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Cruel and unusual Punishment
The Punisher movie review by Mike Baron

Written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh

It's hard to mess up a sure thing but The Punisher manages. What could be simpler than a revenge fantasy? The pacing is glacial, the tone ho-hum, and the acting bad. At least it doesn't joke around. In this version of the venerable urban myth, the Punisher's an undercover Fed in Tampa whose sting inadvertently kills the son of a local mob boss. Forget urban grit. This Punisher takes place on sunny shores.

© 2004 Marvel Studios

The theater handed out reprints of Gerry Conway's "origin" story from Spiderman #174. It would not be polite to point out that Conway's character is a direct rip-off of Don Pendleton's The Executioner. Later, as the Punisher gained refinement, he was given a back-story. It was The Executioner's back-story. His family inadvertently witnessed a gangland slaying and were subsequently wiped out launching Frank Castle on his life-long hard-on for the mob.

In the new film, the mob boss Saint, barely played by John Travolta, wipes out the entire Castle clan as they party on a Caribbean island. The set-up takes forever. Eye See You knocks off Sly Stallone's wife in the first five minutes. It's even worse than The Punisher but at least it comes out of the gate fast. Roy Scheider as Frank's father resembles a walnut and manages to pump a little juice into his few scenes.

Tom Jane suffers from charisma deficit. His Punisher lacks intensity. It fails to build momentum. Remember in Scarface, by the time Frankie Montana is defending his empire with his "leetle frand" how pumped you were? There's no pumping in this movie. Rebecca Romjin plays Frank's eye candy neighbor. There's one half-lively scene where the neighbors lip-synch to opera while Frank battles a four-hundred pound Russian gangster.

I also have a problem where gangsters make a big deal killing toadies in front of witnesses. If you were a smart gangster would you want a half dozen witnesses who could turn states' evidence? This is no improvement over the Boaz Yakin-penned Punisher starring Dolph Lundgren, but Marvel's willingness to remake the movie suggests they may get it right down the line.

Punisher was preceded by a trailer for Van Helsing. Same guy who "wrote and directed" the two Mummy movies is doing this. He may be the worst director since Ed Wood without the latter's charm.

The Moth Special
Written and inked by Gary Martin
Created and drawn by Steve Rude
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics, 56 pages, 5 bucks

Yeah, I know. I'm a complete whore. I wrote the Punisher from issue #1 to #65 so naturally I'm going to dump all over anyone who has the temerity to handle the character after me. Steve Rude and I created Nexus, which we hope will once again see the light of day. Between Nexus' demise and the Moth's rise Dude labored in the fertile vineyards of Marvel. The Moth began life as a marketing exercise for Dynamic Forces years ago.

© 2004 Dark Horse Comics

Gary Martin has constructed a compelling origin that harks back to simpler times. There's a bizarre synchronicity between The Moth and Dark Horse's other "new" super hero, Michael Chabon's The Escapist. The Moth is a character in the old tradition unburdened by psychological undercurrents. Born a conjoined twin, he grew into extraordinary vitality while his separated twin remained growth and learning impaired. This gives Jack Mahoney compassion and motivation. The name's origin will be obvious to anyone familiar with the Dude's artwork or the history of comics. Jack Mahoney shares Tom (Escapist) Mayflower's show biz trappings. Tom's an escape artist. Jack's a trapeze artist for a circus. Both owe a debt to Kirby.

Indeed, Dude is to Kirby what the new Corvette is to the original--a sleek and savvy update both sophisticated and nostalgic. Kirby could never draw a human figure as convincingly as the Dude, but Dude can do it so that it looks like Kirby.

The main story deals with a lion man monster terrorizing rural America while in Africa, a missionary fights an ancient evil with prayer. I didn't think the two stories related too well but give Gary credit for invoking Jesus respectfully, and touching on comics' unspoken religious application. We need faith but we're too sophisticated to believe. So we experience faith vicariously in the pages of a comic book. Reminds me of one of those old Stan Lee Strange Adventures where the only way he could warn the people of the Earth of our imminent doom was through the pages of a comic book.

Dude's artwork is simple and irresistible, particularly in two action sequences: the bar fight in the mirror and the scene where the lion man pulls Red's bike out from under.

Mike Baron is the creator of the award winning comic book Nexus and during his career has written an enormous variety of comics from The Flash to The Punisher. He is currently writing Faro Korbit for AP Comics, working on a Green Lantern novel for Byron Preiss, and is working on several projects destined to change the face of pop culture in his secret skunkworks.

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