Garth Ennis’ Most Revealing Moment?

February 26th, 2010 by | Tags: , , , ,

Cut, because you might be at work and I’m posting a scan from a freaking Garth Ennis comic.

On scans_daily I noticed a few scans from The Slavers, a Punisher MAX story written by Garth Ennis.  It’s about a woman who was sold into forced prostitution in America.  I’ve never followed The Punisher comics, just looked at an issue now and then and confirmed that it still wasn’t to my taste.  I have, however, seen that entire story posted in pieces here and there on the internet.  It’s posted a lot, with a lot of commentary, so I think I’ve read The Slavers several times.  There’s one part that always stands out.

The Punisher works his way through the underlings in the organization in typical grisly fashion, trying to get to the head of the operation.  On the way, he stops by the office of one woman – the one who takes care of the financial matters for the slave ring.  Things go the usual Punisher way; horrific murder.  While brutally killing her, The Punisher goes into a monologue about how the woman had ordered the systematic rape of the kidnapped women as a way of breaking their spirits.  Then, there’s this panel.

That panel makes no sense.  “The old man is a soldier,” but doesn’t know that systematic rape, or at least the threat of it, has been used as a tactic to subdue the enemy in almost every war since the beginning of time?  He somehow missed that?  As for Cristu being a businessman – he’s in the business of forced prostitution, which is rape.  It’s not a new business.  But even if both of the men were new to the earth, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to think up rape as a method of torture.  It’s hardly a secret that only women know.

The thing is, I think that Ennis knows this perfectly well.  It’s possible that he just needed a dramatic monologue to break up the action, but I wonder if this is maybe an extremely rare moment we’re witnessing; a moment when Garth Ennis blinked.

As a writer, he’s never shied away from extreme violence, whether the victim of that violence was male or female.  But this time maybe he thought he needed a reason.  Maybe he thought that the woman knowingly running a forced prostitution business wasn’t enough.  Maybe readers wouldn’t go along with The Punisher horribly torturing a female office worker.  Maybe they needed a reason to hate her, and especially her.

Could be.  Could not.  What do you think?

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12 comments to “Garth Ennis’ Most Revealing Moment?”

  1. I believe that you may be slightly mistaken in your reading of that scene. I read his saying of Cristu as an old soldier wasn’t that he didn’t know or would have been against the systematic rape but more that he wouldn’t have had the imagination to think of it. That the girls would have been forced into prostitution either way but it was the woman who was able to find the best and most torturous way of breaking the girls spirits.

  2. @Jon Hughes: I think you’re right about what he means, but I disagree that the old man not thinking of it was a logical conclusion. Rape camps, or systematic rape, or the threat of rape are a very common tactic during war – and it’s used to do that very thing – make people feel helpless, resigned, and unable to fight or organize a resistance. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to think of it, but even if the guy hadn’t had imagination, he would have known about rape as an effective technique already.

  3. Yeah, the way I read it was that Frank is saying she’s the only one who actually wanted the women involved to suffer, whereas the other two, based on their specific mindsets, would have only condoned it were it necessary to further the business.

  4. I read it a 3rd way, she was the business smarts behind it. The other two were thugs and brutes (who both die horribly) but she was the one who could turn a profit, buy houses, get customers. It was to show that while all she did was push paper without here there was no ring.

    Oh and reviewing a book you never read but saw some scans of – not cool.

  5. I think Kid Kyoto has the right interpretation here. It’s clear in the book that Cristu figured out how to turn war into a business, Tiberiu was an old school monster, and Vera provided legitimacy in terms of the public. They each fill a certain role in the organization. Tiberiu says Cristu has the soul of a banker, which is true. Tiberiu is cruel and amoral. Vera is cold and calculating, concerned only with herself.

    Systematic rape, or rape as a tool of war, is one thing. Rape as a tool in the service of a sustained sex slavery ring is a different thing. One is a show of power or superiority, while the other is supposed to serve as training. “This is what I can do” vs “You will do what you are told.”

    I don’t think Ennis blinked at all here. He’s done worse elsewhere in the series (Widowmaker was pretty raw, I think, and Barracuda’s return arc). Here, he simply wanted to show that every single person involved with the trade is scum, and that the people at the top are less than human garbage. Something about “Rape them to break them,” something about the pat sound byte-ness of it, makes me think it’s a quote Ennis pulled from somewhere. He’s been clear that he wrote this story after he read about the slave trade, and the more he researched, the more disgusted he became with the entire thing. That’s why the three ringleaders are more than just killed. Cristu is dissected and left in the woods, Vera is beaten and thrown out of a window, and Tiberiu is lit on fire to serve as an example to others like him. That’s a step above the Punisher’s usual MO. All of them get it, and all of them get it bad.

    Tucker wrote an absolutely fantastic examination of this scene around a year ago, and he goes in on some of the subtext and craft in the scene. When the series ended, I wrote a retrospective on the series and used The Slavers as an example throughout.

    The Slavers is definitely one of the best comics ever published, and definitely one of the top ten that stars a nominal superhero. It’s worth reading.

  6. @david brothers: indeed. Never has the Punisher killed someone I grew to hate so vividly as her.

  7. @david brothers: Oh, yeah. I saw the other deaths. But here is the line in your retrospective that makes me believe that I’m right about this scene.

    “And it’s wrong, he’s beating this woman to death, and it’s terrible… but she’s the one who came up with the “rape them to break them” plan.”

    That’s the point I’m trying to make. *Vera* being the one to come up with the plan is the reason why that scene plays out with some kind of justification. That decision – that contribution – is why he is torturing her to death.

    And I don’t believe that she was the one who made that decision.

    I don’t believe that a soldier and a corrupt businessman would need someone to *explain* to them that raping women repeatedly would break them down. I don’t believe that they would have the person who is supposed to make their business look respectable involved become in the nuts and bolts of the operation. I don’t believe she’d even be interested, beyong making sure that the men kept the operation covert.

    I believe that Ennis deliberately made that up in order to make the brutality of the scene justified. I think he didn’t think people would accept the Punisher doing *that* to someone who would ‘just’ have been making the numbers look right for the IRS. Personally, I would have accepted Frank doing that to her while talking about board meetings and bank accounts, but that’s neither here nor there.

    That’s why I find this scene fascinating. I think it shows something about Ennis the storyteller. And it’s not a criticism. This story is incredibly well-told and affecting. That’s why people can’t stop talking about it and I can’t avoid reading it.

    I’d actually be interested if Ennis were to go back to that arc once in a while. For example, a tactic of the traffickers is to have either the captured women themselve recruit more victims, usually with a gun to their head. Another one is to call the victim’s loved ones, and say that if they trap more women (by lying and saying that it’s an au pair or other legitimate job in order to get women to go out and meet with the kidnappers) they will let their loved one go. If they don’t, she will be killed. Imagine making that decision. Imagine being confronted with someone who made that decision. How would The Punisher deal with people who are both victims and perpetrators?

  8. “He just does it, because he’s decided that in this one particular case–with no one around to watch, no one around to learn anything, no gain in mind–that this woman, this woman who made the claim mentioned above, who came up with the in-story philosophy “Rape them to break them” must be hurt.”

    And there it is in The Factual Opinion piece that you linked me to.

    Vera saying those words is what made that scene go.

    This tactic is common to sex slavery rings. I don’t doubt that those rings have Veras in offices making their money look clean and their business look legal. I very much doubt that those Veras are the ones who told the traffickers to rape the women they enslaved.

    It’s a dramatic device. Ennis thought it needed to be there. I’m not so sure.

  9. I dunno, I got a different feeling from the scene. I never felt like Ennis was trying to justify anything beyond the usual that comes along with the Punisher. I just don’t have the same doubts you do as to the motivation behind the scene. Ennis has never been one to shy away from writing about someone inflicting unthinking, ugly, brutal violence or disrespect (to put it lightly) from anyone, women or no. The Boys and Preacher are littered with it.

    It’s heavily implied that Vera and Cristu are lovers, so I’d hesitate to suggest that she was brought on simply for legitimacy. More likely is that they had the brainstorm out in the mountains, and each of them fell into their roles: the muscle, the banker, and the manager. There’s nothing in the text itself to suggest that he’s trying to justify an ugly scene, beyond the explanations that come along with any Punisher kill. I don’t think it’s impossible that the two guys had the slavery ring and were using beatings to punish and train women and that a Vera could come in with the rape idea. At this point, though, we’re dealing in “What ifs” above and beyond the usual speculation.

  10. @david brothers: yeah Punisher kills everyone no exception. Hell he once shot a woman immediately after she gave birth.

  11. I see what you’re saying there Esther, and to be fair, I completely agree that Tiberiu and Christu knew the power of rape. But the point Ennis made is that Vera was the “caretaker” of the women. She was the one who dealt with them regularly, and in flashbacks you see her ordering goons to rape the women. She handled the day-to-day tasks of breaking them. None of the Slavers were stupid, but I felt they were smart in different ways. Christu cared too much about keeping things orderly and quiet, Tiberiu was always at war, but I felt Vera was the one most efficient at breaking people down (I’m sure Christu or Tiberu could do it, but not as well and were better suited to other things). If I had to put money on it, I bet keeping the baby alive and using it to control that one woman was her idea, for example. Someone like Tiberiu would probably have just killed the baby outright.

    It didn’t look to me that Ennis was amping up Vera’s role because she’s a woman or whatever, and the audience might think torturing her was mean. Everyone in the group simply played to their strengths, and they were all pretty horrible in their own ways.

  12. I re-read the arc after reading this article, and here’s where I agree with David more than Ester.

    Cristu is the ends. He came up with the idea, and makes sure that the operation is taken care of. As the businessman, he’s more concerned about the bottom line then all the lines that lead up to it. He is a horrible person for doing this. But he’s a pawn.

    Tiberu is the means. He has the soldiers and the gumption to get these girls and break them. As the soldier, he follows orders. He is a horrible person for doing this. But he’s a pawn.

    Vera is the one who puts the whole thing together. Without Vera, Tiberu is in the mountains, killing until someone puts him down. Without Vera, Cristu’s plan fails because he never puts the girls in line, and that comes back to bite him in the ass.

    Vera is the one who says rape them to break them, so they wouldn’t have to worry about one of the girls getting free and trying to strike back. Instead, one does, and their empire falls.

    It’s why Vera is the last target hit. Cristu and Tiberu were her underlings.

    I think the other interesting point is that Vera is a broken woman herself. After Cristu is dead and Tiberu hunts her down, she folds almost immediately. When the Punisher comes, she gives in, albeit after a beating. She didn’t needed to be raped, but the principle is there. Show her someone that is stronger than her, and she understands that she is powerless. It takes one to know one, and Vera was a broken woman giving the orders to make more like her.