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Happy New Year, Punisher Central readers! To kick off this decade in the right way, Marvel has moved up their comic release schedule and given us the third chapter of Punisher: Soviet TODAY merely three weeks after the last issue. After two issues of world-building, Punisher: Soviet is finally showing its form with a gruesome issue exploring the final and worst day of Valery Stepanovich’s (aka Russian Punisher) career as a Soviet Paratrooper during the late 70s to late 80s Soviet-Afghan War. While this issue is focused on the past, the revelations and atrocities suffered by Valery ground the miniseries in the darkness, outrage and vigilante inclinations of The Punisher universe and provide emotional momentum for Russian mobster Konstantin Pronchenko’s end. With Pronchenko’s role in crimes from the current day to past wars finally unveiled, it’s hard to not see The Punisher pushing to the forefront with Valery for his share of blood.
With this issue, Ennis has Valery tell the story of his last day as a Soviet military man that unfolds with loss after loss until he is the final survivor. Valery’s character, drive and combat efficiency as well as the unfolding horrific carnage run parallel to Frank’s final experiences during his third tour in Vietnam. While not as challenging climate-wise or hostile in terms of chain of command interaction, Valery’s war-time challenges are rooted in the same make-do warfare, unique atrocities and corruption of the Vietnam War. Much as “Valley Forge, Valley Forge” indicted the war machine of the military industrial complex, Punisher: Soviet situates Pronchenko at the heart of Valery’s suffering, a REMF (rear echelon motherfucker) officer who has no problem selling the soul of the honorable fighting man for personal gain. Ennis continues to shine in his mastery of historic fact and lore, taking into account tell-tale stories of muja atrocities in skinning people alive and “puppeting”, the game-changing ground warfare of the Stinger as provided by the United States and the Central Intelligence Agency and details about fighting techniques and technologies between the muja and the Soviets to create a memorable glimpse into Valery’s war. These minute facts and details and the way they are filtered through Valery’s personality and language are a hallmark to the world-building and memorable side characters of The Punisher MAX world. With details of Valery’s conflict (which is teased to involve one of Pronchenko’s wives as teased briefly in Issue #1) and the exact depth of Pronchenko’s hand in his criminal activities not yet fleshed out, additional emotional and rage-inducing ammunition for Valery is guaranteed to be provided in the concluding issues.
The only negative aspects I can think of in these past issues has been the delivery. This issue excelled in feeling whole due to providing visual reference to Valery’s storytelling and flashbacks, an aspect that the prior issues felt a bit lacking in. More is told than shown in this miniseries and I wonder how much richer things would have been if there had been given a ten or twelve issue length akin to Fury MAX: My War Gone By. Fascinating details such as Frank’s investigation (and the bodycount) and the personalities of Valery’s paratrooper peers feel like they could have been fleshed out just a bit more.
In terms of the art, it’s clear that Jacen Burrows was the man for the job with this series. With this issue digging DEEP into the violence, Burrows goes all on the detail, gore and action that he’s shown amply in Crossed and 303. I can clearly state that all my doubts about this miniseries earning the MAX Comics label have been thoroughly erased. This issue had so much to deliver on with the action, scenery and carnage. Burrows shows that he is equally dedicated to the historical spirit of Ennis, illustrating the look of Soviet armored personal carriers, helicopters and uniforms at the time with accuracy. I loved seeing the small details such as Valery’s blue and white undershirt popping up through the sand colored uniform and the individual identity, uniform and build to every background character. Panel to panel, the action is fluid, dynamic and clear and the environments are drawn with such care and detail. I cannot wait to see how things go when Burrows actively sets Valery and Frank on their contemporary revenge mission.
This issue had an absolutely sick cover by Paolo Rivera. Per a small comment from Paolo, the inspiration for these covers are Soviet propaganda posters with liberties taken. I’m no art expert, but it looks like every cover is being drawn with different tools and in different styles. Frank looks absolutely awesome with his menacing stare and angled MAC-10. Situated across the flames and body bags, the cover had a real heavy metal vibe to it.
Overall Verdict: If you were a fan of Garth Ennis’s work on Punisher MAX’s The Platoon, Born or “Mother Russia/Man of Stone” saga, this issue is the one that will sell this miniseries for you. There’s always a quality of enjoyment, depth and respect to the way that Ennis uses real life context to inform and enrich his natural story-telling abilities. That goes doubly so when that context is war. This issue delivers on the promise of a war story that “would shame the devil”. Valery‘s stake in the war against Pronchenko is visibly clear now and it’s going to be a ride to see how he and Frank deliver justice.
- With this issue taking place within the same war and time period as characters in “Man Of Stone” and involving the C.I.A., what’s to say we won’t see General Nikolai Zakharov or Rawlins once again in flashbacks?
The next issue comes out on February 26, 2020! Start the decade off right with some PUNISHMENT!