Beginning a series of articles on the works of David Lapham
After attending a recent gathering of The BC Refugees I learned of a mutual admiration for this worldly writer. That inspired me to write about my explorations into the dark areas of modern society as presented by the one and only original chronicler of the crude, the profiler of the perverted = David Lapham. During that conversation which centered around his amazing work on the current run of G.I. JOE: ORIGINS (which I haven’t seen yet), I spoke of the various comics he scripted that I enjoyed. They seemed to have one common element = after reading them I felt dirty, as if I needed a cleansing shower. Lapham is a skilled realist and can make you feel how ugly things can get in modern society.
PUNISHER MAX TINY UGLY WORLD (One-Shot) #1 (Marvel Max Comics - EXPLICIT CONTENT) David Lapham, writer; Dalibor Talajic, artist; Matt Hollingsworth, colorist; VC’s Cory Petit, letterer
For anyone not familiar with Lapham, this book would be the perfect primer/introduction. It’s got everything that Lapham details so well, and then some = over-the-top violence and murder, gunplay, head explosions, bleeding all over the pages - - and featuring the most criminal, depraved and demented characters you are likely to find in the ugly areas of cities. Child abuse. Meth labs. Street gangs with guns. Mafioso and criminals. Pedophiles and perverts. The perfect setting for a Frank Castle / Punisher story. Since it all comes together under the mature MAX brand of Marvel, Lapham apparently had free license to write whatever he wanted without censorship. Whew.
Reading the above paragraphs, you might come to the conclusion that Lapham is nothing more than an exploitation artist, writing shock for shock’s sake alone. Or you might conclude that I am critical of his work. Far from it, I admire his work greatly. And I’m not alone in my admiration - - he’s an Eisner award winner for his work on STRAY BULLETS (self-published from El Capitan). Lots of writers can shock you. Lapham differs in that first he makes you believe it, and then he gets you to understand it. That is keen insight and rare, and I’m not exactly sure how he came to possess or develop those skills. From what little I know of him, he’s a decent person and a family man. His comics work may simply be the outlet he needs to get these thoughts and observations out of his head. His catharsis is our enlightenment.
Let’s get to the book, PUNISHER MAX TINY UGLY WORLD, before I forget what I started out to write about. I haven’t seen any work from artist Dalibor Talajic before but there are some gritty and realistic panels throughout this book. I’m sure it helped that Lapham is also an artist, and his script notes must be full of helpful guidelines for the artist. Talajic is an artist to watch, with some classic styles on display.
The opening pages are pure dynamite to read. In three horizontal panels we see a group of seedy-looking characters enter the stairwell of an equally seedy apartment building and begin to climb the steps. The second panel is just a further glimpse of the stairwell, broken glass and empty bottles and trash strewn about - - the characters apparently on their way to an upper floor. The third panel shows a stranger entering the stairwell, just visible from the neck down - - but from the black garb and skull design we know it is Frank Castle, The Punisher. Turn to the next page, a single panel image of a grim and determined-looking Punisher as he makes it to the upper floor with a huge machine pistol at the ready.
There are no word balloons/dialogue on these pages, just a captioned narration that speak to humility and achievement and how great men possess both attributes. The narration concludes with an confession of being both awed and humbled before discovering “my own personal Jesus, you might say.” It’s then that we realize this isn’t the Punisher’s narration. It’s the thoughts of Bobby Boorsteen, a very strange 40-year old bachelor who peers through a slightly-opened doorway to witness and hear some of the mayhem to come once the Punisher gets to his destination. It’s a meth lab being visited by Anthony Marrano, a pedophilic lesser-member of a prominent crime family who has some information that Castle wants. In the ensuing blood bath that’s the only thing that saves Marrano, although the Punisher does so much damage to his body that he may have just a few more minutes of life. Boorsteen ends up getting Marrano into his apartment, where he puts his medical skills to work and saves Marrano’s life - - although he’s not in any shape to walk away from what happened to him.
Boorsteen has no intentions of letting him leave. First he tortures him and then he dissects various parts of Marrano’s anatomy in his perverted quest for knowledge, as if he was picking at a fetal pig on the lab bench of a Biology 101 workshop. This story isn’t so much about The Punisher as it is Bobby Boorsteen, one of the most sickest and twisted creations of modern fiction. However, after Lapham shares his background with us we begin to understand how he came to be like this - - as we realize that people like this are out there in the world. Lapham seems to indicate that it’s early childhood experiences that are most formative, or destructive to be precise. A young Boorsteen was victimized by an Oedipal mother, almost nightly. Once she realized the implications of her sins, she took responsibility and sought atonement immediately, committing bloody suicide in front of impressionable Bobby. But before she did that she crippled him for life, as if to make sure that he would be awkward and experience difficulty with women from that point on.
After his revelation the night of the meth lab massacre, Boorsteen realizes he can keep a handy supply of experimental subjects around by simply following the Punisher and picking up the scraps. It all plays out to a final conclusion as Castle discovers him lurking about following another blood-bath. Boorsteen first berates Castle for destroying his (Boorsteen’s) life and then makes the one confession he shouldn’t have.
I find that I’m beginning to enjoy squirming, just a little. Thank you, Mister Lapham. Time for me to hit the showers.