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On the Background of the Last Page of Garth Ennis’s Punisher MAX #19

This is maybe my favorite page in comic book history. Or at the very least, the one that has had the most emotional impact on me as a reader. The punch from this single page, single panel is profound, grave, and possibly one of the few times we are ever able to feel for Frank or see him as a human being. Or of what is left of one. Because quite frankly he isn’t one. He hasn’t been one for some time. And Ennis is smart to note that his family’s death isn’t what made him who he is, it was always war itself.

And War is God.

The abyss of the background is intense. Frank’s reality is impenetrable blackness. Nothingness. Even as he sits in this working-stiff diner, cutting his steak, the world around him is an abyss. His everyday is the infinite nothing that surrounds him. There is no enjoyment here. He eats his meal because it is there, easy and low-key. Nothing in his life is enjoyed. It can’t be. And after witnessing the desecration of his family’s grave, the illusion of cold pounding rain on his body infiltrates the void that is his life. The bleakness of his reality is worsened, made even more absolute, soul breaking, and further separating him from the reality of the people around him. When it rains, it rains alone on him. Imagine your ruined life ruined even further. When every day is your lowest, you realize you can be broken further.

Rain or maybe claw marks –  the scratching of a long buried thought or memory clawing at the everything/nothing that is your life with long, violent streaks down the the panel. The art on page becomes literal narrative rain, narrative scaring, narrative misery.

The event is so powerful that the diegetic representation of the world of the comic, the background of both the diner and the page itself, is forever scarred by the previous pages, never to return to their simple blackness. The comic itself, the story, feels what is happening within, it becomes aware in a way that text on paper can never be, changing the world around the character for the reader.

Punisher MAX #19 – Garth Ennis and Leanardo Fernandez.