Punisher (6th series) #16

Issue Date: 
November 2002
Story Title: 
Vertical Challenge

Garth Ennis (writer), Darick Robertson (art), Avalon’s Matt Milla (colors), RS & Comicraft’s Wes (letters), Kelly Lamy (assoc. managing editor), Nanci Dakesian (managing editor), Stuart Moore (editor), Joe Quesada (editor-in-chief), Bill Jemas (president)

Brief Description: 

The Punisher arrives at a known gang hideout to execute its leaders, but instead of the mob, he finds a pile of severed legs. Meanwhile, Wolverine is attacked in a bar by a gang of thugs, while two men sit in the shadows watching quietly. Logan incites a major bar fight, and in the midst of the fighting, he too finds a pair of severed legs. In another part of New York, Pete Grigio of the mob awakes in a makeshift hospital to find himself along with dozens of other criminals, each of which has had their legs forcibly removed. The Punisher finds another criminal hangout, and this time, he finds traces of tranquilizer gas, as well as more severed legs. Wolverine and The Punisher follow the trail of evidence through the sewers until they meet each other in abandoned warehouse. They proceed to fight violently, until a voice tells them to stop. The perpetrators are revealed as a large mob of midgets.

Full Summary: 

The Punisher arrives at a small pub, looking for Big Pete Grigio, a mobster who is looking to take in the members of the former Casino mob. He kicks in the door to the establishment, ready to dish out his own brand of justice, but instead of a gang of thugs, he finds nothing but a pile of severed legs.

A thug knocks over a drink intentionally, looking to start trouble. He tells the man “Sorry, shorty.” The man turns out to be none other than Wolverine. Logan angrily starts to threaten the thug and his friends, who don’t seem to take the hint. While all this is happening, two men are watching intently in the background. The leader of the two gives the other a simple command: “I want him.” Wolverine explains that the punk is “on thin ice messin’ with th’ Wolverine,” and that he is “gonna havta face th’ pain.” One of the punks shows no respect, and cranks a wine bottle across Logan’s head. The man loses his fingers in the next frame. The rest of the punks come to the injured thug’s aid, and Wolverine draws his claws with a hearty “Come git yer kicks on Route Snikty-Snikt!” Wolverine proceeds to fight with the inexperienced goons, taking them down easily. Other patrons are drawn into the fighting, and the bar erupts in violence. While this happens, Danny, the thug who was cut by Wolverine earlier, is sprayed with knockout gas, while a voice says “I’ll cut, you tie!” Wolverine continues to beat up the thugs, when he hears a chainsaw behind the bar. After finishing off one man, Logan jumps the bar, and sees a pair of severed legs, with a blood trail leading into the basement. Another goon tries to jump at Wolverine while he tries to figure things out, but lands squarely on Wolverine’s claws.

Makeshift Hospital:
A voice tells Pete Grigio, the man who Punisher was looking for, to wake up and take a look around. Pete does so, and sees that he, along with several of his colleagues, have had their legs removed with a chainsaw. Pete screams, and the voice tells him that “the worms have finally turned.” Pete threatens to get his brother Paulie to kill them, but as he soon finds out, Paulie has also been victimized by the mob of mutilators.

Pay Phone: Castle gets on the phone with Detective Soap, his informant. Soap thinks that the mutilations are Punisher’s fault, as the victims were all criminals, but Frank assures Soap that he isn’t into mutilations. Soap informs Punisher that 22 up and coming mobsters have now been taken off at the knees in three separate incidents. Soap jokes that the Punisher could have competition. Soap tells him that the weapon of choice is a chainsaw, and that traces of tranquilizer gas have been detected. Punisher realizes that this could mean that the perps are still alive, and hangs up the phone. Punisher notes that there is more to do than just finish off a bunch of amputees. This act is too strange to be Triads or Russians – it is probably vigilantes. He notes that the last thing the city needs is some psychotic playing judge, jury and executioner. He theorizes that the next stop of the chainsaw artists will probably be a strip club frequented by members of Bobby Pastolo’s mob, who have been quiet since Punisher killed Pastolo.

Punisher waits outside looking for action for two hours, wondering if he was right. Suddenly, he senses that the club’s music is getting louder – possibly loud enough to cover the sound of a chainsaw. Entering the club, he notes that there is definitely tranquilizer gas in the air, and theorizes that it probably started half an hour ago. As Castle searches the lot, he finds three pairs of legs in a private room, with a blood trail leading into the basement. At this point, he thinks he might know how it is all happening.

Sewer: Wolverine is tracking the blood scent through the sewers. He says that he “Ain’t too sure whut th’ name o’ th’ game is here… but it sure looks like time fer me tag it off th’ bench! Punk in th’ bar mighta been outta line – but last I heard, that ain’t no grounds fer performin’ no double amputation…! ‘Sides, any amputatin’ gits done around here – I’m the one gonna be doin’ it! The blood scent trail ain’t about to go cold – an’ when I get to the end o’ it, gonna heat things up fer whoever’s cuttin’ up rough! Gonna make sure their severance pay is paid in full…” Wolverine continues to talk to himself as he tracks through the tunnels.

Sewer Tunnels: The Punisher follows some tracks through the sewers, finding that the tracks are far smaller than his. He arrives, two hours later, at a warehouse. He guesses that he is somewhere in Red Hook. He finds that the hatch he climbs through is well-maintained, meaning that whoever is guilty is still here. The gang has underground access to half the city, and a nice quiet hideout to bring their victims to. Suddenly, with a flash of claws, Wolverine arrives.

“This thing has psycho written all over it,” exclaims Wolverine, and slashes Punisher’s back. Wolverine continually taunts Punisher, and Punisher unloads his shotgun point-blank in Logan’s face. As they fight, Wolverine rips several holes in Punisher’s armored body, while Punisher tries to figure out a means of escaping. Castle notes that he cannot win a fight against a man with “half a dozen pigstickers and a grow-a-new-ass superpower.”
Two shadowy men are watching the fight on a monitor, as Wolverine looks to be winning the fight. The leader explains that they owe the Punisher a great debt, and that Wolverine is practically one of them. They decide to keep watching.

Wolverine seems to have Punisher at his mercy, and begins to taunt him again. Castle lunges at him quickly, but Wolverine throws him through a wall. He finds himself in an old night watchman’s office. “About time I got a break.” He picks up a baseball bat. Wolverine charges forward. “Adamantium skeleton, bub! Whut the hell ya think yer gonna do with that?” Punisher responds by giving Wolverine a home-run swing to the groin, knocking Wolverine to the ground. Punisher checks around the office, and finds his favourite weapon – a tank of gasoline. Punisher notes that he would have preferred to talk some sense into the little rodent, but that was before he got cut to ribbons. Punisher dumps the tank of gas on the sprawling Wolverine, and lights a match. Before he can burn Wolverine, though, a voice screams at them to stop. The voice explains over the loudspeaker that they are among friends and that they will not be harmed so long as they do not resist. The voice explains that they are the new power of New York City, and that the others are extinct – they just don’t know it yet. “The underworld is changing! Acknowledging its true masters! The Mob will finally wither and die… just as soon as we cut them down to size.” Wolverine and the Punisher find themselves surrounded by an army of “little people.”

Characters Involved: 

The Punisher / Frank Castle
Wolverine / Logan

Detective Soap

Grigio Family (crime syndicate)
Pete Grigio
Paulie Grigio

“The New Underworld” – midget crime syndicate

Story Notes: 

This issue is rated PSR+ for mature readers only.

This issue is part of a two-part story. The second part can be found in The Punisher (6th series) #17.

Wolverine is used in parody in this issue – Garth Ennis is writing, somewhat satirically, how Wolverine has been overused and that he is nothing more than a cliché, complete with endless streams of self-dialogue, constant threats, and more clichés (like the fact that he refers to himself as “The Ol’ Canucklehead” 4 separate times in this issue alone).

This story resulted in backlash from then-Wolverine writer Frank Tieri, who wrote Wolverine #186 in response to this arc. Wolverine #186 is Tieri’s attempt to badmouth Punisher.

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