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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Mother Russia (2005)
Punisher is the antithesis of the action hero. He is not handsome, he does not use one-liners, and his personality pure nihilism. Frank Castle is what happens when John Matrix experiences psychological trauma and becomes a creature of instinct whose sole motivation is to kill criminals. He does not care about anything except his purpose and coasts through life looking for people to put his bullets in. Mother Russia, however, explores how Frank would fare as an action hero.
After a drug pusher who dabbles in child prostitution gets back on the streets, Frank pays him and a dozen bodyguards a visit. After rearranging the pusher’s face with a shotgun, Castle steps out back before the bodyguards rush inside to find the oven gas turned up and a grenade. Finishing off the survivors retreating from the burning house, Colonel Nick Fury greets Frank outside, looking to talk business. Meeting at a local bar, he offers Castle access to national criminal databases in exchange for a favor. Frank accepts and is flown to an Air Force base.
Castle’s mission is to infiltrate a missile silo and exfiltrate with Galina Stenkov, the daughter of a Russian scientist who developed a virus called Barbarossa. After failing to defect to America, he injected Galina with the virus and the antidote before he was killed. The virus will remain active within the girl for 48 hours and the government wants a sample. While Frank would have the mission well in hand, he is not going alone. The cabal of generals running the show is adamant about sending their man Vanheim from Delta Force as a partner.
After touching down in the frozen wastes, Castle and Vanheim acquire uniforms from soldiers in the local town and make their way to the silo. A few well-placed shots and burst arteries get the two inside before finding Galina in a laboratory. Everything seems fine as they make their way out when Vanheim stumbles upon some idle Russian soldiers and jumps the gun, alerting the whole area to their presence.
When they retreat underground and fortify their position, the Russian military is notified of the attack. In command of the troops is General Zakharov, an infamous Cold War officer known as the Man of Stone. While his subordinates are convinced the attack is the work of terrorists, Zakharov thinks there is more than meets the eye.
The Man of Stone spares no expense in trying to get in, sending a complement of troops to the facility. While forming up outside the elevator leading to the underground, Frank comes up with an RPG on his shoulder and a pair of machine guns. Taking out a tank he charges into the fray, spraying everyone not him. Mounting the DShK atop the wrecked tank, Castle lays into the remaining soldiers before the weapon jams, and he makes for the exit.
The heavy loses do not faze Zakharov when he tries to divine the ethnicity of Frank from the survivors. When their testimonies are not enough, the Man of Stone sends more men into the silo through the elevator shaft. While cutting down dozens of repelling soldiers and Vanheim tries to find an exit, Frank is careful to keep Galina away from the carnage. He gives her a file with nuclear go-codes to read and gets her ice cream so she does not leave the safety of the room.
Unbeknownst to Castle, Zakharov sent his silent confidant the Mongolian. The cunning mute sneaks into the silo and makes quick work of Vanheim before taking Galina hostage. Frank rushes to her cries and sees the Mongolian ready to land a killing blow. The two engage in a fierce melee with the mute gaining the upper hand. In the delirium between life and death, Castle sees his little girl holding her bleeding gut as she cries for him. The thought of failing once again inspires him to rise and continue the fight with renewed focus. The Mongolian comes in for a kick, but Frank grabs his ankle, and goes for the kill.
Meanwhile on the outskirts of Moscow, a hijacked passenger plane is shot down and the generals back in the States congratulate themselves. The room goes quiet when Fury walks in demanding an explanation. When putting together the Barbarossa mission, they were worried a US operation in Russia would cause an international incident if exposed. To counteract the possibility, the generals coordinated with a CIA wet works operator named Rawlins to organize a terrorist strike on Moscow as a distraction.
Fury was not pleased by the notion he was involved in a mission that killed hundreds of innocent people. With a cool stoicism he asks for the individual responsible for organizing the ruse and the generals were quick to oblige. The officers make way as Fury approaches the man and starts beating him with his belt. Reducing him to a bloody shaking mess, Fury chews out the rest of the generals for their stupidity before walking off, hoping Castle will find a way out.
With Galina safe and Vanheim still unconscious from the Mongolian, Frank makes for the hallway swarming with soldiers. In the midst of slaughter, Vanheim wakes up and pulls a pair of syringes from his pocket. When Castle returns he finds him trying to inject Galina with a yellow substance and subdues him. After a beating Vanheim confesses that the generals ordered him to kill Galina and extract Barbarossa as a last resort. Ever loyal to his morals, Frank is unwilling to sacrifice an innocent and comes up with a new plan.
Zakharov remains steadfast in his suspicion that Americans are behind the attack on the silo when his staff informs him of a nuclear launch in progress. Major cities are targeted and they receive a message telling Zakharov to pull out his forces or Russia will burn. While his subordinates panic, the Man of Stone stays calm and tells them to do likewise. When an officer disobeys and tries to retaliate, Zakharov executes him on the spot. Once the missile goes airborne and makes for Moscow, it suddenly deactivates midflight, and from its bowels Castle, Galina, and Vanheim jump out with parachutes.
The three of them make landfall in a blizzard with Vanheim losing his gear on the way down. When they meet, the two draw straws to see who will continue to a Navy submarine on the coast with the one available coat. Galina tucked close to his chest, Frank marches ten miles through the snow as Vanheim trudges behind until death.
Back in the States Castle is confronted by the generals. On the way from Russia, he would not let the doctors touch Galina and the Barbarossa in her body deteriorated. When Frank tries to leave, one general orders his men to stop him and take the girl. Surrounded by soldiers, Fury comes to his side, and the men back off. Just before leaving, Galina begs Castle to take her with him, but he knows he cannot take care of anyone, and she concedes to go with Fury.
Mother Russia is by far my favorite book of the MAX series. It is full of action, violence, and tons of awesome stuff. I loved this book so much, I went over my limit of photos to show you how great it is. The best part was Nick Fury in the only incarnation that matters. If black Fury is Chuck Connors, then white Fury is a hard drinking whore-mongering Clint Eastwood. He swears, he is quick to anger, and does not care about your feelings. The panel of Fury beating the tar out of that general and his dialog throughout is just delightful.
I would go so far as to say he totally outshines Frank, who fits right into the role of an action hero. Usually his nihilism and lack of feeling would make him unfit for the likes of John Matrix and John Rambo, but Castle’s interactions with Galina penetrate his blackened exterior. His fatherly aspects return when he keeps her away from the violence and shields her from the carnage left in his wake. By betraying his cold personality in the presence of Galina, Frank embraces the persona of a hero like he was born to.
For any Punisher fan, Mother Russia is an essential read. Garth Ennis really lets loose while Dougie Braithwaite’s expressive art realizes his vision in beautiful fashion. If there is any book in the MAX series you must have, Mother Russia is without question the best you can hope for.