Punisher: Soviet #6
***WARNING! ADULT LANGUAGE AND THEMES AHEAD!***
The Punisher's comrade-in-arms, Valery Stepanovich, has fallen. Frank goes to finish all unsettled business, but first, he forces their mutual enemy Konstantin Pronchenko's sons to dig Stepanovich a grave.
The grave dug, the body buried, it ends with Pronchenko having no more living sons. Frank thinks back to his final conversation with Pronchenko's wife, and knows what he must do next...
Pronchenko has bigger aspirations than mere organized crime. He wants a U.S. Senator in his pocket... and has one. His reach, his power, would be immense.
Too bad Frank has other ideas.
Punisher: Soviet comes to a bloody, messy, stone-cold conclusion, and although it might be relatively quieter than would be expected from all-time great Punisher scribe Garth Ennis, it definitely stays with readers once done. War is a lot of things: violent, horrifying, terrifying, and so on. It brings out the valiant side in some people; the monster in others. Occasionally it’s necessary, more often than not it isn’t. For Frank Castle, though, it’s not just a way of life – it’s who he is.
Frank doesn’t care who you are, or what kind of crime you’ve committed. He doesn’t care about your station in life, your gender, or whether or not you’re an elected U.S. official or a dirty former Soviet general. Guilty is guilty. He punishes equally. Usually it’s a loud, messy thing, but sometimes it’s far more quiet – and unsettling. Which brings us to the conclusion of Soviet, in which Frank forces General Konstantin Pronchenko to skin the corrupt U.S. Senator he was working with alive, coolly holding them both at gunpoint, and then once that deed is done, does something highly unusual: he lets the General live, to spend the rest of his life in prison with the mind-shattering horror of what he’s just done, and how he’s had to live the fate he left Stepanovich and his unit to. It’s cold-blooded as hell, and not for the faint of heart. But then, no Ennis Punisher story ever is.
Soviet has followed an occasional Ennis tactic of eschewing the loud pyrotechnics in favor of a quieter, more unsettling approach. Sure, there’s been plenty of gunfire and perhaps a few too many exploding helicopters, but the atmosphere of this story has been thicker and more pervasive than Ennis’ typical Punisher outing. This is a story about how the horrors of war can linger with someone for the rest of their life, and although Valery Stepanovich didn’t live to see the conclusion of his mission, Frank made damn sure his quest wasn’t in vain.
As I mentioned in my review of last issue, chief antagonist Konstantin Pronchenko has been a near-total cipher throughout this series, which has presented something of a narrative problem as he has existed more as a whisper, an idea, than a tangible, three-dimensional foe. We see him this issue at last, and although it might be too little too late, we see him for what he is: not a raging monster, but rather, a small, petty, and ultimately weak man who cares nothing for the lives of others – only his own ambitions. That he crumbles almost instantly once Frank has him in his sights is evidence enough of that. Pronchenko is, in truth, more of an idea than a character – the general leading from the rear, indifferent to the lives he’s spending as long as he makes it out alive. Frank has no problem calling it for what it is after Pronchenko finishes skinning the Senator:
The corrupt senator was, in a way, completely beside the point. The point was for Pronchenko to be paid back for the horror he callously, unthinkingly wrought almost four decades prior to the men who were supposed to be in his command.
And then, Frank does something unusual: he sits down at a bar, and has a drink of vodka in honor of Stepanovich and his allies’ memory. It may be a little over the top, considering he only knew Stepanovich’s fellow soldiers in name only, and what’s supposed to be a quiet, introspective moment falls flat because of it. But it also speaks to this series’ key theme: the lingering, far-reaching effects of war. Frank may not have been in Afghanistan on that terrible day in which Valery Stepanovich watched all of his comrades die in horrible, unspeakable ways, but he’s not about to let their long-awaited justice go unmarked, either.
It’s a haunting finish. Unfortunately to get there, Ennis has to stumble through more flat exposition via a flashback with Pronchenko’s wife. The scene deliberately exists for the sole purpose of setting up Frank’s confrontation with Pronchenko and the Senator; the wife is still pretty much a blank slate created for the sole purpose of delivering plot-crucial information. But too much information: honestly, between this and her 2/3-issue exposition dump in issue four, had what she had to say been condensed down more economically, this could have been a five-issue miniseries. C’est la vie – can’t win ’em all.
Jacen Burrows’ art is as typically threadbare as usual, but in this case, his minimalist approach works in the story’s favor. Because he’s not caught up in a lot of extraneous detail, he’s given free reign to zero in on the looks of horror on the characters’ faces. This is particularly effective during the skinning scene – readers can see from body language and facial expression that Pronchenko’s mind is completely unraveling as he goes about his task. This issue is probably the closest Burrows has come to matching the minimalist majesty of the late Steve Dillon.
Though more quiet and even introspective than was to be expected, Punisher: Soviet #6 is a haunting read that will stay with readers for awhile to come after finishing. Though this hasn't been an even miniseries, the creative team goes out strong for the finale!
Punisher: Soviet #6 (of 6): Das Vadanya, Comrade
Writing - 8/108/10
Storyline - 8.5/108.5/10
Art - 8.5/108.5/10
Color - 9/109/10
Cover Art - 8/108/10
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