Season two of Daredevil heralds the coming of a new incarnation of Frank Castle, the Punisher, played by Jon Bernthal. Since my blog’s inception I have used it to examine the character and express my fandom, but I never talked about the comics that inspired me. And so, I will dedicate a new series of posts to covering my favorite Punisher books.
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Kitchen Irish (2004)
In the Beginning is a jumping off point for multiple stories Ennis would explore across nine more volumes. Not all of them touch on Frank’s character, but they establish and build upon each arc in pieces. The previous story set up a lot and Kitchen Irish is another that introduces a single portion.
Castle is the kind of man that minds his own business unless a problem gets his attention. While eating in a diner in Hell’s Kitchen, Frank is caught in an explosion from across the street at a pub that kills over a dozen people. As one of the few survivors, he finds himself in the midst of carnage with corpses ripped to shreds and skewered on shards of glass.
A tip from the cops leads Frank to track down the leader of the Westies, a gang of Irish Americans that once ruled the neighborhood, and owners of the pub that was bombed. Perched on a rooftop Castle has his target Tommy Toner in sight, intent on capturing him for information until he is snatched from the street and taken into a van.
Frank discovers there is more to the bombing when he meets Yorkie, an MI6 buddy from Vietnam with his partner Andy. The attack was the work of Finn Cooley, an IRA bomber known for a scarred visage. Britain wants Cooley in the ground and sent Yorkie to do the job. Seeing as how he cannot officially act on foreign soil, Yorkie would operate via proxy and Castle agrees. At the same time, Andy is on the hunt for Finn’s nephew Peter, who killed his father during the Troubles.
It is not long before Frank finds Finn and Peter in a pub. With a shotgun in hand he paints the rustic establishment in shades of brain matter when other gangsters make the mistake of drawing weapons in the company of the Punisher. Finn and company flee through the back door and walk into an ambush by Yorkie and Andy. Peter is left behind while his uncle escapes.
After Castle removes a bullet from Peter’s leg with a butterfly knife, the young terrorist spills the beans. The Westies, amateur pirates called River Rats, a thug named Maginty, and Finn are all connected to Old Man Nesbitt, an ancient gangster that hated everyone. Come his passing, the four parties received a letter calling for an end to crime in Hell’s Kitchen in exchange for his fortune of $10 million. Each received a portion of coordinates to the money and it was Toner that wanted everyone to meet at his pub before Finn tried to kill everyone.
To finish off the four parties at once, Frank calls the Westies thinking the others would follow, and organizes a meet on the deck of the Intrepid. When Toner’s crew led by his wife Brenda arrives along with the River Rats and Maginty’s gang, they come under attack by Yorkie and Andy behind an M60, and Castle firing from a Huey. The groups quickly scatter with Maginty losing his followers and the River Rats reduced to the original brother/sister founders. Finn, arriving just after the slaughter began, had the good sense to stay out of it before pulling Brenda from the drink.
With each gang on the brink of killing each other completely, Maginty and the River Rats meet with Brenda and Finn and come to a compromise. Using their hatred of Nesbitt they decide to share their portion of the coordinates and find it in the bowels of a derelict ship moored in the Hudson. When they head out to pick up the money, Frank is not far behind as he follows them to the location. Not long after entering the ship does Castle and company make their move.
The ensuing firefight turns melee when a grenade drops Frank into the clutches of Finn. The bomber has the upper hand for a moment before Castle tears into Finn’s face with his teeth. Yorkie helps Castle to safety while the gangsters search for Nesbitt’s fortune. When they open a footlocker lying in the water, thinking it contains the money, they find a block of plastic explosives. The ship goes up in flames, leaving Frank and company to swim back to shore. The story ends with Andy getting his revenge by killing Peter.
Kitchen Irish is the one drag of Punisher MAX. It comes off like a typical gangster story and does not add or take away from the character except for the introduction of Yorkie. Other than that, there is nothing particularly interesting enough warrant consideration.
In many ways the story reminds me of Snatch, a British mob comedy where the characters become involved in a diamond heist with gypsies, boxers, fences that want to be real criminals, and actual criminals that dispose of corpses by feeding them to pigs. That movie was fantastic and it did not let the darker elements keep it from having fun. Kitchen Irish tried that, but the humor felt so out of place it reminded me of the Thomas Jane Punisher film.
However, I think Kitchen Irish had a more personal intent for Ennis. The story is heavy with themes of the Troubles, a 30-year conflict in which insurgent groups in Northern Ireland fought against the British occupation, turning the region into a warzone. It was a conflict that went somewhat unnoticed, but not for the people that lived it like Garth Ennis.
I cannot confirm if he actually experienced the violence, but he obviously has articulate opinions of the whole mess. The most telling is a conversation between Yorkie and Peter. The latter is entrenched in the cause of taking Northern Ireland back from the British. The former, however, does not care in the slightest and is very impersonal about the fighting. He did not care about the ideological underpinnings because it was not important. Yorkie tells Peter ideology is worthless when the enemy does not care about why the other side is fighting. He continues on about how the fighting is meaningless and he should give in to peace.
This is Ennis’s typical anti-war sentiment, but here it felt personal. Born and other Punisher stories feature the same themes, yet they seem written from an outsider’s perspective, like he watched a couple documentaries and was convinced of a “war for profit” conspiracy. Kitchen Irish is the exception because it feels genuine and not written by Michael Moore. That being said, the rest of the story is very underwhelming and boring like Fernandez’s art. If you have seen any gangster movie ever, you have read Kitchen Irish. The introduction of the soon-to-be important Yorkie is not worth it.