These “Punisher Max” one-shots all seem to fall into a pattern of presenting stories where Frank Castle is a supporting character, often trying to kill criminals while the main plot goes on around him. Considering the character’s long history and the fantastic work Garth Ennis and Jason Aaron have done on the character recently, it’s an understandable approach to take. “Happy Ending” is no exception, with the Punisher only appearing in three brief scenes. Instead, Peter Milligan focuses on Joseph Bonner, an unhappily married accountant whose trip to a massage parlor has him fleeing gangsters with one of the masseuses, Gi-Gi.
Joseph is very unsatisfied with his life, but accompanying Gi-Gi as she avoids getting shot and dealing with being threatened himself isn’t what he has in mind when he heads out for the evening. A regular guy getting mixed up in a big mess over a disc of incriminating evidence against a mobster is ample fodder for this story, but what holds it back is that Milligan doesn’t do a lot with it until the climactic scene. He throws out a few lines here and there to set up what happens, but Joseph’s reactions to what’s going on are pretty by the numbers for most of the story. Since this is such a basic plot, some extra comedy or absurd actions are required to elevate it.
Having Juan Jose Ryp on art goes a long way in that regard. Ryp’s intricate, European style is perfect for exaggerated reactions and body language. Joseph’s reaction to being kissed by Gi-Gi is funny because of Ryp’s art. He’s great at taking scenes that could be played straight and amping them up to ridiculous degrees with over-the-top body language and facial expressions. People in his comics don’t react, they overreact, an asset with a plot that needs that extra level of physical comedy and absurdity to work.
Unlike his two-issue stint on “Vengeance of the Moon Knight,” Ryp is able to be himself a little more in this comic. His earlier work for Avatar Press was mostly extreme violence and that’s what he gets to draw here. He creates chaotic, over-the-top gun fights that are just as exaggerated as the reactions of characters, while juxtaposing them with the clean, concise violence of the Punisher. Everyone else comes off as panicked and amateurish next to that character. Ryp makes sure Castle’s presence is felt the few times he shows up on panel.
If it weren’t for Ryp’s art, much of this issue would fall flat, but he makes the uninspired plot much livelier and funnier than it has any right to be. Milligan’s writing does pick up in the third act as he delivers an unexpected ending, making for a solid overall issue.