For this freakish Friday we are looking at another of the 31 comic books for the Halloween season. Once again, not all of these stories feature the holiday, but all of them will be appropriately themed for Halloween.
Spoilers past this point.
Today’s offering is Punisher: The End.
Written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Richard Corben, this was released by Marvel’s MAX line in 2004.
Our tale opens with a governor informing a prison warden that they are to execute all their prisoners. A vague international conflict has apparently come to a head and nuclear annihilation is on the way. The prison guards make their way through the inmates with the intention of holing up in a shelter below the facility. Before they retreat, there is one more inmate to dispose of in the bowels of the penitentiary.
However, the world goes black before the guards can finish their grisly task. Now, a year later, Frank Castle emerges from a tunnel to see the clouds burning. Accompanied by another inmate, Paris, they begin their journey through the irradiated wasteland. On their way, it becomes clear to Frank’s companion that Castle’s goal is to kill more people. Frustrated by this, he argues with the former Punisher. When death is all around them, what purpose does murder serve?
Finally, they arrive at a shelter and are knocked out by gas as they enter. Waking up in a sterile environment, Frank is being treated by a doctor who informs him he has hours to live due to the radiation he was exposed to. After grabbing a scalpel and forcing the doctor to call in the guards, he eliminates them.
Castles grabs the guards guns and makes his way through the compound. As he sweeps away the soldiers that come after him, his narration tells the tale of the complex. The shadowy puppet masters that manipulated nations and caused the nuclear war, are holed up there. Making his way to the communications room the survivors are hiding in, Castle informs them that they shouldn’t have framed and jailed the man who designed their bunker.
It was under the prison, surviving for a year, that the designer detailed the bunker to Frank. Now with their judgement upon them, one of the group appeals to Frank Castle to stay his hand. Playing a recording from one of the other bunkers and informing him of the fate of the others, it is clear that this is the last remaining bunker. These are the last people alive on Earth. Assuring him of a bank of frozen embryos and the means of survival, they can save the human race. Mistakenly, the advocate calls upon Frank to do what he will.
Frank does what Frank Castle does. Gunning down the room until only his companion and him are left. Now the last two humans on the planet. Turning to Paris, Frank questions him on how he ended up in the prison. Paris admits that he committed arson that left some children dead. Taking his confession, Castle strangles him to death.
Returning outside, he walks off into the burning wastes. Now on fire himself, as he goes on, Frank thinks of his family.
While maybe not a traditional horror story, this is about as close to one as the Punisher gets. Set against the apocalyptic backdrop, Frank kills his way to the end of the Earth. The Punisher’s work not done until there is no one left. In this Frank Castle becomes death.
While not his last story, this is a great ending to Garth Ennis’ run on the Punisher. Richard Corben’s bleak art perfectly compliments the story of Frank Castle at the end of the world.
Come back tomorrow (irradiated trigger fingers crossed) for another comic book tale for Halloween.