Give and Take

*I've had SAME HAT! SAME HAT! on my sidebar for a while now, and when they post, they post good. Please click on the video you'll find, as it's an amazing (and NOT SAFE FOR WORK) trailer for Midori, director/animator Hiroshi Harada's 1992 anime adaptation of the one-volume Suehiro Maruo manga released in the US under the title of Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show. And when I use the word 'animator,' I mean in the old-time Winsor McCay manner - Harada supposedly drew every last frame of the 47-minute film by himself. It's freaky stuff.

Which got me to thinking about Maruo, a truly odd and talented fellow who ought to have more work out in the US (so far it's Arashi, the short story collection Ultra-Gash Inferno, and a single short - the ground-quaking Planet of the Jap - in the Comics Underground Japan anthology). Maybe it's because he largely works in the short story form? And his works are hugely perverse?

So anyway, I'd like to make a little request: please, please VIZ or someone, put out the two-volume The Laughing Vampire, Maruo's other noted extended work, hopefully in the done-in-one Sexy Voice and Robo oversized phonebook format. You'll probably have to double-seal it in shrinkwrap, what with all the teenage drug orgies and spurting necks, not to mention the bit with the elderly woman vampire relaxing in a hot bath filled with boiled infants. But goddamn some of the images in that book - it's like a Jean Rollin film on paper! Which does mean it's a bit more grindhouse than arthouse, but oh does the arthouse perk it up.

*And here comes my own response to a request, though it's something I probably should have written without prompting last week when the book came out…

The Punisher MAX #36

In which writer Garth Ennis perhaps subconsciously indulges in a brilliant, extended play on the old corporate America phrase, ‘swimming with sharks.’ But perhaps it’s not subconscious; lord knows enough of this arc has been interested in swaggering satire and the dragging of subtext to the fore.

So, it’s the final chapter of a storyline, and the book’s titled The Punisher MAX, so I think we can all rest assured that it’s not a spoiler to reveal that Frank Castle destroys those out of the bad people that haven’t already taken one another out and saunters off to another adventure. That’s just sort of what happens in this book; hell, this storyline even opened with its own final scene of carnage, quickly jumping backward in time to reveal over the course of six issues how in the hell Frank wound up on that boat with all those corpses floating around.

The answer: he shot Enron. And blew a bunch of it up for good measure.

This issue, a character even comes out and directly says “We’re a corporate institution, we’re not some tangible entity you can fire bullets at.” If only they knew whose nickname was on the cover of the book - he's not much of a superhero, but he can still do whatever he wants.

Yes, The Punisher Shoots Enron (not actual title) might initially fool you through its individual issues’ covers into thinking that Frank is actually up against some burly character by the name of Barracuda, but just as prominent is Dynaco: brilliantly growing energy giant with a plot to cause blackouts to roll across wide areas and line their already-fat pockets. And when corporate toadies decide to get nervous, they call out folks like Barracuda. Who step right up to the very edge of racial caricature, yet pull just slightly back. It's not like the lily-white Dynaco crew aren't exaggerated too, aging head Harry Ebbing smiling and going about the devil's business as his cunning young wife sleeps around with his own treasured protégée, one Guy Dermot Leary, a slick man with as much murder in his soul as anyone. Last issue's fine bit with Barracuda shaking his hand and beaming "My nigga" in the midst of an increasingly deadly plot summed about half of it up, the rest arriving with this closing installment.

They might seem to be one and the same, but they can't ever truly be. This has been a seething bit of subtext throughout most of Ennis' run on the book: the interaction between the 'high' and 'low' sectors of the crime world. Whether it's undercover government agents teaming up with eager terrorists, or suit-clad dirty cops working beside sex slavers, Ennis has always been fascinated with how the Punisher's usually street-level expolits can spill over into the realms of the more immediately 'clean.' There's almost always a racial dynamic at work too, but not until now has someone actually declared "So why don't you leave us alone, and go and kill some fucking nigger drug dealers?" Frank won't, since crime is all the same to him, and that's the great extended punchline of Ennis' concern.

Oh no, it's not really all that new for Frank Castle to saunter into the upper reaches of corruption; but Ennis has made it one of his primary background concerns in his close-ended MAX universe. The Punisher: The End doesn't just act as a finale to Frank's life quest, but serves as the logical conclusion to the run's themes as well (and yes, I understand that all those The End books are meant as possible visions of the end of Marvel characters, but I've always accepted the Ennis book as the one true ending to his MAX saga - Ennis himself hasn't confirmed it, though it's certainly teased at it on the final page of The Punisher: The Cell). So chalk up this storyline, with its double-crosses and cruel relationship dynamics, as a hot point for some of the stuff that's merely been simmering so far.

There's also the shootings, which are as well-done as usual. I had a bit of visual whiplash in the early issues of this storyline, as artist Goran Parlov's work was such a big departure from ultra-rich mood of semi-regular penciler Leandro Fernandez (who'll be back for the next story), but I've really grown to like the stuff, the character art just funny enough to make the story's lampoon pop while not skimping on the nasty bits. And there's a few of those, despite Frank's less-than-mobile state. Everybody gets what's coming to them, even those who thought a mutual enemy might spare them the tireless gaze of Frank. But then, you all knew that already.

And for a story that rolled out just in time for the actual Kenneth Lay sentencing, well - given the furor surrounding the man's untimely fate (what did the NY Post scream? "Before they put Cheato Lay's coffin in the grave, CHECK HE'S IN IT"), the curiously abridged exit of Dynaco's head seems like the icing on the cake. Maybe Ennis switched things up at the last second? Would he even have time for that? Probably it's just one of those things that pop up to enliven satire, the real world giving a little something back.