Bizarro Back Issues: Christmas With The Punisher Is Not Exactly Jolly (1995)
When it comes to Christmas comics, you can't really get around the fact that some characters lend themselves to holiday stories a little easier than others. Superman is essentially built around peace on Earth and goodwill to men anyway, Batman's themes of family and sacrifice are perfectly suited for a bittersweet Christmas tale, and Spider-Man shopping for presents is almost always a good recipe for seasonal comedy.
And then there are the characters that don't quite fit. Like, say, the Punisher, whose tendency to run around brutally slaughtering murderers and other criminals doesn't exactly fit well with good cheer and eggnog. Of course, that didn't stop anyone from trying.I've mentioned before that the '90s were a pretty weird time, but rarely were they weirder than when it came to the overwhelming popularity of the Punisher. Don't get me wrong: He's one of my favorite characters, but by the mid '90s, when Frankamania was at its peak, even three ongoing monthly comics weren't enough to satisfy the demand from impressionable children who wanted to read lurid murder comics. As a result, there were a ton of one-shots, miniseries and Prestige Format books -- including G-Force, the one where the Punisher hijacks a space shuttle to kill a guy in orbit, which is every bit as amazing as it sounds.
And then there were the specials.
A couple times a year, creators would get together and knock out a few stories that were loosely tied around a certain theme, and they invariably came out as hilariously inappropriate. The annual fall Punisher Back To School Special is probably the most self-explanatory on that front, but the Holiday Specials, which featured Castle stabbing dudes with plastic reindeer and impaling them on Christmas trees, somehow managed to top them.
Which brings us to Punisher Holiday Special #3 and "X-Mas Stalkings," a doozy of a tale by Mike Lackey and Phil Gosier that opens with the Punisher wearing a Santa outfit in an effort to trap a crook who's been ripping off charities. Of course, instead of the crook he's going after, he sees a man assaulting a young lady directly in front of him, which leads to the typical Punisher response of a truly savage beating:
I realize that this is the same picture up there at the top of the column, but I wanted to provide the full version so that we could all take a moment to notice that no one is standing on the ground while this happens. It's a Christmas miracle!
Anyway, after referring to the offending gentleman as a "scumdog," a word that I don't think anyone has ever actually said out loud, the young lady, Terri, tries to stay Frank's mighty fist of justice, and it comes out that the "mugger" is actually her brother Sean.
So naturally, Frank assumes that he's accidentally interrupted some kind of incestuous roleplaying.
The art in this story is very much of its time, but I think we can all agree that the bearded side-eye Frank's giving up there in Panel One is a high point in the history of the character.
The whole thing with the mugging was just an attempt to find the Punisher so they could give him a sob story and get him to solve (read: murder) their troubles, and that raises a lot of questions about how this whole thing is supposed to operate. Have they just been wandering around Manhattan staging fake muggings in front of any bell-ringers they've seen? Did they luck into finding the one with massive beatin' hands and a shotgun sticking out from under his coat? And if so, how did they know he was going to be dressed up as Santa anyway? Did they check out his Facebook page before they went out? "About 2 stand on street dressed as santa, will also probably shoot some guys lol."
Anyway, Frank takes Terri and Sean back to his battle van so that Sean can patch up his hilariously busted face, and they finally reveal why they went through all the rigamarole. In a tale of woe that was definitely written well after the punny title, Terri has a stalker, Charlie Quinn, who's been ruining her life all the way from North Carolina to NYC, and in true Lifetime Original Movie fashion, the police can't do anything. Thus, she's been desperate enough to turn to the Punisher, who takes the case and promptly sets about straight up wrecking Quinn's (admittedly shoddy) photo collage:
Everyone's a critic.
While the Punisher is making his artistic statement, Quinn has finally found Terri and decided to escalate things into full-on armed kidnapping. He hauls her off by the hair, pausing to gun down Sean while the Punisher is distracted with running over the Santa Snatcher a few blocks away. By the time he gets to Sean's video store -- and a better stamp of "1995" you could not ask for -- Terri is gone.
Fortunately for everyone except Quinn, Terri and the Punisher prepared for this eventuality by giving her homing device earrings...
...that are shaped like the Punisher's logo. Say what you will about '90s Punisher, but that dude was committed to building a brand.
After being led to a snowy cabin out in the wilderness, Terri decides that her only chance is to play along with Quinn's twisted desires in order to buy time until the Punisher arrives. Thus, some good ol' fashioned '90s exploitation:
Not pictured: the actual dog collar and leash that he puts on her in the next panel.
That santa hat that Quinn threw into the box of lingerie designed specially for the oddly elongated torso isn't the only reminder that this is actually meant to be a Christmas story. While Terri's providing the distraction, things are a-doing above!
Up on the housetop, guns are cocked! Two forty-fives and a back-up Glock! Down through the chimney comes old Frank, heavily armed like an Army tank!
Quinn is a pretty loathsome character in every conceivable way, but when he's right, he's right: Referring to someone as "babe-o-licious" is the foundation of amoré.
The Punisher crashes through the lit fireplace, but the smoke in his eyes keeps him from hitting the mark with his first shot so that this fight can drag on over the next six or seven pages. To its credit, though, it does get pretty interesting, with Frank bashing Quinn's teeth out and giving him an immediate speech impediment.
After Frank drops Quinn through a glass coffee table, Terri suddenly has second thoughts because we still have pages to fill, which she immediately regrets when he springs up and holds a knife to her throat. The Punisher's able to shoot the knife out of his hand, though, and she gets her revenge by bashing his face into broken glass for a while until they finally set him on fire and Frank heads outside to shoot him. And at that moment, we get the page that I sincerely hope was sent out as Marvel's official Christmas card in 1995.
And really, isn't that the true meaning of Christmas?
I mean, no, of course it's not, it's not even close, but the true meaning of Christmas doesn't have leggy blondes in fishnets, so they had to change it a little.