Punisher: Frank Castle Max - Six Hours to Kill Paperback – Sep 2 2009
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Six Hours To Kill starts normally enough with Frank Castle taking a trip to Philadelphia (which I suppose is worth noting as he's usually in New York) to take down a child slavery operation when he gets blindsided by some rather ambitious yuppies. Yes, yuppies. I can't think of a better word for them really. He's drugged and told that if he kills a certain notable figure in Philly crime/politics (an unknown to Frank), he'll receive the antidote and be allowed to go on his merry way. Frank's response is to kill the slob responsible for drugging him and make the best of his remaining six hours; kill every criminal within reach he can and maybe figure out who this John Lynn Cavalier guy is that he has been sicced on. He doesn't seem all that concerned with his impending death; Frank Castle is a pragmatist after all. From here, things get a little muddy from a readers' perspective.
Like I suggested above, there were moments that I enjoyed (Frank's narration, Frank versus Russian mobsters) but I had a hard time following the parallel plotting of the villains (yuppies) that ran alongside Frank's coerced suicide run. I actually credit the artist, Michel Lacombe, more with this disconnect than Swierczynski. I had a really hard time distinguishing between various characters like Benji and Cavalier. There's also a subplot involving the Mayor and his cousin and some corrupt cops... Their motivation behind wanting Castle dead seems a little manufactured, considering (I'll get to this). Anyway, the artist. Lacombe, like Laurence Campbell (from Punisher MAX: Girls In White Dresses TPB (v. 11)) has a very dark, gritty, realistic style that suits the title but suffers from the fact that this story arc is populated by a bunch of previously unestablished characters; all of whom are just regular joes, workin' stiffs, street hoods and the like (read: unremarkable). Read in trade format, this is probably less of a problem but I read these issues in monthly installments and like I say, I had trouble remembering just who and what these people are to the story and what's worse is I found myself simply NOT caring as well.
If nothing else, I have to hand it to Swierczynski for trying to construct a complete web of interactions and reverberations and maybe if he had altered some of his pacing and reduced certain emphases on supporting characters, like Benji's sister and her bodyguard Walter (a Vietnam Vet with a SEVERE case of PTSD), it would have hung together a little better. As it is, Walter and the sister come across as some forced kink/sex appeal that is more of an obstacle to the story than added flavor or depth. Once Frank comes head-to-head with Walter (and the sister, window-dressing really), I felt like the narrative was granted the freedom it lacked up until that point. After "handling" them, the story is a bit more straight-forward but at that point it's too little, too late. As far as the subplot involving the Mayor's hitsquad of corrupt cops; I just don't see why they'd make a play against The Punisher as RETALIATION (the Mayor having tangential ties to the child slavery ring Frank disposed of in the first issue). The damage is done, what can the Mayor hope to gain by whacking Frank? It's not as though he'd function as a court witness or be able to give credible testimony in ANY capacity. Besides which, at that point the only thing the Mayor was guilty of was having a scumbag for a cousin as he was ignorant of the latter's illegal proclivities. The Mayor WASN'T on Frank's radar, is what I'm getting at. Like I say, it seemed forced and the subsequent bloodbaths in the streets of Philly only serve to distract Frank (and the reader).
So to sum up, Frank torpedoes a child trafficking ring, industrious yuppies sic The Punisher on their societal rival (Cavalier), the Mayor sends a squad of corrupt (ex)cops into the streets of Philly with carte blanche against Frank, and Frank meanwhile thumbs through his rolodex of Philly criminals and does his level best to prune their numbers (black humor here) before succumbing to the yuppie poison. Frank fights off corrupt cops, street gangs and the heavily armed Russian mafia and yet somehow manages to make his way back to the yuppies who poisoned him, all in just under six hours. Swierczynski makes reference to The Doors with Benji (arguably the "mastermind" behind poisoning Frank), the character proclaiming himself (and his sister) "The Lizard Kings" so I feel it was a missed opportunity that we didn't get to hear "No One Here Gets Out Alive" as that is a far more apt reference when it's all said and done. Frank Castle as Clint Eastwood in The Gauntlet? Not quite, although the narrative did have a confused, maze-like quality to it. Bottom line, as a Punisher fan I didn't hate the story. As an Ennis fan speaking to another Ennis fan, I wouldn't recommend this TPB though (the upcoming Punisher: Frank Castle Max - Welcome To The Bayou TPB by Goran Parlov and Victor Gischler does a far better job).
I felt that neither writer nor artist were the best choices for the character. At times in the story I was a bit confused with one of the sub-plots and wasn't sure how it tied into the central blackmailing-the-Punisher storyline. Also the artist didn't help by drawing the two different characters very similarly.
What I really enjoyed was the cover art by Dave Johnson. One of these adorns the cover of the book but it's the other covers included within that really caught my attention. I loved them so much I wish that they were A2 size and framed so I could hang them on my walls. Why couldn't he have illustrated the book instead?
That said, it wasn't a terrible book. The story, once it got going, was interesting enough if a bit convoluted and, by the end, predictable. There's also a one shot story at the end of the main one which was pretty good, about the Punisher putting some scumbags out to sea and letting them kill each other. What I realised with this story was that the best Punisher stories have little involvement with Frank until the end draws near and he appears like Death to finish the remaining criminals. This comic is a good example and shows mainly the villains of the piece slowly losing their minds with Frank sitting back until the end. It makes for a more interesting and less predictable read.
This isn't the best Punisher book - if you're looking for that I suggest starting with "Welcome Back, Frank" by Garth Ennis, a writer who has done his best work with this character - but it isn't bad and has some decent art inside, mainly Dave Johnson's.