First up we take a deep dive on Punisher Vol.2 #1-5. Two short story arcs bookending a one-shot, this is the origin of the origin of the many layered onion known as the Punisher.
The Many Faces of the Skull
The trademark skull changed many times over the years. In the beginning here we had the Klaus Janson version, in keeping with previous iterations it still had the big round eyes. Best use of it would be Frank stopping for Arts and Crafts during his decimation of a Jungle Drug Complex and painting the white skully bullseye on a found bulletproof vest, thus proving to the DEA agent he just rescued that yes, Frank is fucking nuts, and no, you’re not going to get out of this alive.
Who’s he fighting this round?
Crackheads, drug dealers, South American narcotics manufacturers, a Vietnamese colonel, white supremacist revolutionary bank robbers, and a suicidal atheistic socialist cult led by siblings with touch healing and psychic precognition powers. And a raccoon. They decided to take it easy and keep things grounded by not breaking out any of the wacky shit for the first five issues.
Medal of Survival Recipients –
Characters who lasted more than one story arc (a select group)
Two important characters are introduced here in the 4th issue: Microchip AKA ‘Lowell Bartholomew Ori’ (bet you thought his name was Linus Lieberman, didn’t you?) and his son, Microchip Junior, a young angsty computer punk with definitive choices in hair. Microchip’s association with Frank Castle makes you question his fundamental concepts of parenting, and subsequently involving his son in vigilante murder hijinks pretty much answers that.
Modus Locomotus –
It is better to travel well than to arrive
First appearance of Battle Van, so point Battle Van. It’s a twinturbo Ford V6 (no V8 at this trim level) with a police radio, infrared cameras, bulletproof windows, an escape motorcycle, self-destruct mechanism, and just to remind you this is the 80s, Frank also drops the astonishing tidbit that it can switch into 4WD without having to get out and lock the hubs. And it costs $500,000 in 1987 dollars (to put this in perspective, this is $1,012,698 in today money, or the cost of a Bugatti Veyron).
If you price out all of the individual features of the van except super 4WD, that works out to about $80,000. Which means Frank spent ~$420,000 on the ability to not have to stop the van before he goes muddin’. This is a man with priorities. As an honorable mention, in the 2nd issue there’s an Apache attack helicopter with some creative license taken with the seating arrangements. The pilots sit side-by-side, a design choice which makes it easier for Frank to line them up to kill their asses after he jumps onto the chopper from a rooftop.
Weapons Tech –
Guns you can find in Jane’s
80s Punisher loves to sprinkle real weapons throughout their issues; it brought a broad gun-nut demographic of readers to the book, and more importantly, made the Punisher letters column the most disturbing collection of writing extant prior to the invention of gothpassions.com. In issue 2, Frank is delighted by a Striker Automatic Shotgun, widely considered to be a total piece of shit by most of the poor South Africans who actually had to use it. You know why Frank boners over it? Because Frank fucking loves it when his guns jam, so we can move on to the more “non-traditional” weaponry in the next column…
Dumbass Weapons Tech –
Guns you can’t find in Jane’s
Diamond tipped fake fingernails. In the very first issue he proves his security in his manliness by choosing the most womanly of combat fashion accessories. They show up several times over the next couple of issues ripping out a throat, opening a cardboard box really fast, and helping an old war buddy shuffle off this mortal coil by cutting his wrists (then throwing him out of a helicopter).
Bowed but Unbroken –
Obligatory Frank capture
In the early days, before Ennis turned him into a bullet-absorbing universal force of unkillableness, Frank was dangerously easy to get the drop on. In issue 1 he’s captured and tied to a chair for the very first time in what would go on to be a long and lucrative career of getting captured and tied to chairs. His buddy the DEA agent is captured twice in issue 2. Frank is temporarily captured in #3 when he’s outwitted by the old master bush tactic of ‘walking up behind him with a pistol’, and he’s nearly killed in issue 4 getting shot in the back the very same way.
In issue 5 this works on him twice, first a girl splashes acid in his face, and then later the same issue she walks up behind him and smacks him in the head with a frying pan Tom and Jerry style. These were truly exciting times, no one knew how long this book would actually last, and though he led the Marvel pantheon in murderistic enthusiasm, he was woefully short in situational awareness. This dude could literally go at any minute.
The Ladies –
Yes they are
Plenty has been posted about Frank’s legendary kill counts, but there’s a far more interesting statistic we’re all missing here. There are a grand total of 6 females in these first five issues. And when I say 6, I’m including two who only appeared in a single panel, one in the background. I’m not even going to begin to open the can of worms, implications, and innuendo about the characters, readers, or authors of this book. I’m just sayin’, 80’s Punisher has been nothing but honest from the start: if you buy that Punisher t-shirt from Spencer’s, you WILL be walking around with 2 feet of white grinnin’ pussy repellent on your chest. Of these few brave females who dare these pages, two of them try to sleep with Frank (neither while he’s wearing the skull). He disturbingly chooses not to tarnish the chastity of the evil cult leader chick, but has no problem banging the brainwashed wife of the police officer who helped him infiltrate the cult in the first place.
Clearly, this man is deeply confused when it comes to relations with the opposite sex, though I’m not sure if its in ways the author intended.
Dress up Frank
Several: Bill Messina-suave drug dealer; Arnold Groetsch-Fordem Industries Armored Cars; Agent Peterson-FBI; Frank Loomis-cuckolded husband; and Joe Rainey-homeless vet from Detroit. All without any real effort other than wearing clothes without a giant skull on them. He had identity skills like that old NBC show, ‘The Pretender’, with the added bonus of not being bullshit.
Postcards from the Edge –
Letter column all-stars
Issue #4 is where the letters column reveals the first appearance of a darker segment of the punisher audience that I don’t think the Marvel editors were truly prepared for, the Gun-Nerd. These are the guys that considered the Punisher Magazine to be the Sunday Comics section of Soldier of Fortune. I grew up around guns, family probably owned 25 or so, got my first BB for my 3rd birthday, and had several guns of my own by the time I was 10. When I was a kid, I used to see these dudes at gun shows all the time, and even back then I instinctively ID’d the stench of “lose”.
Before the age of google, in issue 4’s letters column ‘Craig’ is able to give a multi-paragraph lesson on the forestock configurations of the AK-47, the proper methods of clearing gun jams, and some mostly incorrect information on the details of the Striker assault shotgun. What’s truly fascinating here is probably the earliest written foreshadowing of the internet, as four issues later he’s ruthlessly flamed by a green beret and some other random dude happy to explain how: Craig’s information? Thats bullshit information. And so the flame cycle begins, stoked, fired, and printed by the Marvel editorial staff. Look forward to this section, readers, it only gets better over time.
The Fall Guy –
Stunts = Many, including taking out foot soldiers with a handful of rattlesnakes, training brainwashed cultists and children how to use an M16, and being woefully incompetent at camping for someone who stalked the jungles of Vietnam (he was afraid of rattlesnakes crawling into his sleeping bag in the wilds of Missouri, and damn near shot a raccoon sneaking up on his camp). By far the most impressive was identifying an incoming missile while piloting a helicopter, then quickly diving out to land safely on his feet in the jungle below. Luckily, he remembers to do a couple of flips on the way down to break his fall.
Notes n’ Quotes –
Quotes, ads, and random junk
Few memorable early Frankisms: “I have no particular beef with the Rev. But he smells like a stinker.” One issue of note to English historians has the last recorded written use of the adage “A cobbler should stick to his last.” And finally, I thought this book had cracked he Comics Code Authority when I saw “This shit is dangerously overloaded” at the beginning of issue #5, but closer investigation shows that the letterer was just messing with us with his ‘p’s and ‘t’s from way back when letterers actually lettered by hand and weren’t required to list the name of whatever lameass computer graphics company they work for in the book credits. Two ads for honorable mention attached.
Next up: Punisher War Journal Issues #1-5. See you in a couple weeks.