Characters Appearing: Amy Bendix, Angela (Trust), Bernard Modine, Brady (VIGIL), Captain America, Derek Sternes, Harry Bendix, John Lowe, Lynn Michaels, Melinda Brewer, Mickey Fondozzi, Microchip, Mike 'Rusty' Nails, Payback, Punisher, Spider-Man, Tess Clay
Punisher War Journal #65-69
Issue(s): Punisher War Journal #65, Punisher War Journal #66, Punisher War Journal #67, Punisher War Journal #68, Punisher War Journal #69
Punisher War Journal is effectively the "main" Punisher series at this point. While the other two books were telling stories set in the past (or, more cynically, running through a backlog of stories commissioned before Suicide Run), this series was going forward and building on the events of Suicide Run. This story arc also continues with War Journal's semi-tradition of being more connected to the larger Marvel universe, as it features guest appearances by Captain America and Spider-Man. It also utilizes Punisher's own continuity more than a typical Punisher story. So it seems like the series that was most trying to capitalize on the interest generated by Suicide Run.
That said, things get off to a slow start. Captain America doesn't appear until the last page of the first issue (and Spidey comes later). Punisher is hiding out in a neighborhood in Brooklyn that is "forgotten" by the police, so it's full of crime. Since the Punisher is laying low, he doesn't just start shooting all the criminals in his usual way. Instead, he just waits, knowing that the authorities will come after him for killing Taylor Blackwell (last issue).
VIGIL has been put under the direct control of the Justice Department. Mike "Rusty" Nails, the former leader of VIGIL (who had been recuperating after an injury) is sidelined. The politics behind VIGIL are pretty involved, and it's probably more effort than it's worth to keep track of, but here we go: We've seen a Senator Modine in a couple of past issues of Punisher as the sponsor of VIGIL. It turns out that Modine had some campaign violations that were under the investigation of the Justice Department. And Derek Sternes, who works at Justice, was a former VIGIL member who was fired by Nails. So Sternes made a deal with Modine to take control of VIGIL in return for dropping the investigation. And Sternes puts Nails in a desk job and put a guy named John Lowe in charge.
I like VIGIL as a concept, but they just need to be some high profile cops in brightly colored costumes with high tech weaponry that chase the Punisher. We don't need a Robert Ludlum level of behind-the-scenes details on who is pulling their strings.
Anyway, VIGIL and a contingent of NYPD enter the Brooklyn neighborhood in search of the Punisher, and Punisher leads them around ensuring that they take out all the other criminals in the area.
Another complication in issue #65 is the introduction of a Mr. Machette. We don't see him directly yet, but one of his agents is in the area that the Punisher is hiding in, retrieving some drugs and money that another agent failed to deliver. The agent is found by a corrupt cop who is part of the group that the Punisher lures into the area, and the cop kills the agent.
And then the Punisher kills the cop. That reinforces the idea (after Blackwell) that the Punisher is a cop killer. The police give the order to shoot the Punisher on site, but Captain America arrives and belays that order.
Oddly, Cap's appearance is not advertised on the covers. I get that he's not the draw that Spider-Man is, but you'd think Marvel would want to at least pull in a few extra Cap fans.
Punisher continues to lead the police around the bad neighborhood where they encounter some criminal act or group every third building, but the cops eventually catch up with the Punisher and prepare to shoot him. Captain America shows up to stop them.
Cap and the Punisher have had philosophical debates before - mainly in Captain America #241 and Punisher/Captain America: Blood & Glory #1-3. This story doesn't directly acknowledge either of them, and that's disappointing since Cap saluted the Punisher and let him go after that second encounter. It's reasonable to assume that the high profile killing of police officers is what brought Cap back, but it would have been nice to see that in-story. Generally, though, their debate tracks with their previous encounters, and Steven Grant handles it well. I also like the Punisher's assessment of their relative strengths.
This actually takes place while Captain America's super-serum is fading, though ("Cap is fighting a degenerative disease" - with no footnotes). Punisher starts to notice.
Punisher has an opportunity to shoot Cap, but he hesitates. Grant makes a distinction: Punisher can't beat Cap, but he won't kill him.
In other words, the Punisher can't win by playing by non-lethal super-hero rules, but he could shoot Cap if he wanted to. This could be seen as a way to satisfy both sides of a Cap/Punisher Whoodwin; they're both the best at what they do, but they do different things. But it really feels like it's coming down on the side of the Punisher; the make-believe world of super-heroes aside, the Punisher could kill Captain America, and that's what would really matter if it came to it. Cap fans can console themselves with the fact that Cap's super-serum is failing, so this isn't a definitive fight.
The Punisher runs.
Punisher is shot in the back by a police sniper while he's running, but he hijacks a news helicopter to escape to Manhattan. Cap tries to convince the police to not attack the helicopter, saying that there are plenty of heroes in Manhattan that will take care of the Punisher when he gets there.
You might think that Cap was saying that he was calling in the Avengers, but he seems to just be relying on the fact that Spider-Man will stumble across him (which will indeed happen).
Punisher's helicopter is shot down (after the reporters are evacuated), and the Punisher is presumed dead.
Meanwhile, Nails takes a leave of absence from his desk job so that he can hunt the Punisher on his own time.
Punisher accesses a weapons store in a safety deposit box that Nails was secretly monitoring, so he's alerted to the Punisher's location. But Nails is no match for the Punisher.
Despite being thought of as a cop killer, the Punisher doesn't shoot Nails. Spidey finds the Punisher right after the Punisher leaves Nails.
"With weapons I could beat him", but the Punisher surrenders.
And despite Spider-Man's appearance getting cover-level promotion, that ends his appearance. VIGIL (seemingly) show up, and Spidey happily turns the Punisher over to them and leaves.
But it's not really VIGIL.
The Punisher has actually been captured by Mr. Machette's organization.
Machette has a weird habit of letting people fight him for their freedom (e.g. when his minions fail him). Punisher is given such an opportunity and uses it to kill Machette and some of his minions. The rest of the minions let Punisher walk. Punisher keeps Machette's shades and blade (and is growing a nice little beard).
People with comically obscured faces try to steal the Punisher's battle van.
They needn't have bothered; we later see their faces and they turn out to be nobodies working for a mystery woman.
And Payback has brought Lynn Michaels to Dr. Melinda Brewer.
And Micro and Mickey are working some kind of deal without the Punisher.
Also, Harry Bendix, the sheriff that helped Punisher during Suicide Run, is taken in by VIGIL for questioning but refuses to talk.
Despite being a named five-part story arc, this really just has the feel of an ongoing series with a number of ongoing subplots. Which is fine. It's just that when you reach part three and the story deviates into the Mr. Machette plot, and when you reach the "conclusion" and nothing about the Punisher's cop killer status is resolved, it feels kind of weird in a way that it wouldn't if it were just issue #69 with no splash panel promising said "conclusion".
Hugh Haynes has been a regular artist for Punisher (and Alpha Flight) in the past, so i don't know why his art here necessitated between 3-4 inkers per issue and then the back-up story in the final two issues (meaning Haynes was only doing 15 pages per issue). The art here is fine, and there's more depth behind it than in his Alpha Flight days, but it's not like Haynes was a special guest artist. It's possible that the back-ups were not to give Haynes relief but to set up Hitman Punisher since he'll later figure into the main series. But i always think it's preferable to do that sort of thing as integrated subplots (of which there are already plenty) instead of back-up stories. But of course that would then require a single artist.
I don't share the bizarre weapons file features that appear in the backs of Punisher issues enough, so he's one that shows how the Punisher practices by shooting clay traps over a sheet. The amount of thought put into the text amazes me. I guess these features really fed the gun fetishists who were a significant portion of the Punisher's audience.
Quality Rating: C
Chronological Placement Considerations: Most likely takes place after Captain America #425 when Captain America's super-serum condition is announced. Spider-Man's short-lived appearance ends with him turning the Punisher over to "VIGIL" and saying, "I've got other things to do.". A footnote says, "For details there are five different Spider-Man books to choose from.". Despite his fight with Nails and Spider-Man, the Punisher is presumed dead after the helicopter crash (Nails refuses to tell the rest of VIGIL about his encounter and i guess Spidey is busy with his five books). So the Punisher shouldn't appear publicly after this arc.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Fnord, one thing to note is that the Punisher's helicopter crashes and Rusty Nails lies to Sternes about the Punisher being alive. So the Punisher is thought dead by VIGIL and the public. As late as Punisher War Journal 74, Frank's glad that he's still thought to be dead. So any appearances of the Punisher where he's publicly known to be alive have to take place before this arc or be pushed forward into 1995.
Posted by: Michael | October 16, 2017 8:58 PM
I mean, a photographer for the Daily Bugle knows he's alive, but i've updated the Considerations. Thanks.
Posted by: fnord12 | October 16, 2017 10:44 PM
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