Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Punisher: MAX (The Slavers)...will always make you feel better about your crappy life.

So, I'm sick again. It's been happening a lot lately but it's rarely bad enough for me to need to take time off work, but that's what I had to do today after being up all night alternating between feeling pukey and feeling sore. I haven't eaten anything in over 36 hours and I can't even sleep the pain away. A bloo hoo hoo! But, whenever this happens, I think it could be a hell of a lot worse. Fibromyalgia sucks, but it's got nothing on Harlequin Icthyosis. Or Praader-Willi Syndrome, or Progeria, or Osteogenesis Imperfecta or any of the other things that can go wrong with your body that I've read about. Plus, as my little rant on about Antichrist proves, there are ways to feel better about your own pain while revelling in the fictional pain of fictional characters. And you don't have to be ill to have your life be totally ruined by circumstances. So apparently Frank Castle, the Punisher of the title, is a vigilante that exists roughly in the same universe as Batman, Superman et al. The difference between him and the superheroes is that he has no superhuman strength or millions of dollars or amazing gadgets, just his own war-commando know-how, grim determination and nothing to lose. His family were killed in a typical Deus Angst Machina by Mafia hitmen and now he lives to hunt down and destroy criminals. And when I say destroy, I mean destroy. Frank Castle is a cold-blooded murderer and he rarely takes pity on anyone or anything. The Slavers opens with Frank hunting down some goons for some reason, but the goons he's after are hunting themselves. They're trying to catch a woman who's escaped from them. So far, so humdrum, Frank steps in and kills them all but good, saving the woman. He would have left it there, except that the woman blurts out that her captors murdered her baby. After hearing that, Frank has to know more.
So then we hear all about the thriving slave trade in Frank's neck of the woods. It's headed up by three people who would be cartoon monsters if this story wasn't based in reality. Christu, the son, runs the business. He heads up the brothels that the girls are brought into and stops them from escaping. The old man, the father, runs the protection racket and he's crazy as a box of frogs. He kills off market competitors with bloodthirsty relish and usually by hand. It's mentioned that he fought in wars in Eastern Europe and has been responsible for some atrocities before he got into human trafficking. Vera, who may or may not be Christu's wife, heads up the money laundering, but was also responsible for breaking the trafficked girls' spirits through solicited gang rape. Even as we meet these people, we learn of the problems they're having with such an ugly business. Nobody can be trusted, the son is plotting against his father, the father knows it and they're all on tenterhooks. Viorica, the woman rescued by Frank, tells him everything she knows, including the details of her escape. After her initial kidnap and rape, she'd escaped and gone home to her father, only to find that he wanted nothing to do with her anymore. Recaptured easily, she found herself in New York and pregnant. Her baby, Anna, sustained her during her confinement but when another girl escaped and gave her the name of a social worker, she took the opportunity to escape again with the child and hide out with said social worker. Unfortunately, and true to life, the escape goes badly wrong because the social worker has no real resources to protect the girls she's trying to help. The initial girl who brought the number is caught again, possibly killed, and Viorica's baby is taken and murdered. The slavers email a picture to her afterwards. So, hearing this, Frank has no doubt they all must die. He even says that he's never hated anyone as much as he's hated these people, and coming from a man who routinely deals with scum that's a big deal. After taking out the mooks, he grabs Christu and tortures him for information until he bleeds out. Then he moves on to Vera, who he finds doubly despicable as a woman who spearheaded the treatment of the girls under her care and he kills her in a pretty horrific, but very well deserved way. The old man is last and the most difficult, as he seems to have little fear and is used to combat. But ultimately, Frank overpowers him and videotapes his murder to send as a warning to other slavers not to try this again. The epilogue is the real clincher. The slavers are dead and their business destroyed, but the social worker tells us that it's not that simple for the girls they rescued to get their lives back. Two have gone back to prostitution, one is dead, and several have disappeared. Viorica is doing slightly better, having found work as a waitress, but the book closes on her having a breakdown outside of the diner she works in after seeing a mother with small children. The Slavers is a very well-written story, Garth Ennis having clearly done his homework before popping his usual grim style on it. The great thing about slavery (did I really just write that?) is that it's a widely acknowledged taboo these days, and it's taken years of history for it to be considered a crime. That's a sign that it could only get better from here. It's not much comfort to the people who are victims of modern-day slavery, but when the developed countries that these people are brought into for business have funds and organizations to help them (as Ruhama ( does to the best of their ability) there's hope.

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