Complicity and The Punisher

Just some quick things to say, while I’m writing, that someone else might think are interesting:

I’m talking about the idea of complicity and violence in some bits of The Punisher MAX, and I’ve hit upon something that really feeds the argument that I’m trying to make. Violence becomes this weird event in comics. Where violence that happens in cinema is sometimes slowed down to show the true horror of it, to put the viewer in it for an uncomfortable amount of time, comics don’t have to do that. You don’t have to slow down comics. Comics are already slow, static, and a scene of violence just sits there. It can be looked at all day long.

So, thinking about this, I was reading the eighth volume in the series, titled “Widowmaker,” and saw this panel

Which is pretty amazing, because that’s fundamentally what the reader does. The reader of this issue sits in front of the comic, takes in the violence, and takes a certain amount of joy in it–in looking at the violence, in knowing that it is happening to “bad” people, in the fulfillment of justice that could never, ever happen in the real world for a multitude of reasons. The Punisher is wish fulfillment, and it gives us a kind of infinite perspective, a god’s-eye view of the diegetic world and the punishments that can go on there. The reader feeds on the violence and the social catharsis it invites.

And there’s a horrible side to this. In the volume titled “The Slavers” we find this panel

She’s looking out at us, obviously, and that also invites the question of the reader’s complicity into the text. In the story, she fed information to Frank Castle that helps him along toward his goal, which is murder. She’s asking us what she has done, and we’re supposed to really ask ourselves the question. She did it for “justice” in the comic, so in a way she did it for the reader. She’s as complicit as we are. She helps The Punisher along, helps create the violence, helps the plot chug forward.

That’s reading. It’s making the plot move along. Creating all the scenes in the gutters, making sure that moments lead to other moments; that’s what reading does. She knows she’s complicit. We need to realize that we are, too.

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