Punisher War Journal #1-3
Issue(s): Punisher War Journal #1
This book is written and drawn (layouts) by Carl Potts, who was editor of the Punisher's mini-series and continues to be the editor of the regular Punisher series. As you can see by the text pieces in my trade for the original Punisher mini-series, Carl Potts and the regular series' writer Mike Baron have different takes on the character or what he represents. Baron's version of the character has actually been more restrained than that text piece might indicate, but we definitely see a difference with Carl Pott's first story here. For one thing, we're beginning with a three part "An Eye For An Eye" storyline, whereas Baron's stories were at most two-parters and even then with the second part often really divergent from the first. And Baron's "character development" for the Punisher was much more limited. We did get some snippets of his thoughts but it never went beyond that. Whereas here we show Punisher actually expressing some gratitude towards Microchip and acknowledging the hardships he's suffered (not specifically mentioning the death of his son).
And more to the point, the plot of issue #1 is the Punisher trying to go to the park to fly a kite in memory of his dead family but gets held up when he gets involved in another mob problem.
I'll repeat that: the plot of issue #1 is that the Punisher wants to go fly a kite. And in fact ends with that.
Throughout these issues, we also see references to the character (in Microchip's words) "punishing yourself" and a running theme about him losing sight of what it is he's fighting for.
Whatever you think of this more touchy-feely approach, Potts also has a more... i'll say "artistic", loosely, storytelling style, so for example in issue #1 as the Punisher is trying to work his way to the park, the bottom of every page has a scene from Punisher's origin.
That level of control is possible since Potts is doing layouts as well as plotting. He's brought over Jim Lee from Alpha Flight (which Potts edited) to do finishes. It might have been instructive for Lee in terms of layouting and storytelling to work over Pott's breakdowns, but i'm not sure that it stuck.
Alpha Flight is mentioned in a newspaper Punisher is looking at.
The Mokele-Mbembe (an African version of the Loch Ness Monster) and the mystery deaths will be upcoming plots, but more on that later.
Potts also introduces some recurring characters, the people who run the store under the safehouse the Punisher is currently using. The older one is the first to trigger the Punisher's self-reflection.
That quote about "losing sight" appears as a promotional quote in the Bullpen Bulletins.
The shop owners are also dealing with a vandalism problem, which the Punisher thinks might be because the building is "too close to Harlem", but the shopkeepers believe that the building owner is trying to force them out so that he can gentrify. They're working with Matt Murdock on that. And they have another secret as well.
The actual plot of issue #1, the thing that delays the Punisher from his picnic, is about the wife of a mobster who is trying to hide her baby from her husband. She didn't realize that he was a mobster when they married, but once she found out he "quit being nice to me". She wanted to escape with her baby so she contacted an old boyfriend. And she tried to switch her baby with her sister's mentally disabled baby, thinking that her husband wouldn't notice the switch and therefore wouldn't come after her, and that her sister's baby would therefore get better care than her sister could afford.
But the husband did notice and came after her and the boyfriend. Punisher rescues the woman and her boyfriend and kills the husband.
And then gets back to his park sojourn.
We're then given a preview of the upcoming stories in this book, including the Mokele-Mbembe.
Another character introduced in issue #1 is Hector Montoya, a prisoner at Ryker's who is resisting baiting from his fellow inmates so that he can get out on parole for good behavior.
Issue #2 opens with a General Accardo receiving a letter we saw Montoya mail from prison in issue #1, and then dying of a heart attack.
This is another of the mysterious deaths mentioned in the newspaper article Punisher saw above.
Meanwhile, the Punisher is still flying his kite...
...and he's found by Jason Hunt, the son of the man, Forest Hunt, whose execution the Castle family stumbled upon which resulting in Frank becoming the Punisher.
And it turns out that the story about the kid's father isn't quite what we knew. He was actually funding Contra-style freedom fighters from the fictional country of Santo Angelo, but (according to the kid) he found out that the others were involved in drug trafficking, and that's what got him killed.
And the leader of that group was Hector Montoya, who the Punisher knows from his own stay at Ryker's, and in fact had teamed up to fight off mob-hired convicts in the prison (including the guy, Raymond, we saw messing with Hector earlier).
Now he finds out that the guy he teamed up with in prison was the one responsible for his family's death. If the kid is to be believed, which the Punisher isn't sure about.
Note also the Punisher's self-aware narration about an endless cycle of violence.
The Punisher has Microchip confirm Jason's story, and also that there's no dirt on Jason, and then returns to the current safehouse he's using. Daredevil is there, since he was helping the shopkeepers.
Don't let Pott's more character-driven style let you think that there isn't plenty of focus on hardware and weapons. Issue #1 has Punisher testing out a new kind of body armor, and here's a demo of some new knife.
Meanwhile, Hector gets out of jail, leaving his walkman behind as a "gift" for Raymond. We see Raymond drop dead a little later. And it's confirmed that the letters of "reconciliation" he'd been sending out were covered in a poison that's been killing them.
Punisher starts trailing Jason Hunt, who is trailing Hector Montoya. And Daredevil is trailing Punisher, but Punisher is aware of it. When Jason catches up with Hector, the story is flipped again.
The Punisher steps in to stop the shootout but it turns into a fight anyway, and the Punisher gets hit with Hector's poison.
Another thing to notice is that these issues always have a scene at the end with Microchip sitting home reading Robert Frost poetry.
The Punisher's knife and body armor both come in handy against the goons that show up after the Punisher is knocked down by the poison (and who the Punisher previously beat up because they were also following Jason).
Daredevil shows up in the aftermath to help Punisher.
DD takes the Punisher in a cab back to his hideout, but then the Punisher tells Daredevil to take a hike and calls Micro instead.
Meanwhile, both Hector and Jason have returned to their homes, and Jason has decided that he's not going to go after Hector any more and assumes that, since he saw Hector has a family, that Hector won't come after him. But even though Hector knows that Jason is just a mixed-up kid, he decides that he's a threat and he does need to go kill him. Hector also feels justified in participating in the drug trade since Congress cut off funding to his rebel allies in Santo Angelo (Hector is married to an American woman so he's a "dual citizen"), but he didn't actually like selling drugs and especially didn't like finding out that Jason's father was doing so for personal profit and not the cause. Things came to a head when Congress decided to renew funding to the Santo Angelo rebels and Hector therefore wanted to stop the drug trade. He substituted fake drugs in a shipment that Forest Hunt was carrying, which is why the mob killed him. Hunt survived long enough to implicate Hector, and Hector went to jail since his marriage removed the diplomatic immunity he had as an embassy aide.
Hector shows up at Jason's house, and the Punisher, still recovering from the poison, drags himself there as well, although he's armed with only a taser since his newest safehouse wasn't yet stocked up. And the police have figured out the connection between the mysterious deaths and are converging on Jason's house as well after having found Jason's wallet at Hector's house. Jason also has a dog which attacks Hector, and tears up his gloves, causing Hector's poison to spill all over himself. He gets shot by the police trying to run home to spend his final moments with his family.
Punisher drags himself back home and later gets a package from Daredevil returning the gun that the street punk walked away with earlier.
The next day, we see what seems like a turning point for the Punisher as he helps an old lady cross the street.
His own narration describes it as a fork in the road, and Microchip's poetry for the final issue is The Road Not Taken.
I appreciate the attempt to humanize and develop the Punisher, but we know it's not going to stick so it feels futile. Couple that with an overly complex delving into the details behind the mob hit that triggered the Punisher's origin, and i found myself wishing for the more straightforward and sparser plots of Mike Baron. Don't get me wrong; i'd love to see a Punisher that evolves out of his own "road to a hollow, endless cycle of violence". But it wasn't going to happen as long as the character had multiple ongoing series without abandoning what made him popular in the first place. So that being the case, give me the more cartoonish action hero stuff instead of all of these trappings of character development.
Quality Rating: B-
Chronological Placement Considerations: The MCP places these issues between Punisher #13-14. Regarding the Alpha Flight article, who knows how long it takes for news of their break-up to get confirmed and reach the States, so i'm not considering it for placement purposes. The MCP has Daredevil here between Daredevil #263-264, but per Michael's comment i'm placing this prior to Daredevil #260.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (4): showDaredevil, Jason Hunt, Kingpin, Microchip, Philip Richards, Punisher, Rikichi, Yuriko Ezaki
I'm not sure that placing this in between Daredevil 263 and 264 works- I don't think Matt returned to the legal clinic after Karen left him in Daredevil 263 and Matt's attitude is way too good if this takes place after Karen left him. Placing this before Daredevil 260 makes more sense.
Posted by: Michael | August 3, 2014 3:11 PM
Thanks Michael. Based on that i've pushed it back a bit, but may continue to shuffle as i get to the Daredevil issues, especially with Inferno possibly complicating things.
Posted by: fnord12 | August 3, 2014 3:25 PM
Does the demon thing refer to Garth Ennis' "Born"? If so, wasn't that supposed to be a completely different Punisher?
Posted by: Mark Drummond | August 3, 2014 4:23 PM
No, I was referring to the 1998 Punisher series that nobody wants to talk about. (Not even Frank, as shown in a recent issue of Thunderbolts.)
Posted by: Michael | August 3, 2014 4:37 PM
"Don't let Goodwin's more character-driven style let you think that there isn't plenty of focus on hardware and weapons."
Who's Goodwin? Do you mean Potts?
Posted by: S | August 3, 2014 6:37 PM
I enjoyed PWJ much more than the regular Punisher title. I read it regularly for the first year or so, which seems to be my limit for a 'straight' Punisher book. I also read War Zone for the first year before giving it up. In both cases, good artwork was a major selling point for me.
Posted by: Robert | August 3, 2014 6:41 PM
I did mean Potts. Thanks, S.
Posted by: fnord12 | August 3, 2014 6:43 PM
They made a huge, huge deal about the fact that PWJ would feature more extensive interaction with the Marvel U. Odd that people were so concerned, as the past year included Marvel U character appearances in the ongoing and the annual, and a few Punisher guest spots as well.
The "year to come" segment in the first issue was pretty apparently meant to make the case that the world of PWJ was going to be slightly more fantastical, and Kingpin is featured for the "Greater Marvel U" signification.
Posted by: cullen | August 4, 2014 2:08 AM
This series brings to mind one of those typical "comics taught me how to read" scenarios: I actually discovered Robert Frost's poetry thanks to this story arc.
To say that Carl Potts' writing and layouts are underrated would be an understatement. I bought these first three issues in real time and enjoyed them immensely.
Most Punisher fans believe that it all began with Garth Ennis, but way before the MAX version you had Steven Grant, Mike Baron, Carl Potts, and Chuck Dixon. The late 80's and early 90's were some truly great years for the franchise.
Posted by: Clutch | August 4, 2014 3:36 AM
When this title was announced in Amazing Heroes #143,Moon Knight was listed as an upcoming guest star, but I don't remember if that ever happened.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | December 6, 2014 3:57 PM
Maybe that got morphed into Punisher Annual 2.
Posted by: cullen | December 6, 2014 4:18 PM
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