The Punisher: Jigsaw Puzzle (#35 – 40) – Mike Baron

2 out of 5

This starts out entertainingly campy – writer Mike Baron in his prime callousness, which is a satisfying, if shallow, fit for Frank – but does a deep dive in its last half into a rushed mess. Mike’s spread of villains – Jigsaw, Rev, various gang types – never seem to pose a threat, and the vague messaging stuffed in about society’s calamities is lost behind the writer’s forever weird mix of casual racism and representation, in which he loves to embrace stereotypes but then also goes to lengths to write even one-note characters with a bit of humanity; so when Frank goes to Venezuela to track down a drug angle, the whole area is drug-dealing miscreants. Not that any of this matters much overall, as the whole fiasco is somehow solved with one blown up helicopter.

The title suggests two things: that Jigsaw will be a worthwhile foe, and that there will be some type of intrigue behind the plotting. Perhaps there’s a step or two involved for Frank to figure out what the exact arrangement is between Jig and Rev, and why they’re pushing this particular new drug on the streets, but I don’t think the explanation is ever actually delivered to Punisher, rather, it’s something we find out between Rev and Jigsaw… suggesting, again, that the “story” doesn’t really matter much. So Baron tries to turn this into a series of showdowns between Punisher and Jigsaw, but there’s simply no contest; a late-in-the-game ante-up is undone an issue later with little consequence, and besides the unchanging-nature-of-comics in general, I’d say there was never a doubt, even as the ante-ing up was occurring – it’s too clearly just an idea Mike was playing with and stuffed in there. (The way it’s undone is also particularly unsatisfying.)

While we get some good artists in here – Mark Texeira, Bill Reinhold – Jack Slamn’s weird tracing style is a bizarre fill-in, and that the art changes issue by issue just doesn’t help establish any tonal baseline.

The dumbness itself provides some joy, but it’s easier to appreciate when it’s just the straight-forward mayhem of the first few issues. Oh well.