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If I’m lucky they’ll just kill each other – The Punisher War Journal #6 & #7

January 13, 2011

           

In my most intense comics reading phase (in the late 80’s/early 90’s) there were two characters that I could not escape who I actively loathed. The first was the Punisher. I understand his revenge-driven man-with-guns appeal, but he always seemed a very shallow creation, and one that I could just never get into. And he was guest-starring in every. Comic. That came out. He was inescapable. Now it vexes me to no end that one day, should I ever want to complete a run of The Amazing Spider-Man, I’m going to have to pay through the nose to get his first appearance.

Oy.

The other character I had a hard time stomaching, and this one may get me in a little more trouble with folks, was Wolverine. This was back in the “Ooh, what’s his origin, he’s so mysterious” days when he too showed up in every. Comic. That came out. With Wolvie it could simply be that I’m a straight-laced square — after all, I would always side with Cyclops in any of their inter-X-Men tiffs, just like I used to root for Pete Sampras when he faced Andre Agassi. I have a long history of backing the establishment guy.

Or it he could really be just a slightly taller version of Alpha Flight’s Puck, and therefore deserving of my contempt. Hugh Jackman may be the greatest actor ever to have trod the boards (or walked the Earth, for that matter), because he somehow made me care about that putz.

Since I could never work up much enthusiasm for either of these characters, comics like the two I’m about to look at passed under my radar. And seeing a cover that promises a donnybrook between these two reminds me of a holiday dinner conversation among my family eons ago, one that has stuck in my mind all these years. Two local ruffians, both of them idiots that no one but their own mothers (and perhaps not even them) could stand, had gotten into a fight outside of a bar, one that involved the usual sticks, knives, fists and kitchen sinks. The general consensus around the dinner table was that it was a shame that the two of them couldn’t have killed each other and rid us all of two problems at once.

I think you see where I’m going with this. We’re starting on the wrong foot, and this could get ugly.

Or, in some algebraic alchemy, perhaps putting these two negatives together might make a positive.

Let’s check it out.

The two-parter (“On the Track of Unknown Animals” and “Endangered Species”) is written by Carl Potts, who also handled the art in collaboration with Jim Lee. The whole setup is as follows…. The Punisher is getting a little worn out, so his pal Micro convinces him to take a working vacation in Africa, guarding (under an alias) a research mission that’s trying to find living dinosaurs, the Mokele-mbembe of actual African legend. Meanwhile, Wolverine uncovers a poaching ring, gets pissed, and heads to Africa to exact his sweet revenge.

We’re on a collision course for wackiness!

The poachers actually glom onto the research mission, and in moments when they can steal away they massacre whatever rare endangered animals are within arm’s (or bullet’s) reach, including gorillas. When Big Pun starts to figure out that something is going on and heads out into the wild to investigate, he crosses paths with a pissed off alpha male:

Lest the sad irony of this death-struggle escape us:

Wolverine stumbles onto this jungle crime scene, and in the inevitable misunderstanding thinks the Punisher is a poacher. Let the battle commence!:

Round 1 goes to Wolverine, who leaves Mr. Castle for dead. Things wrap up in the next issue as the Punisher recovers and comes looking for some payback. Round 2 goes to the man with the skull shirt:

Then, in one of those It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World convergences, Wolverine, the Punisher, the research expedition, the poachers and the dinosaurs all end up in the same place. Schemes are exposed, motivations are revealed, and the big brave Punisher ends things by shooting a woman in the back:

She’s one of the poachers, granted, but still…

The dinosaurs melt back into the jungle, and the two heroes go their seperate ways without learning one another’s identities.

I actually sort of enjoyed these stories, even if the plot is ripped from a William Katt and Sean Young starring bit of tripe called Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend. These two guys allying to go after poachers (dino-poachers, no less) is a cause I can’t help but get behind. It’s not enough to raise them on my depth chart — all things being equal, there are many, many characters that I’d rather read about before settling for them, in much the same way a lot of people have to become incapacitated in the Presidential succession before the Secretary of Agriculture becomes Chief Executive. But I guess I’m softening as I age.

The fact that this is the first time these characters met and that neither had ever heard of the other before seems a bit of a stretch, even in a story with live dinosaurs. And though I’ve never been that big a fan of Jim Lee’s art (I’m either showing my bravery or my ignorance in going after all these sacred cows) his work here was pretty good, and lacked the “All Pin-Ups, All the Time!” aspect it took on in later years.

Not bad.

And maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on the Punisher. His character did eventually spawn this bit of delectable tomfoolery:

Nice shot, bub.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Thelonious Nick permalink
    January 14, 2011 11:28 am

    “Now it vexes me to no end that one day, should I ever want to complete a run of The Amazing Spider-Man, I’m going to have to pay through the nose to get his first appearance.”

    Ha! I’ve had the exact same thought. I really fail to see the wide appeal of the Punisher. He’s a guy with guns, and he shoots them a lot. That’s it. As an occasional foil for Spider-Man or Daredevil, fine. As a major character in his own right, I don’t get it. DC’s analogue for him, Deadshot, is a far more interesting character but has never seemed to catch on the same way.

    Never had a problem with Wolverine, although I do agree he’s way overexposed.

    • January 16, 2011 1:25 pm

      The awful thing about that first Punisher appearance is that my obsessive-compulsive tendencies are going to force me to get a fairly high-quality copy — the other issues surrounding it can all be had at reasonable prices for clean, crisp copies, so it would stick out like a sore thumb if it had creases and wear.

      Another factor to add to my vexation.

  2. January 14, 2011 2:26 pm

    The thing with the Punisher is that he always struck me, in his first appearance, as a parody of Mack Bolan, the Executioner. At least I choose to call it “parody,” because the alternative is plagiarism. I think he was intended as a one-off thing, and not a tent pole franchise for Marvel.

    I don’t for a minute believe Frank Castle was invented as a “hero” and the fact that he became one to so many people says some very ugly things about fandom, IMHO. Wolverine is more or less in the same boat, offering revenge fantasies and vicarious thrills for misanthropic “outsiders” everywhere, but I confess to liking him well enough at the start, as an interesting ensemble player in the larger X-Men group. Spinning him off on his own never worked for me any more than it would have worked to spin off Fonzie or Barney Fife; in a group, he’s fun but alone there’s no “there” there. (Jackman is great, but again he’s great in the X-films…to date I haven’t been motivated to rent the Wolvie solo film).

    • January 16, 2011 1:30 pm

      I know Magog in Kingdom Come was an open mockery of Cable and the other metaphorical “Golden Calves” of modern comicdom, but you can definitely lump the Punisher in with that same exact “shoot first and shoot more later” mentality that grew so popular at the close of the 80’s.

      I don’t know what exactly the Punisher’s (and his ilk’s) popularity says, but I’m pretty sure the message isn’t a good one.

  3. August 15, 2011 8:24 pm

    I realize this post is eight months old, but I only just happened to come across it today on my surfs of the internet.

    Being a faithful Punisher and Wolverine fan, I’d have to say that it really depends on the writer if the stories come out well, especially for The Punisher.

    I never really liked the Punisher as an early comic book reader for the same reasons as you have stated above. It wasn’t until I read issues by Garth Ennis that I was shown how great that character really is. I highly recommend that you read the Ennis stories of The Punisher, especially the MAX run. And Welcome Back, Frank.

    (And if you like face-offs between Punisher and Wolverine, you’ll love the issues by Ennis. I remember one where Punisher shoots Wolverine in the face, point blank, with a shotgun. Shoots his nuts off with a machine gun. And also runs over him with a steam roller. All in Ennis’ first run of The Punisher #16 and 17. http://www.againwiththecomics.com/2010/01/in-which-punisher-flattens-wolverine.html)

    This brings me to my next point. The reason people love these characters is because they’re cannon fodder. These guys can be put through the meat grinder and still come out on top. Readers want to see their heroes have to overcome life endangering scenarios, and no matter how bloodied and beaten they get along the way, they’ll pull through. If the villain was easy to defeat and the hero didn’t take any hits or lose something along the way, that would be a boring story. Think back to the old Conan the Barbarian stories by Robert E. Howard in the 1930s. Those stories were extremely violent where the hero took as much pain as he dealt it. Wolverine and Punisher are pretty much modern day barbarians.

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