It’s become par for the course for the “Punisher MAX” one-shots to focus on characters that happen to come across the Punisher, leaving him a specter in a comic that bears his name. Rarely has the character that takes the spotlight been so depraved and disturbing as Bobby Boorsteen, who lives in a building where the Punisher kills a whole bunch of drug dealers. It looks like another case of a small, cowardly person that’s empowered by watching the Punisher take action against the evils of the world, and it is that story. It’s just that the small, cowardly person is crazy and his form of empowerment is to take the only survivor of the Punisher’s rampage and torture him.
Bobby’s story is a strange and creepy one. He sees what he could be in the Punisher: a creature without boundaries, able to unleash his true desires on the world. It’s hard to say when he snapped truly, but it may have been after his mother decided that them having sex was wrong, castrated him, and killed herself. Lapham paints a portrait of a twisted, sick man and, in so doing, plays with the convention of the ‘timid, mild person’ who is empowered by the Punisher. Usually, this sort of story is a feel good tale or one with a cruel twist about what an utter and complete monster the Punisher is, that his existence ruins the world even as he kills people. Here, he inadvertently inspires a tiny, ugly man to act on what’s in his head before having to clean up the mess.
Bobby’s narration is some of Lapham’s best writing of a disturbed individual and he’s had quite a bit of practice. In many ways, Bobby seems like he would be more at home in one of Lapham’s “Crossed” comics with how matter of fact and normal Bobby presents his life. Lapham is vague about some details, but most parts of Bobby’s life are simply told to us as if it were nothing. Bobby drives the comic and is a compelling character. His torture of a drug dealer is so lacking in any sort of emotion, while clearly driven by intense feelings of abandonment that you can’t predict what he’ll do. Lapham knows how to tease us with possibilities of what Bobby may do next.
The art of Dalibor Talajiç is more hit or miss than Lapham’s writing. His style is sparse with an emphasis on bold, heavy blacks. When he shifts to a high contrast treatment of light, he produces some stunning images. The Punisher, in particular, looks fantastic in this issue, but, since he barely appears, that’s not enough to carry things. Bobby shifts between looking like a fully developed character that looks too real, frighteningly real, and a vague impression of a man. He never truly takes shape visually and that’s a shame, because Lapham develops him so well in writing. However, he does nail the pathetic elements of the character. He is nothing if not a small, ugly man at the hands of Talajiç.
David Lapham writes crazy and disturbing better than most and “Tiny Ugly World” shows that skill off very well. He takes a traditional Punisher story and twists it for maximum effect until a final scene reveals the true role of the Punisher. More than that, he manages to work in some dark comedy and not many writers can make a ‘penis in a jar’ gag work. Lapham does and that’s a special thing.