Issue(s): Punisher #15, Punisher #16, Punisher #17, Punisher #18
One thing that annoys me a bit is that while i appreciate the use of the Kingpin since it makes the book more Marvel universe-y, it mostly disregards the Kingpin's status quo established in the Daredevil book (i say "mostly" because Typhoid Mary is at least mentioned). In concurrently published issues of Daredevil, Kingpin has been pathologically associated with Daredevil to the extent that he has been neglecting the rest of his organization, and his concurrently published Spider-Man appearances have played nicely with that status quo. But here, there's no sign of that. I don't particularly love the state of the Kingpin in Daredevil, so in a certain sense i don't mind seeing him being more capable here, but i'd like to have seen an explanation for it.
The opening scene has the Kingpin reacting to news of the Punisher's actions last issue. Punisher disrupted a high school age gang that was engaging in a deal with Syrians (last issue it was Libyans). Since i've placed the previous issue prior to Inferno (where the Kingpin's near catatonia was at its highest) and this arc afterwards, my own personal explanation is that the Kingpin is coming out of his haze and finally getting a briefing on that event. And he decides it's time to take direct action against the Punisher. No mention of that fact that not too long ago circa Spectacular Spider-Man #143, the Kingpin's lieutenant the Arranger had the Punisher under mind-control and opted to use him against rivals instead of killing him.
Meanwhile, the Punisher also seems to have amnesia. He's planning to take the Kingpin out, excited by the prospect of seeing the whole criminal system collapse in a power struggle.
Learning why that would be a bad idea was literally the plot of the Punisher: Circle of Blood mini-series. The Punisher (thought that he) killed the Kingpin and then realized that the resulting carnage caused by the intergang war that followed was worse than when he was in power. Throughout the course of these issues, the Punisher and Microchip will debate this point, but there's no indication that the Punisher experienced it firsthand once before. It would have been better to have the Punisher at least acknowledge what happened last time, either with a reason why it would work out differently this time or at least an indication that he's changed his mind. And really it wasn't necessary to have the Punisher make this decision yet, since the Kingpin is already going after the Punisher, starting with Micro. "We have to kill him or he'll kill us" would have served the plot just as well. Instead it's only after the Punisher resolves to kill the Kingpin that he gets the call from Micro that his garage is under attack.
The Punisher arrives to find that Micro mostly has things under control, thanks to a series of death-traps...
...and a Dalek.
Punisher helps Micro mop up the invaders, gets confirmation from one of them that the Kingpin sent them, and then flee the garage before another agent blows up the entire area from outside. They grab a newly designed battle van and head out into the wilderness to plan their next moves from a piece of property Micro bought through a dummy corporation.
Since Typhoid Mary is currently "on assignment"...
...the Kingpin sends in a Mr. Kiegg, after a little power play.
A nice set up for Kiegg as well as the Kingpin's menace and physical threat.
The Punisher, surprisingly, is doing some recruiting of his own. Specifically Reese McDowell, the high school punk that helped the Punisher in the previous issue...
...Vernon Brooks, the chemistry teacher from the same issue...
...and Conchita Ortiz, the wife of Punisher's (now deceased) prison guard friend from Punisher #13.
He takes them all down to Florida to train them for an attack on the Kingpin. Meanwhile, Microchip deploys a virus that starts eating the Kingpin's records.
But Kiegg is able to trace the Punisher to Florida, and he kills young McDowell.
The Punisher himself might not have survived if Ortiz did not show up.
Based on that, Punisher decides training is over and it's time to take the fight to Kingpin.
The Kingpin, meanwhile, brings in a boy even younger than McDowell, a computer hacker named Jeremy "Board" Wilson, to counteract Microchip's computer virus.
Because of that virus, the Kingpin has been forced to switch to a manual management of his money. Punisher intends to take his group to hit one of the buildings where the money is being held and counted, and after some scenes of Board and Microchip trying to outpredict each other (both characters are given the label of "free-thinker": "a creative genius who uses computers to build up data, then draws seemingly random but incredibly accurate conclusions"), the Punisher settles on a particular building. But while the hit on the building itself is successful...
...Board was able to predict their choice, and so the Kingpin is waiting to attack the battlevan with a larger tricked out vehicle.
The Punisher's crew manage to escape, but they lose the battlevan and most of their money. As they hole up in a safehouse in New Jersey, we see the little bit of character development that Mike Baron provides in this sparsely written story. The Punisher is unable to detect a joke...
...and then Punisher and Conchita sleep together, but it's an emotionless experience for Frank.
It's while at the safehouse that the question of killing the Kingpin, versus just crippling his financial organization, comes up again. And the Punisher doesn't seem to remember that the scenario Microchip is describing is exactly what happened before in the Circle of Blood mini.
Meanwhile, the Kingpin has brought in some help from the Triads to help with managing his money without a computer. The smaller adult and the boy, George, are there to help with the money. And they brought along the bigger adult, Mr. Lem, to take care of the Punisher.
Board winds up on the wrong side of George.
And Mr. Lem is able to track down the Punisher and kill Conchita before getting killed himself.
Thanks to his mistreatment, Board decides to drop out of the Kingpin's employ, and he tries to sell security info to Microchip, but winds up getting killed by George.
The Punisher has decided at this point to take the fight directly to the Kingpin. Merely knowing about the security info that Board was going to sell is enough to get Microchip to figure out what it was, so the Punisher has a way in. But since Brooks couldn't bring himself to take a shot at the young George, the Punisher kicks him out of the group. He's "allowed" to help take out a security camera, but that's it.
Notice again the gang war possibility being raised, and the Punisher saying that it's a good thing.
In any event, it's a moot point, because when the Punisher and Microchip launch their assault, the Kingpin is able to avoid their gas attack and take Micro prisoner.
This forces the Punisher to drop his weapon.
Actually, the Punisher still has several knives hidden on his body, but they prove worthless.
In the end, if Brooks didn't disobey the Punisher's orders and enter the Kingpin's building anyway, the Punisher would be dead.
So they are forced to retreat in failure.
They console themselves with the idea that if they had killed the Kingpin, a violent gang war would have broken out.
Gee, who coulda thought of that?
We're getting to the point where there's going to be an overwhelming amount of Punisher material. Two books, graphic novels, guest appearances, etc.. I don't expect the writers and editors to be able to track it all. I mean, i'd like them to, but i can understand if they miss something from some random one shot. But the Circle of Blood mini was the only thing going on at the time it was published, and it's a pretty important part of the Punisher's publication history. So it's weird to see it being disregarded here. To be sure, that had already happened in a broader sense; the whole reason that series was called Circle of Blood was because it pointed out the limitations or repercussions of the Punisher's methods, and the series ended with the Punisher questioning his modus operandi. So in that sense it had already been ignored, since with his ongoing series he's back to his old ways with a vengeance.
It's not surprising to see the Punisher being divorced from the large Marvel universe (which, despite the Typhoid Mary reference, is also the case); it is surprising to see the book ignoring his own history. Add to the fact that Whilce Portacio and Scott Williams are drawing the character looking younger than ever and it's almost like he's been reborn.
On the merits of this particular story, though, it's a fun adventure. Baron's sparse dialogue is very readable (one complaint in the lettercols is that he recaps the Punisher's origin every issue but the response cites the "every issue is someone's first" maxim), and the story is a good character study of a character that is obsessed and emotionally damaged and not necessarily right. It's also pretty interesting to see him lose so badly. It's one thing to know that a character that currently has plotlines running in Daredevil and Spider-Man isn't going to get killed or carted off to jail in handcuffs; quite another to see the Punisher lose the end fight after having gotten two of his recruits killed, and then running off spouting sour grapes that contradict everything he'd been saying throughout the story.
A number of people write in to complain that this didn't end with the Punisher killing the Kingpin.
There's an easter egg cameo by the X-Men in the opening of issue #18.
That seems to be Nightcrawler's tail, but since he's not a member of the group (and doesn't know they're alive), maybe the X-Men were chasing down a stray Inferno demon. I'm also not 100% sure that's Wolverine and not the X-Baby version or something. A later lettercol actually writes in to say that it's really comics fans on the way to a convention, but the MCP does list them as characters and i'll include them for fun, too.
It's worth noting that there is increased buzz in the lettercols due to the fact that the Punisher movie has been announced and Dolph Lundgren was chosen to play the lead character.
Quality Rating: B
Chronological Placement Considerations: As noted above, i'm placing this after Inferno just to keep things relatively clear for the Kingpin and (jokingly) the X-Men.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (6): show
So the Punisher can at least console himself knowing that if the Punisher died a gang war would have broken out right? Can we get an explanation for that?
Posted by: Max_Spider | September 11, 2014 4:56 PM
I flipped the names. "...if the Kingpin died...". Thanks for pointing it out; fixed it.
Posted by: fnord12 | September 11, 2014 5:01 PM
The Arranger had the Punisher under mind control not the Kingpin.
Posted by: JSfan | September 11, 2014 7:14 PM
As far as you know.
Thanks, JSFan, fixed it. Seems i flipped the Punisher and Kingpin's names multiple times. Maybe i have been influenced by the Persuader.
Posted by: fnord12 | September 11, 2014 7:18 PM
Almost as bad as being persuaded by the Influencer, an entrepeneurial villain inspired by the works of Malcolm Gladwell.
Posted by: cullen | September 11, 2014 8:09 PM
The art is a little stiff. On another note, I'm having trouble sympathising with The Punisher. When he recruited McDowell, a young kid, it makes me think he's a selfish SOB The Punisher makes it seem cool by telling him he'll be taking down Fat Cats and will have thousands of dollars in untracebale cash. He sounds like a drug dealer and he's putting him in extremely dangerous situations where he is likely to be killed, which is exactly what happens to him. At least Brooks and Ortiz are adults and know what they're getting into.
I can't put my finger on why that particular part of the story sort of bothered me. It's not as if I'm fussed about Robin being a super-hero given his age. Maybe it's because McDowell had no physical training before joining The Punisher...
Posted by: JSfan | September 12, 2014 5:22 AM
Hey what about Lem and George anyway? Are they taken out during the final assault?
Posted by: david banes | September 12, 2014 12:45 PM
Lem was the bigger Triad guy that the Punisher killed after he killed Conchita. George and the (unnamed, i think) other guy were knocked out by the gas that Punisher and Micro open their final attack on the Punisher with. George has a number of additional appearances.
The Kingpin is kind of a jerk to the Triads when the gas is pouring in. They ask what they're going to do about it and the Kingpin says, "I shall don a gas mask I keep for such emergencies. I don't know about you.".
Posted by: fnord12 | September 12, 2014 1:05 PM
Yeah, I love how the Kingpin leaves the Triad hanging after they hauled his cookies out of the fire. I was hoping the gas would be lethal, though.
I love these issues, but they're the last truly great ones from this series until Final Days begins. This arc reads like a good Schwarzenegger movie. High body count, a hero who leads with his head rather than actually use it, and an unflappable villain.
Also, key supporting characters are nonchalantly killed off just when you're starting to like them, almost to drive home the point that Frank's war is a losing cause, especially when he reprises his scheme of taking down the Kingpin.
I always thought that Vernon ("what do you mean Reese is dead?") Brooks was badass for being one of the few players to survive in the end, (his hesitation at taking out George nicely contrasts with Frank's unhinged nature) but he scores even more points with me for knowing when to quit after facing down the Kingpin in order to save Frank's sorry hide.
The death of Conchita is unexpected, as are those of the young Reese and the teenaged Board. Frank is indeed culpable for Reese's death since he practically hustles Reese into joining up. Mike Baron does not kid around in these stories. And young George will indeed be back to stir up more mayhem during the Final Days arc.
Posted by: Clutch | September 12, 2014 11:21 PM
Don't know how I missed 'Mr. Lem...gets killed himself' even though I went looking for the fate of the Triads.
Posted by: david banes | September 12, 2014 11:36 PM
Whilce Portacio apparently draws himself into the first panel on page 1 of issue 18.
Posted by: Mizark | March 29, 2017 10:26 AM
Is Longshot supposed to be in the characters appearing list? I don't see you mentioning him.
Posted by: Max_Spider | June 19, 2017 3:52 PM
He's standing between Rogue and Collosus in the X-Men cameo shot.
Posted by: Andrew | June 19, 2017 4:44 PM
I've got no good excuse for missing that X-Men cameo... Sorry, guess I was kind of tired or something.
Posted by: Max_Spider | June 19, 2017 6:36 PM
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