Review: PunisherMAX: Butterfly

Butterflies and zebras and... headshots

Writer: Valerie D’Orazio
Artist: Laurence Campbell
Colorist: Lee Loughridge
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit

It’s fair to say that everyone has, at one point or another, thought about what it would be like to live in the world of a favorite fictional character. Immersing the reader or viewer is an inherent part of most fiction. We’re all creative beings at heart, and a little bit egocentric, so it’s not that big of a leap from immersion to participation.

Expressing that urge to participate is a hit-or-miss proposition in modern fandom. The term ‘self-insert’ has a negative connotation. As with anything, what it really comes down to is execution. Self-insert, after all, is sort of the ultimate expression of the old writer’s trope ‘write what you know.’ If it’s done well, though, most readers wouldn’t even register it as such.

Is Valerie D’Orazio dabbling in a little self-insert with PunisherMAX: Butterfly? Probably. It’s obvious that this particular corner of the Marvel Universe is near and dear to her heart. Does she do it well? I think so. It’s not really blatantly done, and the overall story doesn’t suffer from it. I don’t think the average reader would notice or really care that much one way or another, but it’s not really a story about Frank Castle, either.

What really sets it apart, however, is how she chose to attack it. The impulse, and what makes self-insert such a mine field, is to be the main character’s best friend. Who wouldn’t want to fight next to Wolverine, or raid the secret files of an evil corporation with The Question? (…what? Sue me, I’m weird.) Making best buddies with the Punisher, however, is about as smart as suddenly finding yourself in John Constantine’s speed dial. Not only is it not terribly healthy, but it’s generally out of spec. Frank doesn’t much like anyone.

D’Orazio’s answer to this problem is to become what would actually be the next best thing for a serious Punisher fan: his target. What else is closer to love in Frank Castle’s heart, after all. From this angle, Butterfly is a success, and quite an enjoyable read. It also helps carry the idea along by being a one-shot; I’m not sure the idea could carry a series, and it works much, much better self-contained. My one quibble, and it’s minor, is the writing-about-writing aspect of the story. Janice called it ‘cheap,’ I prefer to label the choice as ‘precious.’ It would detract from the book if it was anything other than the MacGuffin it obviously is- it could’ve been PunisherMAX: Rosebud and worked the same.

Campbell’s art here is fantastic, lots of nice use of black and shadow and heavy, aggressive line work. Of particular note are the moments of violence, the most poignant of which are done without explicit gore and in silhouette, though he’s not afraid to depict more when the mood calls for it. Also notable are the moments of dehumanization related by the main character, where faces devolve into expressionless masks reminiscent of the masks in Pink Floyd: The Wall.

Between Butterfly and her Punisher short in Girl Comics #1 (the best part of that book, in my opinion), I really enjoy D’Orazio’s voice in the Punisher’s world, and I would certainly like to see her do more with it. Butterfly doesn’t have much Frank in it, but it’s a fun read regardless.

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