Punisher War Journal #1–4 by Matt Fraction, Ariel Olivetti and Mike Deodata
First off – this trade is a complete swizz: four issues and then a repeat of the first issue but in black and white. That’s not on, Marvel; if it wasn’t so enjoyable, it would be a complete rip-off.
The first three issues (‘How I Won The War’) are the story of the Punisher during the early issues of Civil War. We meet him when he is killing Stilt Man and a kiddie porn mob guy, avoiding SHIELD, finding the Tinkerer and hooking up with Stuart Clarke (aka Rampage) who has a small coterie of Iron Men robots that are the cutest thing in the world – Clarke gives Frank a machine that detects supervillain tech. This leads him into issue three of Civil War, where he kills the guys beating on Spider-Man and joins up with Captain America’s side.
The scene where he saves Spidey has a great exchange:
Spider-Man: I can’t pay your fare.
Frank: You don’t have to pay me, jackass.
Spider-Man: Oh, awesome. Action is my reward, too.
This is just an example of Fraction’s great flair with dialogue – ‘My favourite sound in the world is the silence after a gunshot.’ He has a great handle on Frank Castle, getting the balance between the psychosis and the black humour that is required for the Punisher to work. He is matched with the heightened reality created by the exaggerated cartoony art of Ariel Olivetti. He gives Frank excessive muscle that mixes realism with the cartoon strip, as well as an extreme widow’s peak. It’s interesting, with hints of Bill Sienkiewicz in mainstream mode and the British artist Colin MacNeil. He also includes nice touches, such as the SHIELD logo on bullet casings when they eject from the gun. A very nice mix.
The second issue sees Frank providing an alternative point of view in the anti-registration team, a great exchange with Captain America (until Cap punches him through a wall). Then they go to work, Cap and Frank working on missions together: ‘Good work, soldier’, as he salutes Frank after a successful mission. The next crossover with issue four of Civil War sees Frank killing the supervillains who want to hook up with Cap’s team. Issue three is the punishment of Frank from Cap – but Frank won’t hit back (providing us with a flashback to Frank as a marine before Punisher, where he wouldn’t hit Cap when he was being trained). So Frank has to leave, causing him to go back to Clarke for tech – this sees Castle staring down the Rhino and shooting him in the face, and then punching him with Satan’s Claw: ‘Tell them all I’m back.’
Issue four (Small Wake For A Tall Man) sees Fraction have fun with Marvel villains as they gather to mourn the loss of Stilt Man, who is laid out across pool tables in a bar. Someone has even organised a Doombot (‘Kneel before Doom!’) to make him look big among the fraternity. They drink, tell war stories, get drunk, fight (‘Oh, it is on.’). Then Spider-Man shows up to pay his respects, and has to take them down a peg for fighting at the wake. For his trouble, Stilt Man’s wife pukes up in front of him – didn’t his Spidey-sense tingle? Then the punchline – Frank was the bartender and he’s poisoned them all. Coldblooded. This story has a nice mix of Garth Ennis and someone who actually likes superheroes – Fraction has the Punisher down to perfection and he has a lot of fun with the supervillains of the Marvel universe. Deodata joins him on art duties for this issue, doing his usual thing with a bit more shadow and darkness.
Four issues of Fraction’s Punisher returning to the Marvel universe isn’t enough, hence my annoyance with the trade – a larger collection is definitely warranted. This is enjoyable stuff and shows that Frank Castle can be used in the modern Marvel universe, after the definitive feel that Ennis has stamped on the character. This is helped by the funky art style of Olivetti, which gives the book a unique feel.