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Janwillem van de Wetering
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The Punisher: Assassin's Guild (A Marvel Graphic Novel #40) - Jo Duffy, Julie Michel, Jim Novak, Carl Potts, Marc McLaurin, Jorge Zaffino, Tom DeFalco

A kid named Kevin Reynolds, in New York City, gets involved in a car accident and freaks out on the street, clearly upset that the police will be along to take names and get a report of what happened. He flees, screaming that his life is ruined, and turns up later, gunning for the woman he clunked cars with, blaming her for causing the fender-bender that put him in the spotlight with the cops, who have discovered his bizarre, albeit low-level, criminal life involving lots of rich-kid crimes that collectively should have had him off the streets...except that he's not. Once the desperate and berserk little creep is holed up with a hostage and a murder victim, the Punisher gets involved.


The initial standoff comes to a head, and leads the Punisher--also using one of his fake identities, respectable James Maxwell--to probe further, and discover the Reynolds kid was one of many people sucked into some kind of "favors" scheme, where those who need their bad behavior or illegal indiscretions covered up or erased end up under the thumb of a shady lawyer named Abbey--best catches, for Abbey and his mystery-man boss, being the rich, the politically-connected, or anyone who has access to profitable info or secrets that can be stolen by those under the thumb, or by their parents, and filtered to the favor givers. The Punisher figures out enough, or threatens enough dope on the "favor" group's inner workings from the small fish who know, to commit to burning it all down.


The extra complication turns out to be that a quiet little "assassin's guild" operating out of the Japanese restaurant called The Thousand Autumns is also slowly getting snarled up in the whole messy affair. It turns out that the Punisher has previously heard whispers of such a guild, even tried to get close to them with plans to shut them down too (hey, it's what he likes to do--roll up whole organizations of criminals). But first, due to developments I won't spoil here, an alliance of sorts...with our feature assassin from the guild, in this story: the smart, charming, lethal assassin named Reiko. Tagging along, is younger, reckless member of the guild, Masumi. What starts out as a bit of a getting-to-know-you, won't-kill-you-for-the-time-being, a-bit-of-sex-involved, cold and yet fiery team-up between Reiko and Punisher aka James Maxwell, leads to an assault on the heavily-defended skyscraper stronghold of the tippy-top suit cleaning up from the "favors" operation.




Though the main villains are white-collar types with no souls, not necessarily great in a fight, they are protected by truckloads of guards, thugs, and goon squads who know how to give the Punisher, Reiko, and Masumi a bad time. So, fear not, this story does not lack for frothy Punisher-style violence, though this tale is from 1988, before Punisher had graduated, if you will, to the Mature Audiences Only MAX line, from Marvel; so for high-level gore and blood you would need to go to later Frank Castle extravaganzas, but on the other hand, this is still Punisher with no problem killing, and even willing to risk sacrificing a new ally if it means taking down a major-league scumbag.


It all fits together nicely for what I consider to be a relatively compact 64 pages--and that's with a fair number of opening sequences that don't feed into the impending main action: Punisher starts off tracking down a squad of master thieves who certainly do kill to get to the intended swag (not this time, losers--well, okay, you took an innocent life, but no swag for you...Hi, Frank!).  And Reiko first appears as this slight girl walking stupidly into an alley with two creeps following her into a corner; let's just say she's not stupid, and she's a woman who loves to perform a hit on two rapists. We also see Masumi eliminate a target in a manner that shows his talent for the job, but also shows how immature and foolhardy he can be. 


This Punisher tale, sort of lost now, is an old favorite of mine. The writer and colorist are both women, and the artist, Jorge Zaffino, was from Argentina, and he unfortunately died of a heart attack at the age of 43, with his success in the US comics market tragically cut short as it was blossoming. Writer Jo Duffy (I loved her run on Power Man and Iron Fist) gets the Punisher's thoughts, moves, and philosophy while "on the job" just right, as far as I am concerned, and I wish her memorable assassin character, Reiko, had been in the Punisher's life a little longer, though it was a relationship based on lies, acting, and then blasting or impaling every creep in sight while wondering if mission's end would mean rendering a slightly significant other insignificant.


It's quick and nasty, tightly-wound and not too gory, and I always enjoy re-reading this hidden gem.