you!) might see that I am pretty into horror.  Not just games, manga and comics, but I love horror films as well.  In the 80's my favourite was Hellraiser and its first sequel Hellraiser II: Hellbound.  The mythology around the films are complex, but revolve around magic puzzle boxes that when solved open a gateway to a dimension where pleasure and pain are both explored beyong normal human limits.  The high priests of this place are the Cenobites.  The most well know and iconic leader of the bunch is one nicknamed "Pinhead" due to the fact his make-up sees Doug Bradley's face covered in nails.  In the first film we meet Kirsty, a young American woman who moves to her uncles old house with her dad and wicked stepmother Julia.  Having solved the box, uncle Frank is in Hell but using blood and the desire the stepmother has for him, she helps bring him to life whereon he kills his brother (Kirsty's dad) and takes his skin.  But Kirsty using some fast talking after having solved the box, has the Cenobites take Uncle Frank back and as we fnd out in the sequel Kirsty ends up in an insane asylum where she befriends a mute girl called Tiffany who is being used to open another puzzle box and ends up battling the resurrected Julia and the transformed head of the asylum Doctor Channard, between them they cause the Cenobites to be briefly turned human again before being killed, Channard is defeated and Tiffany and Kirsty escape from Hell's Labyrinth and leave the asylum together.

This comics appears to be a sequel of sorts to a previous Hellraiser series I can't find much details on.  Going by what I learned reading this, Kirsty became a Cenobite too (and if you take the Direct-to-Video sequel Hellseeker as canon she certainly became Cenobite material in that one sacrificing her cheating husband's lovers to save herself) and with the humanised Pinhead aka: Elliot Spencer, sought to revolt against the Leviathan (depicted in Hellbound and this comic as a giant diamond that hovers over the Cenobite dimension).  Meanwhile Tiffany (now able to talk) is part of a group, created by a man who has disappeared, devoted to finding the puzzle boxes and keeping them out of unsuspecting hands.  Phew, that's more backstory than usual, and the comics doesn't make many concessions to readers who aren't familiar with the films, but why would you be reading the comic if you weren't?  Onward with the story then!
Solving the puzzle box.
The story begins as with most Hellraisers with a man buying one of the puzzle boxes and opening it.  A door opens to Hell (it seems the Ceneobites have been reimagined as merely executive Hell demons rather than the devotees of a cult of Pleasue and Pain they originally were).  But there is no "welcoming commitee".  The man wanders into Hell and notes "the damned are here.  But where are the demons?"

Then he is greeted by a lone Ceneobite, a female one from the first two films known affectionately by fans as "throat vagina lady".  I... I'll stick to calling her Female Cenobite I think.  She asks why he would walk into Hell with open eyes.

Female Cenobite: "You know of our order.  And of our devotions.  And yet, you came of your own free will."

She sounds surprised, but that's kind of what the theme of the first two fil... you know I'll stop nitpicking based on the films.  Call this an alternate reality and we can get on with this without me stopping every page to go, "ummmm actually."
The Female Cenobite.
The man says he is a theologian who wanted to see the truth of things before he died of terminal liver cancer. He wanted to come on his own terms.  So idly Female Cenobite starts taking him on the tour.  She shows him the pit of hell were the normal damned end up.   She says the only "pluck the juiciest of sinners for special attention in the Labyrinth."  The man rumours that he's disappointed to find out his future is in the pit, "I suppose I felt my sins were special".

Female Cenobite says she is aware of his sins and also that the Damned are restless following recent events. She tells the theologian that his fate is not in the pit, his lies elsewhere.  They pass a pile of globes and Female Cenobite explains that torture is not just of the body, but of the mind as well.  Inside one of the balls are imprisoned former Pinhead Elliot Spencer and his former nemesis cum fellow High Priest Kirsty Cotton, destined to live out repeating violent fates. Kirsty notices the theologian peering in and briefly seems to realise she is trapped in a repeating loop.  The theologian asks if they are in there, who is ruling hell?  And why is he getting a guided tour from a "Cenobite as my Virgil" not learning at the end of a hook?
Leviathan hanging over the Labyrinth.
Female Cenobite points out Leviathan, huge and mysterious, hovering over the Labyrinth. She explains that Cenobites no longer greet openers of the puzzle box as they want people to walk into Hell of their own free will. The Cenobites are also forming an army and the theologian figures out this has been a recruitment briefing.

Female Cenobite: "You see Hell is - what are your words? - 'Under new management'".

Then Hell's new high priest Pinhead mk.II who also has a strange oversized eye, shows up on a flayed horse.  The theologian identifies him as Harry D'Amour, "Private detective turned exorcist turned Lord of Hell.  That's quite the career path Harry."  Harry in turn recognises the theologian as "Marchetti" and immediately identifies him as an assassin and calls on his Cenobites to protect him and demands to know why Female Cenobite bought him this far.
Harry D'Amour, Hells new High Priest.
She says she thought he was just a theologian.  Harry says  Darrieux Marchetti is a "theological assassin" also known as "The Cankerist".   He takes his orders directly from The vatican.  The Cenobites attack Marchetti but he has a crucifix and a mystic knife so is "protected". But as he holds out the crufix to gloat, Harry fires a gun at it and knocks it out of his hand.

Marchetti: "A- A gun?  The entirety of Hell's power at your fingertips and you still won't part with your tiny pistol?"

Harry: "It gets the job done.  How about we get this over with so I can get back to my work?"

She flings out the iconic chains into Marchetti, causing him to drop the knife.  As Marchetti is pulled into an iron maiden for the start of his torture he desperately tells Harry to ask himself why he was made High Priest of Hell, and that the Leviathan is playing... and he gets cut off.  "Finally.  I thought he'd never shut up" snarks Harry.

Then Marchetti is regurgitated, his personality subsumed to join the ranks of the damned.  The Female Cenobite has a question though:

Female Cenobite: "The uprising that Captain Spencer caused among the damned souls has been quelled.  So then... what is this new army for?"

The action then moves back onto the mortal plain.  The hobo who supplies pleasure/pain seekers with puzzle boxes is reclaiming Marchetti's when a young woman and a three men tell him to put the box down.  The woman is Tiffany from Hellbound, now much more talkative. She offers to buy the box, but "one way or another we can't let you leave here with that".  The she brandishes a gun, the hobo says nothing but suddenly transforms into a huge skeletal demon thing. "Shit" is all she can say at this turn of events.
Tiffany is attacked by an Eremite.
There is a quick recap of who Tiffany is, the mute girl who was tricked into opening a puzzle box and saved by Kirsty as she cowers away from the demon skeleton bearing down on her. Then we get a flashback to earlier that day.   She is being called out by one of her colleagues for shooting a man who had acquired a puzzle box.  She defends herself saying he'd just have got another one and she gave him a trip to hell like he wanted.  She narrates that they are taking as many of the boxes out of circulation as they can.

The four of them work for Harry D'Amour who got them all together when all they have in common is hell.  Harry is "missing: presumed damned" as far as she knows  She and her team are working out of his office and the argument over her killing a man is interupted by a phonecall from a psychic who can tell when people are using the boxes and she steers them to where Marchetti opened his.  Which brings us back into the present and the attack by the skeleton demon.

She has no idea who to kill the thing and it shrugs off bullets, gutting one of the men in the process. She draws it away from the other two by using the box as bait.  She is cornered and quickly solves the puzzle which opens the Hell gate. She dives through and quickly solves it again shutting the gate on the neck of the demon and killing it.  Downside, she is now in hell and Harry comes to greet her.

Harry: "I knew you were a badass. But I wouldn't have laid money on you beating an Eremite".

Tiffany recognises him and he says he has to stop meeting his Facebook friends like this. He asks how she expects to get back, Kirsty and Elliot can't help her now.  She says she'll figure something out and what's an "Eremite?" 
Harry greets Tiffany in Hell.
Harry says an Eremite serves Leviathan's purpose on earth, supplying boxes to those who seek them and keeping them out of harms way. She hadn't seen them before because Eliot wanted the puzzles destroyed and ordered the Eremites to stand down. Now things are different.  He then changes the subject saying he could use Tiffany's help, not as a Cenobite but as someone with access to his information and contacts back on earth. He says he'll send her back if she agrees or not, he already sent her and her team back from hell as his first act as Hell's new "pope". 

He gives her a special puzzle she can contact with him and says she can trust him then sends her back.  Back on Earth, Tiffany contemplates the puzzle and berates herself for giving in.  But she needs to find Kirsty somehow and this is all she can think to do, "..why do I feel like Eve with the apple?  Oh Kirsty, where are you?"  And this chapter finishes with Kirsty being woken up by Elliot bringing her breakfast in bed, they kiss and profess their love for each other.
Kirsty and Elliot being mind screwed.
The next chapter chronicles Kirsty and Elliot's experience in the globe in a somewhat fractured narrative. There are some strange sequences to begin with showing Elliot's recruitment and Kirsty's imprisonment and that they are being watched over by a mysterious, unspeaking man dressed in white.   Elliot says the man is Leviathan as he and Kirsty are left naked in their jail.  Then Kirsty sees Marchetti looking in on them.  This time Marchetti is fully inside the globe and bewildered Kirsty cries out:

Kirsty: "...this isn't how it happened!  This- this isn't real!  We've done this before..!"

The Marchetti disappears.   Elliot realises they are trapped in a mind prison.  He tells Kirsty hell isn't all hooks chains, "sometimes hell's most eloquent tortures require that the victim not realise he is in hell".

He wonders why, that although they are in a mind prison, they aren't being tortured.  Kirsty says it must be the mysterious white-clad man who she says is Leviathan.  Elliot says it can't be, why would the Lord of the Labyrinth be "dressed as a milkman".  Leviathan then says "Next".  And we return to the scene of Elliot and Kirsty celebrating their anniversary.  Then Kirsty rejects Elliot's kisses yelling that their surroundings have changed and this isn't real, and Leviathan says "Next" again.
Leviathan exerts it's power over their mental landscape.
We then cut to Elliot as Pinhead saying to Leviathan he wishes to return to the flesh, to "earn the salvation of heaven".   And then we flash through various scenario's as he is told  "this is all Leviathan's illusion".  Elliot then channels Kirsty perverted uncle Frank who got her involved in all this in the first place.   Kirsty in return transforms into a robed figure and says "come on Spencer.  Let's end this".

He taunts her and she says he's cost her everyone she ever cared about in her life and attacks him.   He tosses her to one side saying even with all the power of hell she has, he has more from his "benefactor".   He then inflicts a gut wound on her and she runs from him.  She bumps into the Leviathan/Milkman and asks him to reset things "this is one scenario I'm not going to miss".  Leviathan just smiles.

She realises that Leviathan wants Elliot to kill her and as Eliot stalks her she tries to reason with him.  She says Leviathan wants something which is why he is making them act out scenarios and relive their memories. Why would that be?

Elliot: "Because he's a perverted god who likes to fuck with mortals?"

He is still intent on killing her, but she tells him to think about why the Leviathan let him become human again and seek salvation, it had reasons of it's own for allowing it. Apparently Eliot/Pinhead went and sought power from something else after that and that "benefactor" also had reasons of its own. Elliot has been used.

Elliot finally stops trying to kill her and asks what they should do.  Kirsty says she's a Cenobite and Elliot is whatever he is now and between them they wield massive amounts of power if they work together they could get out.   Elliot muses that by fighting they are giving Leviathan exactly what it wants.  Then he punches Kirsty saying "it is awfully fun".

Finally though he agrees to work with her to escape.  They hold hands and calls a truce, for now. They exert their combined power but nothing happens, then Leviathan appears and says "Next" and they are back in the anniversay scenario.  Outside the globe, Harry watches them pensively.
Harry wonders why they have been imprisoned like this.
We then get some insight into how Harry regards his current incarnation as a Priest of Hell.  He thinks hell is "overrated" and now he understands why Elliot would risk everyting to escape it.  He has no stomach for torture and he's bored of drilling the Cenobite army.  It was something of a relief when someone tried to assasinate him.  He runs through the attack by Marchetti who he knew of in the mortal world.  He now has Marchetti's "talisman" but lost track of the Cenobite killing knife in the confusion of the attack.  It'll turn up he thinks.

He's still bothered by what Marchetti said before he was Cenobited, why would the Leviathan choose Harry?  He's just a puppet.  This statement "cuts me like a razor" thinks Harry. As he mulls over this he registers the Female Cenobite also has a question, just what is this Cenobite army for she asks.  Then Tiffany puts in her appearance, he restates what we learned about their relationship from her perspective and then he sends her back.

Her question about what happened to Kirsty, his predecessor as a Priest of Hell also bothers him, he knows she and Eliot are locked in the memory sphere but doesn't know why. Did she fail?  Does Eliot need a jailer?  With Leviathan you are always seeing only one part of a larger plan.
Harry tries to break Marchetts' conditioning.
Then he goes to the Cenobite that was Marchetti and starts to try and force him to remember who he was. But the Female Cenobite pulls him away.  Harry doesn't know much about her, just that she helped him when he was still human and she was in love with Elliot.  She says that Kirsty cursed her and Elliot with the regaining of their humanity.  "Spencer never forgave her that tresspass".  He wonders why his own memories were left intact upon his transformation, must be another Leviathan plan of course.

He wanders through the The Pit thinking things over, when one of them attempts to kill him, although they are cowed by the failure of their rebellion, some of them still have a hate for the "Cenobite oppressors!" Almost idly, Harry restrains the man with barbed wire chains and keeps on walking until he finds a castle he didn't know existed.

The guard on the gate says it is forbidden to go inside, especially for Harry.  Harry tries to go past and the guard attacks, but Harry uses Marchetti's crucifix to kill the guard and enters the forbidding structure.   Inside is a monster made of many bodies melded together and with three upper torso's wielding weaponry.   "That's new" says a surprised Harry.
Mutant hellbeast gaurding something.
The being starts to attack and shrugs off the crufix's protection to grab ahold of Harry.  Things look bad, then Marchetti's knife suddenly embeds itself in the being and it drops Harry.  It was thrown by the Female Cenobite.  The knife doesn't kill the being so both Harry and the Female use their chain summoning powers to rip the being in half.  Unfortunately it's still not enough and the thing backs them into a corner.

With only one desperate gamble left, Harry asks the being if they remember who they were when they were human.  In great distress the beings various heads recall their previous lives and in horror at what they are now they tear themselves apart. They walk through the castle and arrive at the Labyrinth with Leviathan hovering over it and see something we aren't shown yet..

Harry says this has left him a lot to think about.  He wonders about the Female Cenobite's allegiance to him. He ruminates that Elliot's insurrection started with him tearing a hole between hell and earth. And now he is standing in front of the hole, this is what the monster was guarding.

Harry: "It's all clear now.  The new army - it's an invasion force.  Hell is going to invade earth!  It's the final battle.  The end of days.  Hell's army comes to earth... and I'm supposed to lead it."
The hole to Earth is still intact, bad luck Earth.
He looks fair gutted by this revelation, and that brings volume one to an end. I have to admit that, with a long list of caveats, I actually enjoyed this first volume.  Expect to see more in future months.  The writing is enjoyable and quite funny in places with Harry making a very laid back and laconic High Priest of Hell, Clive Barker is credited as one of the writers, but I have no idea how involved he is there is a co-writer, Brandon Seifert also credited.  The art by Tom Garcia is so-so (can you imagine what someone like Ben Templesmith could have done with this material?), it's painfully obvious the image rights to Doug Bradley (Pinhead/Eliot Spencer) Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) and Tiffany (Imogen Boorman) has either not be sought or not granted if they were.  I think they made the right choice in basically only treating the first two films as their canon and diverging from an alternate version of the ending of Hellbound in which Pinhead stays as a Pope of Hell but with his internal humanity restored (rather than being killed by Doctor Channard).  You might be surprised to learn that in fact there have been nine Hellraiser films in total and the sticky sexual side of the series was dropped pretty much after the first film, giving us a more traditional Hell and it's demons, so I can nitpick but not really blame the comics for going that route as well.  I'm curious as to the events described as taking place before this series, although enough information is given as to how and why it occured.  I did hunt around for the previous miniseries but it's out of print and one volume is nearly £50!  It's The Punisher MAX all over again.  The Cenobite army and politics of this version of Hell is interesting and indeed there is form for Cenobites invading the mortal world en masse in Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth which appears to be broad strokes canon. I'm intrigued as to where this is all leading, what the inscrutable Leviathan's plan is, why it is tormenting Elliot and Kirsty the way it is, and what Harry's true allegiances are.  Call this a guilty pleasure from a fan of the film series it is based on.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Harley Quinn Book 1: Hot In The City (#0-8)

"Romance.  Who needs it?  I've got all the unconditional love I need right here" - Harley Quinn

Well let's lighten the mood a little now, Harley Quinn's New 52 series was something of a breath of fresh air amongst the doom, gore and gloom of the majority of the rest of the line.  I've already covered her team up miniseries with Power Girl that happened later in this solo series of Harley's but this is her ongoing that debuted in December 2013 and has been going ever since.  If you don't know much about Harley here's a potted history.  She first appeared in Batman:  The Animated Series as Harleen Quinzel the former psychiatrist of The Joker's who became his partner in crime and girlfriend although the relationship was something of an abusive one.  After joining the New 52 Suicide Squad (and you'll be seeing her as part of the team in the Suicide Squad film in August), she was given her own series where she functions much as Deadpool does in the Marvel Universe.  She has no respect for the fourth wall, is a pansexual and somewhat homicidal anti-hero and just generally larks about having a laugh.  She's no longer the Joker's girlfriend after he blew up her home and set fire to her beaver (No not like that perverts!  I mean the stuffed beaver called Bernie who she likes to chat with.  Tsk) and in this series is striking out on her own though she has a casual relationship with Poison Ivy going on now.  The issue #0 I'm not going to cover in any detail because it is basically Harley auditioning artists to draw her new series, with single pages from the likes of Batman: TAS's Bruce Timm and the late Darwyn Cooke amongst those responding. 
Issue Zero: Serious talent involved.
In the end she chooses Chad Hardin, with Stephane Roux (see the Harley Quinn and Power Girl mini I covered a couple of months ago) as a back-up and writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti who put in a cameo appearence at the end. Conner is an artist as well and is also responsible for the fantastic covers each issue has.  After she was told she'd inherited some New York Coney Island property at the end of issue #0 from an old Arkham Asylum patient of hers we join Harley in issue #1 driving her motorbike with what's left of all her possessions on it to check her new place out.

She waits at some lights and a hipster is dragging a sad looking daschund along behind him. The dog implores her and so she takes him.  They drive on, then a masked man pulls up along side with a shotgun and fires at Harley.  He misses but causes a crash and pile up.  Annoyed she wallops his head off with her giant mallet.
Stop. Hammer Time.
Finally she arrives, it is a four floor building with a Freakshow, Creepshow and Criminal House of Wax as some of the businesses there. The real estate agent shows her around.  The second floor is flats where the people who run the businesses live.  The third floor is empty, mainly storage and lumber and the fourth floor is a living space with access via an elevator of its own and roof access too.

Harley: "I think I've died and gone to heaven"

It's almost too perfect she thinks and the estate agent hits her with the bad news.  She is to be responsible for the back taxes, real estate taxes, insurance and upkeep.  The tenant's rents don't cover all this so she will have to earn about six thousand extra a month to keep the place.
Harley's new digs.
Later Tony, a small man who looks after security in the building, gives her a welcome gift, a local newspaper with the help wanted section circled, a milky coffee and a Brooklyn everything bagel with cheese.  This makes her happy and she gives Tony a hug and the person looking at her through a sniper scope can't make the shot.

So she uses make-up to give her a normal skin tone and applies for a job at a mental health clinic as a counselor using faked references.  They say they'll call her back.  Then she tries out for Roller Derby and the team are impressed with her violence and hire there and then.

Later that night Harley is lying out on the roof of the building saying how much she in enjoying the secutity having a place of her own gives her.

Harley:  There's no place like home.

Then Tony appears and shoots the assassin who was about to attack Harley from behind.  Harley rummages around in the assassin's clothes and finds a flyer, it has a bounty listed on her head for two million dollars!
Still has feelings for the Joker.
Next day Harley is looking round the House of Wax which has models of all famous criminals including The Joker.  Harley spots a fridge and realises she needs one of her own and goes and purchases one.  Outside she sees a demonstration, a pet shelter is going to put down fifty animals tommorrow if they don't get adopted.  Harley applies to adopt but the woman she hands the form to rips it up.

So Harley calls Poison Ivy to come and help with her plan.  While she waits, she hangs out with Bernie at her place.  Then the corpse of the hitman comes to life causing Harley to jump in fright.  But it's just Ivy standing on the fire escape using her vines to make him move.  Harley is relieved, "I don't know if I wanna kill you or kiss you".  Ivy replies, "kisses please."  Harley then says:

Harley: "You wanna meet my beaver?"

Ivy: "Um.. Okay... why not?

Harley: [shows her Bernie]  Bernie, meet Poison Ivy, Bernie.

Ivy: "Oh.. it's an actual beaver.  And he's burnt".

A well stuffed beaver is such a rich source of double entendre.  So after that at night they go to the shelter and let all the animals out.  Who promptly all run away.  Harley and Ivy split up to round them up and take them back to Harley's place.
"Rescuing" the animals.
Once she is alone, someone in a car tries to run her down.  She jumps onto the roof and chokes the man with a pair of giant pliers and he tells her that her address has been posted online with the bounty.  She throws him through a butcher's window and ties him up with sausages and this attracts the dogs so she leads him and them back to her building.

Ivy has already got the cats and birds there, so Harley decides to put the dogs on the third floor.  She then tosses the sausage wrapped hitman to the dogs and they make short work of him.  Next day Ivy wakes first and goes downstairs and makes floor three an indoor forest area with trees and grass.
Ivy and Harley make a cute couple.
Pleased with this, Harley is asked by Tony what she plans to do with all the poo that's going to need to be dealt with.  She says she has an idea, and is Tony good at building stuff?  He says he is, so she tells him she has "something spectacular" planned.

We next find Harley on valentines day attending the Creepshow.  She is ambushed by a hitman in there but kills him with his own shotgun and as she leaves, tells the proprietor she left something scary in there for him.

Brooding about her lack of a date she finds Tony looking similarly despondant holding some flowers.  He was going to ask Queenie out but she's gone out with someone else instead.  He gives Harley the flowers and leaves sadly.  In the bath later Harley complains about all the romance on TV, Bernie says "admit it fruitcakes.  You're lonely".

Bernie: "You need to put your ass out there, meet new people and sell your wares.  Giving all your attention to just your pet beaver will make you appear antisocial".
Pondering Valentines Day.
Harley spots a plant Ivy left her and eats a berry from it.  Then she gets a call from the nursing home she applied to be a therapist at, she's got the job.  To celebrate she dolls herself up and gets ready to hit a singles bar.

Harley: "Look out world, here I come!  I'll never understand why Superman wears the same outfit every damn day."

She strolls on out, but the berry gives off some sort of scent that affects the driver of a bus full of criminals and he crashes it and they all escape.

Each one of them smells a different delicious smell coming from Harley and advance on her.  She runs into a hardware store and battles them inside using the likes of strimmers and drills until there is only one left and she blows him up.
Harley deals with the besotted criminals.
She goes back outside and is kissed by the policewoman who was called out, much to the policewoman's surprise because she isn't into girls.  But Harley smells like the best donut ever.  Harley runs home realising the berry was causing all this and catapaults the plant out of her home.

Then Tony appears, the berry has worn off and he asks Harley for the flowers back so he can fight for Queenie.  Harley gives him the flowers and the last berry saying it'll "give you an edge".  Then she goes and plays with the cats and dogs for a while.  She ruminates on how Valentine's Day is the meanest holiday there is.  But as she leaves to go for a walk she sees Tony being hugged by Queenie and a man and thinks:

Harley: "Although it is awfully nice to play Cupid every once in a while."

Next day Harley disguises herself and gets ready to attend her first day at the clinic.  She meets with Tony who has the plans for the mysterious contraption she wants building which he negociates four months rent free to do so.
A tale of woe and neglect.
Her first patient is an old lady called Mrs. Rubenstein who tells her a sob story about how her son rarely even calls her and she hasn't seen her grandson in ages and she thinks they are just waiting for a big blood clot to claim her life.  Harley says they'll talk again on friday, Mrs Rubenstein responds, "If I don't die of a broken heart, sure."  Harley then tells the receptionist to rearrange her appointments for the evening she has something to do now.

At the Rubenstein's house, the grandson is playing videogames, his mum is demonstrating massage devices to some friends to sell and the dad is playing with his model trains upstairs.  Harley crashes through the side of their house on a bulldozer and takes all three of them hostage and dumps them in the boot of her car.

She goes for some food at a diner and while she does so, takes out another hitman with a fork.  Then she attends her first roller derby match, which she is late for.  Her team loses, but she runs over the opposing team as they leave the stadium, "wow, that was kinda hot" says her team captain.

Harley then remembers she has the Rubensteins in her car boot and gets them out and sits them on the end of a pier.  She kicks the grandson and his mum off it and takes out the son/dad's gag.  When he realises why she is doing this he furiously tells her he sees his mother three times a week, his wife has lunch with her once a week and his son sees her every saturday.  Harley is non-plussed.

Mr Rubenstein: "She has alzeimers you twisted clown!  She can't even remember what she had for dinner!"
Then he jumps off the pier to save his family but lands on sand, luckily the tide was out.  Totally unconcerned with her actions towards them Harley cheerily drives off telling the father to call his mother. 
The Rubensteins get some unorthodox therapy.
She attends her evening appointment which turns out to be an elderly Jewish man on a mobility scooter and with bionic limbs.  He is called Sy Borgman, and he knows she is Harley Quinn.  He is an ex secret agent and he wants her help tracking down and killing some Russian sleeper agents here in New York.  Are you ready to serve your country he asks her? "Well, Mystah Borg.  Let's do this thing" she replies.

Sy gives her the files on the seven targets they are after and tells her to study it ready for tommorrow.  In return for her help he can find out who put a hit out on her, though Harley says she has someone looking into that.  She returns to her building and is invited to a Burlesque show taking place there.  She gets a bit to involved though and storms the stage thinking the fight taking place is real.
Sy Borgman.
Then she go upstairs to read the files and nods off, she has a very weird dream in the process.  Next day she attends her clinic jobs until it is time to meet Sy in the evening and begin their job.  The first target is in hospital on life support so they gain entrance to his room by attaching the mobility scooter to a zipline and crashing through the window.

Sy rips all the wires out of the wall.  Nothing changes.  He cuts all the tubes.  Still nothing changes.  He electro-punches the man.  Nothing.  So Harley gathers up the tubs and blows hard down them making the mans arteries explode.  This kills him and they make their escape from the hospital.
One way to make an entrance.
They arrive at their next target's house, they break in through the gates and battle the gaurds.  The target phones one of the others and says it is their job to alert the others.  Then, when Sy and Harley reach her she sets off a huge explosion that blows up the whole house.

Sy uses his cybernetic enhancements to fire up some cables that grab onto a passing news helicopter.  The three off them are dragged free of the building and Harley takes the woman's rings before letting go of her.  She and Sy clamber into the chopper and take control.  Harley manages to fy it to the zoo and crash lands it outside, their next target "The Bear" works inside.
Dealing with the Russians.
As they go find the secret entrance, Sy tells them The Bear got his nickname because he used to feed whole families to them to get prisoners to talk.  The Bear is watching them on CCTV and says over the phone to another target, "zey von't know what hit zem.  I have a plan".  He lets out some of the more ferocious animals.  The bears don't want to get up though, he kicks one and it rips him to pieces in a rage.  His head goes bouncing out of the enclosure and is picked up by one of the eagles.

Inside the zoo Sy tells Harley their work has been done for them, he recognises the tattoo on the arm one of the tigers is chowing down on.  With The Bear taken care of, Sy says they can do a couple more tonight, while Harley wants to stay and play with the animals for a while.

Then the rest of the Russian targets pull up at the zoo entrance.  After trading insults they fight Harley and Sy.  Two of them blow themselves up with faulty bagel grenades, Sy blows one up with a rocket launcher, Harley brains one with a pipe and the older female in charge kisses Sy but aims a dagger at his back.  Before she can strike, he drives forwards and knocks her into the rhino pit and she is impaled on a horn.
The Bear falls victim to the zoo animals.
With all of them dead, they go for the mystery eighth target.  Turns out he's an American who sold Sy a rare car in 1959 but didn't tell him it had a radiator leak.  When he broke down and had to go for some coolant, he returned to find his dream car had been totally stripped of parts.  When he says he would have left the car to Harley, she gets mad and kicks the man out of the window.

Sy and Harley watch the sunrise on the boardwalk.  She kisses him and says, "you sure know how to show a girl a good time".  Then the eagle drops The Bear's head in Sy's lap.  Harley kicks it into the sea.  She returns home to find Poison Ivy there who has taken care of another couple of hitmen and says she has a lead on "who put out that bounty on your cute, crazy little head."
Another wacky escapade over.
Next day, she and Harley go to the beach.  Ivy tells her she tracked the postings down to Harley's laptop, so someone must be breaking in and posting while she is out or asleep.  Two men come up to them and flirt with them, the girls decide to play along.  One of them paints Harley's toenails:

Harley: "I'm keepin' this one".

Ivy: "Do what you want just put him away when I'm around".

They return to Harley's place and check her laptop activity.  The site advertising the hit gets updated once every five days and so that means tonight will be another update time.  They find a file called "Nunya" as in "nunya business" but it is user and password protected.

Ivy's plan is to hide in the closet while Harley sleeps and they can catch the miscreant in the act.  Harley finally gets off to sleep, then starts sleep walking.  She goes to the laptop and increases the bounty to three million, her plan is to attract all the local competition and kill them off.  She opens the Nunya file, but then two assassins crash in through the window.  Ivy starts fighting them and Bernie exhorts Harley to wake up:

Bernie: "Hey!  Turnip head!  They're going to kill your favourite houseplant if you don't wake up!."

Harley wakes up and between them, she and Ivy kill the attackers.  But in the fight Harley's laptop is destroyed.  Ivy fills Harley in on what she found out.

Ivy: "With the computer gone and you unable to remember the site or password, you're a bit screwed".
Harley unconciously hiring her assassins.
One of the attacker's phone goes off and he has a text update about a meeting of the "Brooklyn Assassins Guild" the next day.  They decide to crash it and Tony comes along for extra firepower.  Once there, Ivy uses her powers to tie them all up with vines.  Harley tries to explain to them how there is no bounty on her, and if they come after her she'll go after their families.  A grizzled assassin says he doesn't believe her and has no family to threaten, so Tony shoots him in the head.

As Harley, Ivy and Tony walk back to Harley's place, she thanks them for her help and she'll just have to keep dealing with the ramifications of the bounty on her head for now.  As a reward to Tony she buys him some new boots with the cash they took from all the contract killer's wallets.
The Assassin club.
We next see Harley trying to pawn the rings she took from the Russian lady.  Unfortunately they have been reported stolen so she has to take a lower price for them, boosted by the fact she takes out two robbers who try to stick up the pawn shop up when she is in there.

After a meatball lunch with Tony, she attends her next Roller Derby match.  She is doing too well and the opposing team send out their secret weapon, Bertha, to take down Harley.  She knocks Harley out and when she is revived in the changing rooms she is angry when she discovers she's had a tooth knocked out.  Her manager forbids her going back out but Harley ignores her, grabs her mallet and smashes Bertha's head in.  Unfortunately this gets her banned from Roller Derby, but her manager gives her a card with details of something called "Skate Club" on it.

Once home, all the occupants of the building have gathered to see something Harley is going to unveil.  It turns out to be a giant catapult which she nicknames the "scatapult" as this is the way she is going to deal with all the animal poo building up in the place.  They start firing bags of the stuff off the roof.
The scatapualt revealed to the rest of the building's tenants.
The first hits a roller coaster.  The next hits a train.  The next hits DC's office window where an editorial conference about a new line-wide reboot is being discussed.  Hah!  Harley goes  downstairs to get more poo, but a hitman has a hold of a kitten and threatens to kill it if she doesn't let him kill her.

He is grabbed from behind by Mario, one of the building's tenants and Harley whacks him with her mallet.  They put him on the scatapult and fire him into the air.  He bounces off a advertising zeppelin and gets minced up in the propellers of an advertising aeroplane.

As these shenanigans are going on, a creepy looking man watches Harley through binoculars from the top of a train.  A cop stands behind him and calls him Edwin, exhorting him to give up. Edwin disarms and kills the cop then dressed in his uniform says he's coming for Harley and wishes to marry her.
Yes, fire that poo at Dan Didio, noone deserves it more than him!
And that brings this first book of Harley silliness to a close.  I found this tremendous fun.  The scripting is sharp and snappy with plenty of double entendres and groan worthy punnage.  The sheer enjoyment Harley has as she bounces through life make her a very appealing character, especially now she has come out from under the shadow of The Joker. Giving her a property full of freaky people like her makes for some fun interludes as she investigates the various businesses working underneath her.  Her no-strings relationship with Poison Ivy is very sweet, after one as abusive as The Joker's one with her was, it does make sense she'd turn to a woman like Ivy afterwards. The various misadventures are enjoyable to read, especially when you get characters like Sy Borgman along for the ride.  The art really does suit the tone and atmosphere of the book, it's very lavish and almost garish in places the hyperreality suits a character who seems to exist in her own little self-contained part of the DCU that other characters occasionally get to visit. The mystery man at the end has got me intrigued and I'm looking forward to reading the next volume to find out more and also enjoy more daft antics from Harley and everyone she drags along with her for the ride.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Punisher MAX Book 5: The Slavers (#25-30)

"Should have been simple.  But nothing ever is" - Frank Castle

So although I ostensibly finished the sixty issue run of Garth Ennis's acclaimed on The Punisher for the mature readers imprint Marvel Max, with Book Ten in May, I had to skip past Books Five and Six due to the fact the whole series was out of print at the time and both cost an absolute fortune.  Now with the omnibus reissues of the series coming out, Book Five: The Slavers fell from around £60 to less than a fiver.  I hope Book Six: Barracuda will do the same when collection three comes out.  Anyway, before I continue as the name implies, this book deals with people trafficking and the modern exploitation of young women from Eastern Europe a sex slaves in the west.  It is an incredibly Angry book, definitely the most passionate on a subject I have ever read Ennis get and deals with it in unflinching and horrifying detail.  There is ALOT of very graphic violence including a sequence where Frank beats to death one of the female members of the trafficking ring that is hard to look at no matter how much her evil behaviour invited such a response.  There is also talked about but not depicted gang rape so if you're easily triggered by such things, don't read on.  This story is set not long after the events of Book Four wrapped up, but narrated from around a year in the future, mainly so we can get a "what happened next" wrap up at the end. Art is by Leandro Fernandez.
Introducing Viorica.
Frank: "It began a year ago in the rain.  On a pitch black night in Brooklyn.  By the time it had all finished I knew the rain would fall forever".
He was staking out a gangster called Antony Pavla, who sold coke and smack, "nothing special".  Then they are shot at by a tearful looking woman who runs into a blind alley.  Frank decides to go after her, but not before shooting Pavla.

We are then introduced to two beat cops Russ Parker - a black, gay man - and Marcie Miller his female partner.  She is apologising to him for the fact he walked in on her laughing at a racist and homophobic joke  She says she'll make it up to him when he comments how he defended her for being called a "breeder" by one of his acquaintences. They get a report of shots fired and go to check it out.
Cops Russ and Marcie.
Frank is look down on the four men surrounding the woman.  They are going to sexually assault her, Frank can't shoot down in case he hits her so decides to deal with them in person.  He kills them all quickly and starts to turn away from the woman when she says "help me!".  He says the cops will be here soon.  She says they'll send her back she is from Moldova.  "Too bad" says Frank.  Then in tears she says "these men.  Kill my baby.  They murder my baby!"  This gets his attention.  He asks how many men? She says "many".

Russ and Marcie appear and tell Frank to "Freeze!"  He turns and they nearly shit themselves when they realise who he is.  He easily disarms the more gung-ho Russ, while Marcie yells to let him go.  He takes her gun too and locks them in the trunk of their car. Then he takes the woman and leaves.
Vera and Cristu.
We then meet two of the villains of this book, Cristu and Vera.  They don't want Cristu's father "The Old Man" learning of this attack by The Punisher, because he'll want to go after him himself.  His sound and fury might be the end of them all.  They decide it is time to call "the little shit".  Who turns out to be detective Westin of the NYPD. They tell him to deal with The Punisher, to which he reluctauntly agrees.

The woman had passed out a few blocks from where he found her, he later found out she had been awake for days.  Frank takes her to one of his lock-ups and puts her to bed.  She cries and screams in her sleep and Frank thinks:

Frank: "She'd been a long way in the dark.  That much was obvious.  Been damaged in ways that ran too deep to be forgotten".

Meanwhile Westin approaches Captain Price with his plan.  Because The Punisher "attacked" two cops they should make it a priority to capture him now. The Captain is unsure, The Punisher has a lot of supporters both on and off the force.  Westin says it would still be a feather in the cap of the man responsible for his capture.  You'd have to be promoted.
Corrupt cop Westin and Captain Price.
Won over, they decide to holds a press conference with Marcie and Russ to announce they are cracking down on The Punisher.  Westin says, "the motherfucker bugs me.. we are cops and what's right it right."

At Frank's lock-up, the woman, Viorica is her name, tells Frank her whole story.

Frank: "About the day she left her village.  About the Old Man.  About Cristu and Vera.  About the things her father said.  About her baby.  When she was done I knew a lot of men would have to die."
Bad things are going to happen to bad people.
We are then told Viorica's awful and upsetting story in detail.  When she was fifteen she was abducted and taken to an apartment where she was raped by four men for twenty-four hours and beaten until she bled if she resisted.

Then they put her to work. "Every night, twenty men.  Or I do not make quota".  If she stepped out of line, the four men would beat and rape her, every night. One day she escaped and ran home to her parents but her father is ashamed of her and says "I am dead to him".  Then she got pregnant.  She is recaptured and is told someone is coming from America.  "The Old Man" wants girls to take back with him, "he puts his fingers in me.  His skin is cold like ice".

We are then shown said Old Man racially abusing a black gangster whose gang have infringed on his territory.  He uses his thumbs to gouge the man's eyes out then machine guns the rest of his gang to death.  Annoyed, Cristu calls Vera privately and says to her that the old man couldn't give a shit for police or repercussions or about everything they have built here.  "I'm thinking of killing my father, Vera" he tells her.
The Old Man.
Viorica tells Frank about Cristu saying he is bad but it is all business to him, the Old Man "is like the devil".  She is brought to America to work.  She has her baby, Anna.  She is taken from her and allowed to see her once a week so she doesn't try to escape.  The place where Pavla had them used was an old club.  She asks Frank if he killed Pavla last night.  He says yes.  "Thank you, thank you" she tells him.  She goes on to tell Frank about Vera, who is cruel "she gets in your head."

Last week another girl got out and got the number of a social worker who can help them.  Next time she is with Anna she trades sex for more time alone with her and manages to escape with her.  She says she made contact with the social worker and she is a "stupid bitch".  She put Anna, and Viorica up in a hotel room while she collects her information on Cristu's operation.

She recorded everything on her computer, Vera finds out about her and hacks her computer.  They leave Anna with the social worker's boyfriend while they go and buy clothes.  When they get back the boyfriend lies beaten and Anna is gone.  Yesterday the social worker got an email with a photo attached.  It's Anna, dead.
You don't need to see what Viorica and Jen are seeing.
Viorica took the gun belonging to the social worker's boyfriend and is so crazy with grief she goes gunning for Pavla.  She says to Frank that America is supposed to be the "promised land" but, "I come here and it is like a nightmare."

Back with Marcie and Russ they are being told to wear crutches, bandages and neckbraces for the upcoming anti-Punisher press conference.  Before the assembled reporters the Captain says "the days of ignoring The Punisher in the vain hope he'll go away are over".
Russ and Marcie reluctantly play along.
The Punisher goes looking for a way into the house where the girls are being kept, to draw the attention of Cristu.  Two customers, one very unsatified are leaving in their car.  The Punisher accosts them and says they'll go back, make some excuse about leaving a wallet behind and he'll be hiding out waiting in the car.

Unfortunately a passing cop sees him and sounds the alarm.  Frank, his cover blown, vaults the fence down on to some train tracks.  The cop follows but misses his footing and lands on his face.  The Punisher looks down on him and drily says:

Frank: "Time for the sustained and brutal beating.  Unless someone is maybe full of shit."

And he takes off, realising he's lost his lead as the house will be moved now.  He needs a new way in, "thinking back even I was surprised where it came from".

He goes around questioning pimps for a while but "no one was talking because no on had anything to say".  The cop who fell chasing him is used in another press conference covered in plasters and shown as more evidence that The Punisher is suffering "mental disintegration". 
"Questioning" Punisher style.
Watching the news item on it, are Cristu and his father.  The Old Man says The Punisher will be "an interesting man to kill".  Cristu pleads with him saying everyone who fights The Punisher ends up dead. They should just let the police deal with him.  His father doesn't listen and Cristu storms off saying "in an uncertain world, we can rely on you to do whatever the hell you like".  Out of the room he calls Vera, "enough is enough.  Do it" he tells her.

Meanwhile Russ and Marcie find the other "injured" cop, Ernie Mostow and compare notes.  Ernie asks if they are trying to clear The Punisher's name.  They say "we decided we don't like being used."  Ernie admits he wasn't attacked, but told to play up his injuries.  However he won't help them, he owes some people money and Westin has him by the balls.

Speaking of Westin, he is in with Captain Price who is complaining about the mountain of shit going after The Punisher publicly has given him.  Turns out The Punisher has more support than they realised and see it as a waste of resources going after him.  Now due to the press attention, "I'm in a position where I need results."  Westing says they are hurting the bastard and just need to wait for it to bear fruit, then he takes a call from Ernie giving him a heads up about Russ and Marcie.

Frank has put Viorica up in a hotel room and asks her about the social worker.  Viorica says her name is Jen Cooke, and Frank says he knows her.  We then cut to Jen giving a lecture about human trafficking.  She tells the audience that the women are not prostitutes by choice, they have been bought over illegally and when the police here find them, they deport them to their certain death.
Jen's lecture on sex-trafficking, all sadly true.
The business of people is more profitable than drugs because a woman can be reused.  It's become a big part of the economies of places like Albania and the Ukraine.  There are places where ninety percent of teenage girls don't leave the house for fear of abduction.  She finishes her lecture tell them to imagine their sisters, wives and daughters in such a situation. Afterwards, Frank makes himself known to her and she panics and thinks he is going to kill her.  But he says actually he wants her help.

At the police station Marcie and Russ are set upon in the locker room by seven other cops for stepping out of line, which they later find out was arranged by Westin.  Frank and Jen talk in her office.  She says she can't even get the police to investigate the death of Viorica's baby because a photo isn't considered sufficient proof of murder.

Jen: "They'll be no justice for the child my stupidity got killed."

She says she knows what Frank wants and is trying to convince herself that giving him what he wants is the right thing to do even though it goes against everything she believes.  She says she left the really appalling stuff out of her lecture so as not to scare people off.  She says the horrible cruelty makes her not want to be a social worker, but an angel cleansing the world with a fiery sword.
Jen decides to help Frank.
The gives him the files with all the information on Cristu's operation she has gathered.  She wonders why he didn't just break in an get it.  "Sometimes it's easier to ask" he says and leaves.  Frank looks through the notes and finds a trail he can follow related by another escapee.

Frank: "The things I'd have to do to break these men - to make them talk - would be extreme".

Back with Jen and she is vomiting in a toilet at the full realisation of what Frank is going to do with the information she gave him.

The Old Man is in his home making tea when a gang of men break in and try and kill him.  He easily takes out all but one of them.  He says to the survivor, "someone told you where to find me, golliwog".  The man refuses to talk so the Old Man pours boiling water over his hands and starts torturing him.
The Old Man really is a monster.
Russ and Marcie are nursing their new wounds in a bar.  Russ says he things the beating was a set up by Westin for stirring things up with Ernie.  They've been fucked so they should "fuck back".

Frank drives out of the city following one the directions one of the escaped girls gave to another house.  Vera calls Cristu to tell him his father called her and told her he was alright and implied he knew he'd been set up by them.  Vera asks if he has enough men for protection, Cristu says yes and that "it was probably always going to be like this".

Frank watches the house which is by a lake.  He notes all the hardware the men are packing and wonder if it's because they are expecting him.  "I'd find out soon enough.  At supper", turns out he's managed to drug the food the men and girls were eating.  One man is still concious who didn't eat the food due to "A.. allergies".  Frank blows his head off and kills all the unconcious men.
Frank takes out one of the trafficker's houses.
He calls Jen and tells her he has four girls for her to come and collect.  She soon arrives, he tells her to drive them back in his van.  He'll stash her Subaru and she can come get it later.  She freaks out a bit but Frank tells her the girls won't come to until tommorrow night.  Jen says she can put them up in a temporary shelter, Frank says he'll see what he can come up with on a more permanent basis.

After she has gone, he regards the unconcious Cristu and drags him into the woods.

Frank: "Prison held no terror for a man like him.  Neither did torture, nor did death.  How would you make him afraid?  How would you even talk to him? You'd start by showing you speak the language".

Jen arrives back in New York and is startled by Russ and Marcie and panics when they identify themselves as cops.

Frank goes to work on the unconcious Cristu.  Then gives him a shot that starts to bring him round.  As Cristu wakes he hears Frank say he wants Vera and his father.  What he has done to him is survivable but only if he acts quickly.  Cristu wakes fully and finds himself restrained with his intestines pulled out and draped over some tree branches.
Monster has monstrous thing done to him.
Cristu finally bleeds out at noon.  Frank has just disposed of all the men's guns in the water at the end of the pier when the Old Man and his mob come screaming up to the house.  Frank is annoyed because he left his shotgun in Jen's car and only has a pistol on him.  He decides to take a run at the Old Man anyway, "I'm only human".

He soon realises he's made a mistake when the guards fight back like soldiers.  He takes three shots to the vest and makes his escape via the water.  He finds a car and phones Jen and tells her to leave her house because The Old Man may be able to find her through her car.  With Jen are Marcie and Russ who tell her to arrange a meeting with him.

After Jen hangs up, Russ tells her to get the girls somewhere safe, while Marcie complains that she can't believe they are going to meet with The Punisher.  The Old Man meanwhile, pays a visit to Vera.  He tells her the "black boy" who came after him says they were sent by Cristu but a woman's voice arranged it.  He says he only found The Punisher where Cristu should have been and the fact she is still alive means she might be innocent.  Having comprehensively threatened her, he leaves.
The Old Man threatens Vera.
In the diner where they are meeting, Frank walks in to find Jen with Russ and Marcie.  They tell him they used their time off to see Ernie Mostow again.  Marcie beat it out of him that he'd been doing jobs for Westin including surveillance on Jen Cooke for about a month. Which is why they came to see her, they didn't know she was working with The Punisher, she just panicked and blurted it all out.

It's likely Vera ordered the surveillance after the first girl escaped and where making their minds up about whether to kill Jen or not in that time.  Which is how they knew to hack her computer when Viorica fled.  Westin is in it up to his neck, but they want to take him down themselves.  They can't allow The Punisher to kill a police officer.  They'll give The Punisher a clear run at the rest of the trafficking ring if he can find them uncontrovertible dirt on Westin they can use.
Russ and Marcie team up with Frank.
Vera calls Westin in a panic and tells him Cristu has vanished.  Then another cop tells Westin that Ernie Mostow overdosed on pills earlier, though was saved before he died and he looked like he'd been worked over beforehand too.  "What the fuck is going on?" asks Westin to himself.

Frank arrives at Vera's office, "Cristu told me everything" he says as he pushes her back inside and then smashes her face first into the window.  He keeps picking her up and throwing her hard against it, "you'll fall apart before the glass does" he tells her.  He says that Cristu told him "rape them to break them", the girls had to be shown right away who was in control.

Frank: "They had to understand they were powerless to prevent anything being done to them".

She's the one who makes the operation work, who launders the money and puts up a legitimate front.  He grabs her again and says "I'm stronger than you, so I can do anything I want".  Then he hurls her so hard against the glass it pops out of it's frame and she plunges several story's to the pavement below.  As he looks down at her dead body he thinks:

Frank: "It had been a long, long time since I hated anyone the way I hated them".
Monster has monstrous thing done to them part 2.
Frank goes to Viorica and tells her he'll be finishing the last of the operation tonight.  When she asks what happens next to her, he says Jen will take her in.  Viorica is unwilling to trust the "stupid bitch" who got her baby killed.  "How does she not fuck up again?  Throw me to the wolves this time?"

Frank: "Because by this time tommorrow, the wolves will all be dead."

Marcie and Russ are waiting to hear back from The Punisher who took a file on Westin from Vera's filing cabinet.  They are arguing the ethics of working with him.  Russ seems to think taking down Westin might make them detectives.  Marcie is disgusted that he is thinking about promotion when they are dealing with a slavery ring right here in New York.  He says she can walk away anytime, she says no, she'll "sit tight and watch out for my partner".

Frank, using the information from Vera's office, finds the latest house.  With Cristu and Vera dead and no one to organise a nights work, the scumbag in charge of the house would have no option but to call the Old Man.  He and his cronies arrive by car and Frank notes what good fortune it was that there was a drainage cover outside the front door, which he just happened to wire with thirty pounds of TNT.  He sets it off, taking out a lot of the guards.
It wouldn't be a Punisher story with out a big Kaboom.
Frank runs in and takes out everyone bar the Old Man who hides behind one of the women he has at knifepoint.  But Frank says to him one word in his own tongue, "coward".  This makes the Old Man charge him and Frank knocks him out.  He tells the girl to take the other two and call the number he hands to her for help.

Marcie goes to see Jen alone saying she and Russ didn't hear from The Punisher.  She says she's been wondering about the girls and they sit and talk and Marcie reads Jen's reports getting angrier and more distressed as she does so.  Marcie says it does no good, The Punisher's way of doing things.  Jen just sighs and says she spent so long beating her head against a brick wall that she just wanted him "to end them".
Jen gives Marcie a lesson in the evil of sex trafficking.
She tells Marcie some horror stories, then says if you tell men these facts "they can't quite rid themselves of the idea the girls deserve it or even want it".  Then she takes a call.  "Motherfucker, he's just stuck me with three more." she says in exasperation.

Frank has the Old Man tied up in the basement and has called Westin to witness what happens next.  He tells Westin he won't kill him, he just wants him to take a package to Moldova then he'll give him Vera's file on him.  He also wants the same person who arranged Cristu's mobs passports to do eight for the girls he's rescued.
And there goes The Old Man as well.
Then the Old Man wakes up and Frank pours petrol over him and sets him on fire, recording the whole thing on video.  This is what Westin is to deliver, and once he has made sure Westin got on a plane to Moldova he sent the file to Parker.  Wasn't any use in the end, Westin never came back.

The people trafficking carried on with other outfits getting more sophisticated by the day. Marcie left the force to go and work with Jen, "they do it their way.  I do it mine".  Of the girls rescued, one went back to hooking, one disappeared, two are dead.

Frank: "And Viorica?  Some days are good.  Some days aren't.  All she can do is live what life they left her."
Ennis once again punches me in the feels.
Powerful, powerful stuff.  It manages to be furious with the cruelty and injustice of it all while providing an unflinching account of just what despicable things are done to the women and the level of collusion allowing it to continue.  It's a hard read in places, and knowing how much Ennis researches his work, I wouldn't be surprised if the examples given in various places are either true real life ones or close to them, and yes Alan Moore is is possible to use rape and gang rape as a plot device and not make your female readers want to vomit.  It's made quite clear throughout that this is really only revenge on one outfit, and that others will spring up in their place.  But given Frank's sheer bloody rage at what happened to Viorica and what the mob she escaped from was up to, it's a little hard not to feel some catharsis in seeing him mete out his terrible punishments.  The character of Jen is an interesting counterpoint to him, trying to take them down the legal way and offering help and support to the girls where Frank can only offer vicarious vengeance.  Even the "happy" ending has a sting both with the fact half the women saved were beyond help and with Viorica shown unable to look at a woman with a child without having to run outside of where she works and cry.  This is definitely the darkest book in the series, not surprising given its subject matter.  It's a hard hitting look at a modern day tragedy and a useful read if you have any interest in supporting charities that deal with women rescued from such abuse.  Only one volume of this series left to get, hurry up and drop in price volume six.