Sometimes there are books that you want to like, for a variety of reasons. You’ve read other (non-fiction) writings by the author that were entertaining. Or the book’s supposed to star a character that you like. Or just the idea of a good series of one-shots telling crime fiction and meant for mature readers. Unfortunately, in the case of “Punisher: Butterfly,” it manages to miss the mark so thoroughly that it evoked a reaction I rarely get: that I’d completely wasted my time.
On the absolute surface, “Punisher: Butterfly” doesn’t sound like a bad idea. A hitwoman writes her memoirs of all the killings she’s gone through, knowing of the consequences that are just around the corner for her as a result. But from the first pages of the book on, it’s a story full of tired cliches that get trotted out one by one. Butterfly isn’t just a hitwoman, she’s someone who was sexually molested by an abusive father, who also turns out to be a lesbian, uses her sexuality to try and get one over her publisher, and killed an earlier partner because he wouldn’t listen to the safeword during a bondage game. If just one of these had turned up in the book, it might have slid by. All of them one after another, though, is bordering on painful.
It doesn’t help that Butterfly is a dull narrator and protagonist. Maybe it’s because her story has nothing but cliche to fall back on, as she writes her tell-all book about what the industry is really like, and how the internet at the end of the day is her only salvation to have her story told. It sounds like the punch line to what a fiction piece written by a prominent blogger who writes about an industry they once left would sound like, except in this case that’s actually what ended up being printed. There’s no hook to make Butterfly interesting, or particularly sympathetic, or someone that you want to see succeed. Writing a “Punisher” one-shot where the Punisher himself only appears on three pages (and one is during a flashback) isn’t an impossible task, but it does require that the rest of the book be extremely engrossing.
The only up point to “Punisher: Butterfly” is Laurence Campbell’s art which, along with Lee Loughridge’s colors, has some nice work with shadows and negative space. The final panel where the Punisher is a cut-out of darkness (save for his skull shirt) is drawn excellently, for instance, and some of the tight close-ups on people’s lips as they whisper a word, or a pair of eyes, come across well. Even then, I wouldn’t say to pick up the book if you’re a big Campbell fan and want to see more of his art. “Punisher: Butterfly,” especially at a cover price of $4.99, only serves to water down and neutralize the strong work done elsewhere with the character. If it comes to one-shots like this or nothing at all outside of the regular series and their creative teams, I’d rather see the latter, please.