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The Punisher #32

Posted: Sunday, September 28, 2003
By: Cody Dolan



ďSoapĒ

Writer: Garth Ennis
Artists: Steve Dillon (p), M. Milla (i)

Publisher: Marvel Knights

From the Chicago Cubs to the Boston Red Sox, people seem to love losers. Thereís something about the idea of someone who knows going into a situation that thereís no chance of a positive outcome and yet continues to strive day in and day out. The current fascination in America with the Detroit Tigers (who have a chance to break Major League Baseballís all-time loss record) is a perfect example of this point. It shouldnít come as a shock, then, that most Punisher readers share an affinity for Detective Soap, the hapless individual assigned to the NYPDís ďPunisher Task Force,Ē and that any issue devoted to his story would be so enjoyable.

In this issue we are treated to Soapís life story, and from the first page you can tell itís not going to be a happy-go-lucky tale. The character is left at an orphanage full of bullies and run by the obligatory pedophile priest, and it gets worse from there. His career as a Detective is less than stellar, and then he gets to meet the most sadistic, psychotic character in the Marvel universe. Soapís been portrayed as more or less incompetent up to this point of the series, so I was surprised to find myself feeling genuinely sorry for the guy. Many of his failings donít seem to be his fault, and this has left his life in such shambles that it seems like a good idea to him to go watch the Punisher work. Ennis has turned the lovable loser into a legitimate sympathetic character by adding layers to his life that previously didnít exist and I find this addition makes Soap a much richer character.

That doesnít mean there arenít problems with this story, though, but I found myself overlooking most of them. The whole issue is one big flashback as Soap tells his story to someone in a bar. We donít get to see this person until the last page, and I found myself a bit let down by the reveal. Sure I thought it was funny, but after all that anticipation I expected the person whoís been hitting on Soap to be more outrageous (for example, a recognizable female villain wouldíve been hilarious in that role).

Aside from that comic miscue, the stereotypical harsh, sex-offending priest didnít add anything to the story, so I was glad that Ennis didnít spend much time on him. Soapís inspirational figure was rather flimsy, too, and I felt that hurts the character overall. Some drunken cop gives him a ride, and he decides thatís the career he wants? And joining the force to get back at a bully doesnít make for strong motivation when you consider how short that kind of driving force can actually propel someone. These seem like minor points, though, and none of them occurred to me until I sat down to write this review so I can say that none of them tarnished my opinion of the book.

Steve Dillon is mercifully back after Cam Kennedyís attempt to kill my enthusiasm for this book, and I donít think Iíve ever been happier to see an artist return. Ennisí script doesnít require him to do much more than draw people talking, but Dillon can make panel after panel of Soapís complaining seem interesting. Itís been said that Dillonís faces all tend to look alike, and thereís some validity to that claim, but the expressions on those faces make up for any similarities. Dillon is a master of subtlety when he needs to be (and granted, Ennis scripts donít generally call any kind of subtlety), but this issue showcases that talent. It may not be flashy like Bryan Hitchís work on The Ultimates or Jim Leeís Batman, but that doesnít mean itís any less satisfying.

The bottom here is that I enjoyed the heck out of this issue despite its flaws. Normally this book would receive four bullets, but I was so happy to see Dillon back that I feel justified in giving it a little bump. If you havenít read this title in a long time this issue wonít make any sense. This issue is strictly for long time fans, and serves as a kind of reward for sticking the series for almost four years now.



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