Punisher: Soviet Part 3 -
***WARNING: ADULT LANGUAGE AND CONTENT ARE PICTURED IN THIS REVIEW***
Valery Stepanovich tells his tale, and it begins during the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Against an enemy they barely understood, Stepanovich and his fellow Fifth Company soldiers saw some terrible sights...
Eventually, Fifth Company fell into a mujahedeen trap...
...and by the end of it, only Stepanovich was left alive to tell the tale!
From there, things only got worse.
Punisher: Soviet kicks into high gear in its third issue, an all-out war story courtesy writer Garth Ennis (doing what he does best, and in peak form no less) and artist Jacen Burrows. Valery Stepanovich takes the spotlight (as expected, Soviet is proving to be less a Punisher story and more a war story Ennis had in mind that the Punisher guest-stars in) and begins to tell his tale. And it is NOT for the faint of heart.
All the horrors of war: the uncertainty and anxiety, the watching your comrades die, the sheer inhumanity of the enemy – are on full display here. Garth Ennis is the industry’s modern master when it comes to the war story, and this issue shows why. It’s nerve-shreddingly intense from start to finish, and just when readers think it can’t get any worse, Ennis lowers the boom and brings some true horror. Suffice to say, Valery Stepanovich has seen some $#!t. And it’s never left him.
The USSR’s failed invasion of Afghanistan in the ’80s isn’t quite new territory for Ennis (he touched on it in the Punisher MAX arc “Man of Stone,” which if you haven’t read, drop everything and do so NOW) – but with this issue, breathes a sense of danger and urgency to the proceedings that bring the conflict to life with sickening immediacy. For those who don’t know much about the conflict – and without getting into a full-on history lesson – the USSR’s war with Afghanistan was more or less their equivalent to the United States’ Vietnam Conflict. An ongoing battle without end, with no clear good or bad side, a quagmire that with no clear way out. Russia would eventually turn tail and run in defeat by the end of the decade; the war itself presaged the fall of the USSR itself as Russia’s economy continued to crash and the country could no longer afford a costly and ongoing conflict with a foe it could scarcely understand, much less definitively defeat.
It was into these fires that Valery Stepanovich’s story truly began. As the only surviving member of Fifth Company, “he alone was left alive to tell the tale.” And what a tale it is, full of the desperation to survive in the face of the full horrors of war and then some. There are a couple of over-the-top moments throughout – the de-limbed soldiers pictured above are just the first glimpse of what’s to come (it gets so much more graphic) – that probably don’t ring true with historic accuracy, but as storytelling beats, do their jobs flawlessly. In Ennis’ expert hands, readers are instantly sucked into the chaos of Fifth Company’s fight when they stumble into the mujah’s trap and feel the desperation of the soldiers. It’s a tightly-plotted, genuinely frightening glimpse into war’s heart of darkness.
Of course, it wouldn’t work half as well if the art didn’t complement the story so strongly. Jacen Burrows has a very clean line, which means those instances where the gore and violence must be brought to the forefront are that much more impactful. And gore and violence are EXACTLY what happen – but with a purpose. This isn’t violence for the sake of it. It’s there to make a point – that awful, terrible things happen in war, and no one should wish it upon even their worst foes.
And so it would seem, from these fires forged, the Punisher has found a worthy ally in Valery Stepanovich.
Grim, stark, and utterly brutal - Garth Ennis delivers one whopper of a war story, one of his best in years. This isn't a comic for everyone by any stretch, and certainly not for the weak of stomach or faint at heart. But it's a master class in storytelling. If nothing else, buy it today to see a master storyteller at the top of his game.
Punisher: Soviet #3 (of 6): War Stories
Writing - 10/1010/10
Storyline - 9.5/109.5/10
Art - 8/108/10
Color - 7.5/107.5/10
Cover Art - 8/108/10
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