This is one of the weirdest, strangest, concepts for a one-shot I’ve ever heard of. Even when reading it, all you can do is kind of scratch your head and wonder what the heck is going on. And that in and of itself isn’t really a bad thing. Experimentation is good, specifically in our entertainment mediums. Without experimentation we wouldn’t have some of the best novels, movies, poems, and stories of the last hundred years.
So… this is Punisher Max: Happy Endings.
Just say that with me: “Punisher Max: Happy Endings.” Doesn’t that sound like some sort of BDSM massage parlor? Well, as it turns out, you’re not totally wrong. As the title so obviously wants you to think, this is a Punisher story featuring a fly-by-night massage parlor of the explicit variety.
I immediately have reservations about going into this title, because… well I mean, the Punisher kills criminals. Depending on the era and the writer, he is sometimes indiscriminate about the crime that warrants his death penalty. I’ve read stories where he killed a couple for littering. And not even regular littering, aiming for the trash can and missed.So hearing that there’s a one-shot out there where the Punisher goes up against sex-workers makes me uncomfortable, because by all legitimate accounts I know of sex-workers are some of the most at-risk, endangered, abused ‘criminals’ in our society. I’m not keen on seeing the Punisher mow them down indiscriminately.
Thankfully, that’s not what this is about. Actually, as a point of fact, this story barely features the Punisher at all, instead choosing to focus on a guy named Joe. See, Joe’s been having it rough of late, nothing seems to be going his way. So, in an effort to relieve his tension and growing frustrations, this meek little man decides to visit an ‘adult’ massage parlor. This is how he meets Gi-Gi, his would-be masseuse, who has run into trouble with organized crime and is now on the run, dragging Joe along with her as the two get shot, attacked, stabbed, and all other manner of insanity while running for their lives.
In the end, Joe goes back to his wife after his crazy night, more relieved than he would have been if he’s gotten a simple hand-job: he got to be an action hero for a single night and is rejuvenated as a result, receiving his own ‘happy ending.’
There’s certainly something interesting there, telling the story of how civilization forces us to repress our urges and how we then deal with functioning with those urges in society. There’s a lot to unpack with a theme like that, owing all the way back to Freud’s Civilization and it’s Discontents. But wait, isn’t there something missing here? Where’s The Punisher?
Well, the main character of this is Joe, with Punisher basically acting as a guest-star in his own one-shot, chasing down some of the villains that are plaguing Joe and Gi-Gi. In that, this story takes a different point-of-view to the standard Punisher story, telling the sotry of one of the bystanders. It reminds me of The Zeppo episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in that way.
and there’s nothing wrong with that, although it is a tad bait-and-switch. I mean, chances are people picking up Punisher MAX: Happy Endings were hoping to see the Punisher, and in more than a guest-spot. It kinda seems as though the authors wanted to tell this story of Joe but knew not many people would buy a book called Joe: Happy Endings and decided to stick the Punisher in there as well to make sure it sold. I don’t really think that, I’m nowhere near that cynical, but I am one of those people that scratches his head at why the Punisher needs his own title at all. Some characters just work better as guest spots, and the Punisher is one of them.
Take his involvement in Darkhawk Classic for instance. His presence served as a litmus test for the main character: does he want to be like the Punisher? That makes sense. The Punisher makes sense when contrasted with other heroes. But there are only so many times I can watch him mow down a bunch of criminals I can’t name before it all seems the same. And I feel like Punisher MAX: Happt Endings is an admission of that.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
“there are only so many times I can watch him mow down a bunch of criminals I can’t name before it all seems the same. And I feel like Punisher MAX: Happt Endings is an admission of that.”