Characters Appearing: Microchip, Punisher, Vic Martinelli
Punisher: The Prize
Issue(s): Punisher: The Prize
C.J. Henderson has previously written a couple of Marvel Comics Presents stories, but he was more distinguished as a writer of detective short stories (the Jack Hagee series). Going from hard boiled detective stories to the Punisher is a natural step, but Henderson must have also been a Marvel universe fan since this story has some fun with elements from Iron Man, including a very specific use of a minor supporting character.
The Iron Man connection is a surprise. There's no hint of it on the cover or the blurb on the back, and it doesn't enter the story until halfway through the book. Before that, we have the unusual case of the Punisher in love!
The story has the Punisher tracing an envelope as it passes between drug dealers, the Israeli Mossad, and a Soviet mole in the Israeli embassy. When the Punisher finally gets the envelope, he finds that it contains an invitation to an auction for "choice merchandise", which the Punisher says is a "black market euphemism for a super weapon". The Punisher still doesn't have a lot of details about the auction, so Micro brings in a reporter contact, Jessica Bradley.
Posing as a mercenary with a mustache, Frank lets Jessica badger him into letting her hire him to investigate the auction.
The Punisher starts to find himself falling for Jessica, wondering about the possibility of giving up on his war and going off with her.
Note him also scoffing at the idea that people reading about his exploits might think that what he does is glamorous. A little meta commentary?
Frank continues to fall for Jessica, although he pulls back.
He eventually explains to her that he's not going to be interested in a relationship. He basically tells her his origin, explaining that his wife and child were killed by the mob.
The Punisher has slept with women before, so the fact that he's holding back this time suggests that there's something more to his feelings.
Even though he breaks off the budding relationship, they continue their investigation together. One person that keeps crossing their path is a bald American. The Punisher finally catches him, and it turns out to be Vic Martinelli.
Martinelli was the security chief for Stark Industries. When Obadiah Stane took over the company, Martinelli was the only member of Stark's top staff that didn't quit in protest (because he has a criminal record and would have a hard time getting a job elsewhere). Martinelli tells the Punisher that during the transfer from Stark to Stane, a small cache of Stark's most dangerous weapons went missing. Martinelli has been tracking them down, and at this point there is only one item left (he doesn't say what it is, and may not know).
At this point, Jessica reveals that she's learned that Frank is really the Punisher. Vic isn't really happy to be working with the Punisher.
And he's annoyed when the Punisher interferes in Vic's attempt to simply buy back the missing item. But it turns out that the sellers really just intended to kill Vic. So Vic agrees to cooperate with the Punisher. But he still wants to keep Stane International's name clean, so the Punisher lets him use knockout gas on the goons instead of killing them.
Now that it's out in the open that Frank is the Punisher, the spark between Jessica and Frank is revived, so we have the pretty unique situation of the Punisher grinning like a puppy.
At this point i'm half-expecting Jessica to turn out to be Madame Masque or someone in disguise, but the narration in the book switches to her perspective, which makes that a lot less likely.
So instead, i'm expecting that Jessica will be killed by the end of the story.
The Punisher and Vic infiltrate the building where the "Prize" is being kept, while Jessica films.
They finally get to the missing Stark weapon. Which turns out to be the original suit of Iron Man armor.
I'm actually a little unsure if it's really meant to be the original original. Iron Man didn't fight the Hulk in the grey armor, for example. And the armor is extremely powerful. It doesn't seem like something that Tony Stark could have whipped up in an unnamed Southeastern Asian country prison camp.
It also fires repulsor blasts, which the original suit didn't do. Of course there's nothing to say that Stark didn't enhance his original suit afterwards, or create another suit in the model of the original (we actually know he did the latter, but it was after the Stane takeover).
Regardless, it's cool to see the Punisher being overwhelmed by a "super-powered" (or at least super-science) foe. I more or less enjoyed Punisher's confrontation with Dr. Doom during Acts of Vengeance, but i didn't love how easily the Punisher took out a Doombot in the beginning. Here, the Punisher is struggling with what is, any way you look at it, an Iron Man suit with way less capacity than the one he wears today.
Vic rescues the Punisher with a bazooka (which still doesn't stop the guy in the armor), and then the Punisher manages to get a knife through an eye slit. The guy in the Iron Man suit dies after triggering his repulsors, and the blast winds up bringing down the house.
The name of this graphic novel is The Prize, and of course that seems to refer to the Iron Man armor that everyone is seeking. But in the end we see that it also means Frank's ability to eventually "win" his war and settle down.
But he hasn't done so yet. We don't actually see him and Jessica parting ways, but she's never seen again.
Interesting story, both for actually doing a little emotional work for the Punisher and for bringing in Marvel universe elements. Some liberties are taken with the Iron Man armor, but if that is done to make the Punisher appear more like an ordinary human with guns in a world of super-heroes, i don't mind so much.
Quality Rating: B-
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
It's odd that there was still an Iron Man suit in the possession of Stane, when Stane told Masque in issue 200 that his people were only able to find a notebook. Maybe it was hidden away somewhere that even Tony forgot about and only found recently?
Posted by: Michael | July 24, 2015 7:33 PM
C.J. Henderson was definitely a good writer. I enjoyed his work on both prose fiction (I recommend his Teddy London mystery / horror novels) and comic books. I had not realized that he had written a Punisher story. I will have to keep an eye out for this one in the back issue bins.
Sadly, C.J. passed away last year from cancer.
C.J.'s daughter Erica Henderson is an artist. She is currently doing really fun, awesome work on Marvel's Squirrel Girl comic book.
Posted by: Ben Herman | July 25, 2015 11:38 PM
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