Comic: "Punisher MAX: Born"
Published by: Marvel Comics
Written by: Garth Ennis
Artist: Darick Robertson

Reviewer: Dr. Boogie
Posted: 11/24/2008

Plot: Capt. Frank Castle has been stationed in a quiet firebase in the heart of Vietnam. The base is facing an impending attack from the Viet Cong, but no one seems concerned about the lax security, rampant drug use, and overall ennui permeating the camp. Will everything be ok?

Review: I had always imagined the character of The Punisher as having been a product of Castle's family being killed by the mob, but writer Garth Ennis paints a different picture in "Borne". Therein, you see that Frank has always been the same cold, calculating guy even as he was a soldier among "friends". On the one hand, I see the point in showing that Castle's mind for strategy and efficiency wasn't something that emerged as a result of becoming The Punisher. At the same time, seeing how brutal and ruthless he could be makes you wonder how the guy could have even gotten himself a family in the first place. I guess what I'm saying is that you can have the guy learning how to be a good soldier in the military, but that doesn't mean you have to make him look like a sociopath (at least not until he puts on that skull t-shirt of his).

Another thing that bugged me was the art for the book. Darick Robertson does some decent work on the whole with the story, but there were a few times when a panel would look just a bit more cartoonish than you would expect from such a serious story. The one instance that sticks out most in my mind is a panel where Castle is shouting to his troops, and it looks like some replaced his lower jaw with one belonging to a crocodile. It was supposed to be a very tense moment, but I just found myself chuckling at the sight. Also, there was another panel where, with his slicked back hair and a brooding look on his face, Frank Castle looked a lot like Christopher Walken. Nothing against Walken, but it was still a strange moment, seeing that on the page.

The thing that bothered me the most about Born was the book's big reveal. The previews talk about a "grim decision" that Castle has to make in order to survive, and though it won't be that unexpected if you read the book from the beginning, it will still come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the Punisher. For me, it was a surprise and a disappointment. I can't really describe it without giving away the big finale, but suffice to say, it casts the rest of The Punisher's adventures in a different light. One that kind of cheapens the character.

Other than, you know, cheapening the character with the ending, the book isn't that bad. It's definitely not my favorite Punisher story, but you could do worse.

Overall rating: WholeWholeHalf
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)

Reader Comments

Nov 24th, 2008, 08:02 AM
I have to agree, the ending was pretty weak.
Nov 24th, 2008, 01:38 PM
The ending did a lot for the series as far as tying things together. Over various points in the Punisher's life, going all the way back to the mid-80's, during a particularly rough fight, his eyes would turn red (Pretty sure it happened once or twice in 1994's Punisher: Year One as well and more times than I can count in Punisher: War Zone) and this finally gives a reason as to why.
Forum Virgin
Nov 24th, 2008, 08:22 PM
Spoiler please...
The Ugly Puckling
Nov 24th, 2008, 08:28 PM
I think they're referring to Frank Castle making a deal with Satan to survive Vietnam.

And couldn't his eyes just turn red as a stylistic expression of rage or sadness at the fact that a hack like Garth Ennis would later attempt to ruin both his character and his background?

I appreciate that Boogie wanted to avoid spoilers, but avoiding Garth Ennis is a most advisable idea. He's a talentless hack that hates comic books, but lacks the maturity and intellect to sell in any other format.

"Mommy, why did the baby flay open his mother and shoot eye-beams at that guy?"
"Because Darth Penis hates Superman."
Chimichanga enthusiast
Nov 25th, 2008, 04:14 AM
Wow, are you serious? Garth Ennis not only wrote one of the best comic book novels out there (Preacher) but his works on Punisher MAX and Punisher: Marvel Knights are fantastic. He's definitely my favorite writer.

However I do agree that 'Born' was slightly disappointing, but I did like seeing Castle's story in 'Nam.

EDIT: also this post is more directed at Graystreet than at Dr. Boogie, though I enjoy this book, i can understand why anyone wouldn't. Good review!
The Ugly Puckling
Nov 25th, 2008, 01:02 PM
When I read it, I found Preacher to have no redeeming qualities at all. It knew what it wanted to be, I can give it that, but even what it wanted to be was crap. It was an epic waste of materials, time and space.

I love comic books, I've read every comic book I could get my hands on since I could read, I've seen some truly fantastic stories told in them, I've read some absolutely horrible ones like Brand New Day, and then I've read the little comic strips that would come with 80's action figures, like Masters Of The Universe. Preacher is essentially the little comic strip that would come with a animal-rape wet dream toy from a 1980's Kevin Smith toyline.
Chimichanga enthusiast
Nov 25th, 2008, 04:49 PM
Well, I guess tastes are just that. Nice analogy by the way, lol
I wish I had more stuff by Garth Ennis to reference though, it seems a little silly saying he is my favorite writer based on two different comics.
King of the Monsters
Nov 26th, 2008, 08:29 PM
Wow... I thought Garth's intentions were to steer Castle away from stuff like that short-lived "Holy-Assassin Punisher" period in the mid-late 90's. o.o
Fucking Finland
Nov 27th, 2008, 09:45 AM
After reading a whole bunch of Punishers from 80s and 90s I can say with out any doubt that Garth Ennis is the best thing that has happened to Punisher. I hope he'll work on the MAX series in future too.


And yeah, I've read Born. This was the first Punisher comic I read and really liked, however after reading more stuff by Ennis' it was easy to see that Born was cleary not the best Punisher comic out there.

For me Born is kind of an old video game that kicked ass when you were a kid but which hasn't aged well and feels rather medicore when you play it when you've grown up.
Nov 27th, 2008, 07:25 PM
Ennis' Marvel Knights Punisher run is possibly my favorite book of all time. He could collab with Michael Bay and George Lucas for the rest of his life and I'd still love him just for that.
Nov 28th, 2008, 07:02 PM
Also, Garth Ennis hates super heroes, not comics. And I don't think Kevin Smith ever had a toy line. Like...ever.
Forum Virgin
Nov 28th, 2008, 11:46 PM

They did have a View Askew toyline.
Nov 29th, 2008, 02:24 AM
from the 1980's?
Space Viking Repo Man
Nov 30th, 2008, 07:05 PM
Originally Posted by Primortal View Post
Wow... I thought Garth's intentions were to steer Castle away from stuff like that short-lived "Holy-Assassin Punisher" period in the mid-late 90's. o.o
Indeed but I think you're not going far enough. The problem with the Punisher is that his motivation died out as soon as the '90s hit.

In the '80s back when he was a new character, the problem was keeping him facing enemies to keep the Punisher interesting. Jigsaw, Saracen, and the Rev at least came back to keep hassling Castle. Unfortunately, as you can see in some of the early '90s comics (especially Punisher War Journal), it quickly became 22 monthly pages of crap. The Punisher goes on a movie set! The Punisher hides in a mafia wedding cake! Etc, etc. The character quickly lost focus and simply became a Rod Serling with guns and a lack of truly witty one-liners. While some things were done to keep him fresh ala 'events'--"Final Days"--these eventually turned to crap and turned the Punisher from a vengeance-driven vigilante to a suicidal version of the same. Note that 'Suicide Run' was marketed as the Punisher's last big hit against crime. The 'Reign of the Punishers' was an attempt to get more supporting characters but the problem with the premise was that only the Punisher and Microchip would live. The Punisher ended everything in death and it was not so easy to continue this trend. The stories got stale and all three of his books ended.

Then it was restarted with the gigantic Onslaught crossover where Marvel tried to fit the Punisher into the Marvel Universe to such an extent that the X-Cutioner character from X-Men was assigned as his sidekick. This didn't work because the Punisher works best in the dark corners of the Marvel Universe and changing the premise from 'Punisher goes to work for a mafia family' to 'the Punisher exists in a post-Onslaught Marvel Universe' simply didn't work. All the while, the character of the Punisher was essentially forgotten. He was simply a guy with guns who had an axe to grind. When the 'Holy Punisher' relaunch came around, it was merely just one more nail in the coffin. There was nothing special about the character and when he was killed off in the Onslaught-Era series, it was more of a blessing than a curse.

My point? Ennis bought back some of the character to the Punisher. He took the dark humor that always existed in a tame format and made it the point. As he says in his own MK Omnibus, he bought the fun and the inherent humor in such a premise to the forefront and kept some of the dark pathos. The Punisher now is not a moebius strip of constant vengeance, he's come to terms with his fate and is now going about it with a certain amount of glee not allowed in his earlier incarnations. Along the way, very goofy and sick things happen. The Punisher now interacts with people in a way that makes you regret when they are killed or destroyed by their own means. The Punisher may be a one-dimensional character, but his own motivations are now suspect (and be used against him, as the first few issues of the New War Journal have shown in relation to his new 'Microchip') and makes him a character that you don't feel comfortable backing. He's a complicated character in a complicated world that occasionally has some really sick moments that range from the horrifying to the humorous. Ennis brought forth what was always there on the periphery and that's why he deserves some credit. He may hate superheroes, but at least that hatred changed a vigilante in a superhero world into a character of his own right who happens to have superheroes in his world but does not usurp it.

All and all, Ennis did a good job reinventing the character. Or rather, peeling back the layers and showing us a Punisher that always existed but we never saw. It's disturbing, but it's fascinating reading.