Punisher War Zone #1-11
Issue(s): Punisher War Zone #1, Punisher War Zone #2, Punisher War Zone #3, Punisher War Zone #4, Punisher War Zone #5, Punisher War Zone #6, Punisher War Zone #7, Punisher War Zone #8, Punisher War Zone #9, Punisher War Zone #10, Punisher War Zone #11
The initial story and creative team in this new series definitely make these issues worthwhile. The art team is John Romita Jr. with Klaus Janson (at least to start; Janson leaves after issue #7 and Romita after issue #8), and their work is really distinct. And there's an actual ongoing plot here. It's not the generic "he will shoot them in a house / he will shoot them with a mouse / on a train / in the rain" stories that we've been seeing in Punisher War Journal. But that just raises the question of why this story didn't just get published in War Journal.
The answer, of course, is that the Punisher was selling, so why not pump out another book. In the first entry of War Journal, i noted how quickly it was that the Punisher got a second book, compared to Spider-Man, or compared to how long it took Wolverine to get an on-going. At this point, the Punisher has left Wolverine in the dust. Only one ongoing solo series, Wolverine? Slacker.
But regardless of the crass commercialism of it all, this is a worthwhile story. The Punisher decides to infiltrate a mob organization, so he spends a portion of these issues under cover as a mob enforcer as he disrupts their operations, pits the leader of the mob against his brother, and eventually kills the leader. At the same time, Punisher and Micro are having a tiff, so Micro leaves and is unavailable when Punisher needs additional information or support. So it's a fresh scenario.
Micro leaves because of the Punisher's reaction to Micro going to see a therapist.
Punisher has a hard time coming to grips with the fact that Micro is angry and has left. The Punisher keeps thinking that Micro will just come back.
Punisher gets into the mob after capturing a low level goon named Mickey Fondozzi. Punisher makes Mickey pretend that he is his cousin.
Punisher calls himself Johnny Tower this time.
The mob family are the Carbones. Julius Carbone is the head of the family. Sal is his brother, and, initially, a near equal partner. The Carbones are said to be trying to increase their influence now that the Kingpin is out of the picture. To prevent that, the Feds have hired Shotgun (previously seen in Daredevil) to stop them, so he's another player in this story.
Julius has a daughter, Rosa, who has a tryst with the Punisher.
I like JRJR's art, and it's not as stylized as his art on his recent Iron Man run. Or it's stylized in a different way. It's less abstract. But the characters, and the Punisher especially, are nothing short of gigantic.
Punisher launches a series of attacks on the Carbones' organization, and manages to pin them on Sal. Eventually Julius has the Punisher and Mickey kill Sal. The hit doesn't go quite as expected, but Sal is trapped under ice and assumed dead.
In issue #4, we see what some people think is the Kingpin. When Shotgun thinks he recognizes Johnny Tower as the Punisher, he goes to Riker's to interview a prisoner who was there when the Punisher broke out. The prisoner gives Shotgun the Punisher's 'real' name (Frank Castle). After Shotgun leaves, we see some thugs beating up the interviewee to learn what he was asked about, while a fat bald guy smoking a cigar waits outside.
On the next page, the same guy is brought in to tell Carbone about the Punisher.
It's seems to be meant to be the Kingpin, but the chronology seems odd. This was published well after the fall of the Kingpin, and the scene with the Fed talking to Shotgun acknowledges that. But the fall of the Kingpin ends with the Kingpin on the run, not in prison. See the Considerations for more on the chronology. Storywise, the point is that it's this character who tips off Julius Carbone that Johnny Tower is really the Punisher (and that's the last we see of him).
After that, the mob ties up the Punisher and tries to kill him with a car bomb.
But the Punisher is rescued by Shotgun.
They team up and bring Mickey along with them, going after Julius Carbone.
Meanwhile, Sal Carbone escapes from the icy lake, although his memories are ruined. He takes the name Thorn based on a word on a random billboard.
Eventually everyone converges at the Carbones' getaway island, named La Isla De Tiburones Durimientes (Island of the Sleeping Sharks) so named because of a grotto so oxygen rich that it's the one place where sharks can survive without being on the move.
It's actually Sal/Thorn that kills Julio, dumping him into the shark pool (they ignore Thorn). Punisher then shoots Thorn, knocking him back into the pool, but he once again is pulled out of the water when it's all over. He'll appear again in an annual. In the meantime, Rosa isn't pleased with the Punisher.
And that ends the first storyline, although the follow-up begins soon afterwards (see Considerations). John Romita Jr. had initially just signed on for the original story, but it's said that he's been enjoying it so much that he's going to stay on. However, the art team starts to fall apart. First Mike Manley is brought in to supplement Janson's inks, then Janson leaves, then Romita leaves, replaced by Mike Harris (who gets credited with Breakdowns, not pencils), and by the last issue in this second arc there's three inkers.
It starts with Rosa taking over the Carbone operation.
We also check in with Micro, who is working as a bartender but feeling guilty.
Meanwhile, the Punisher is taking a "break" by stalking criminals in Central Park. He's really trying to locate a serial rapist, but in the mythical crime laden Central Park of 1990s comics, it's like a war zone (!) and the Punisher is tripping over random criminals left and right. He breaks up three different crimes (plus a false alarm) killing at least nine people, before finding the rapist.
The rapist's current victim turns out to also have been stalking him. She's really a cop.
The cop, Lynn Michaels, is working on this rapist case after hours, not officially. So she and the Punisher start working together.
Meanwhile, Rosa Carbone recruits a group of mercenaries to go after the Punisher.
The mercs are well introduced and a decent cast of characters, but with one exception they don't appear again after this story, so i'm not going to itemize them. The exception is Roc, who is actually one of the least interesting, but he will appear once more. He was born with "very few nerve endings" making him resistant to pain.
The mercs go after Mickey Fondozzi to get info on the Punisher. They hold him in the trunk of a car, but he escapes when the car is stolen by some joyriders.
Meanwhile, Micro decides to get back with Frank. When Punisher was tied up by the mob earlier (when Shotgun rescued him from the bomb), that was right in front of Micro and the Punisher's safehouses. Micro finds that the explosion opened up the building, and the local "squirrels" raided all the weapons. That's an interesting thing to bring up in a gun control debate, but it doesn't go further than that.
While the Punisher and Michaels are chasing the rapists, the mercs attack. Punisher kills the rapist, and from that point the rest of the story is just about the Punisher vs. the mercenaries.
The Punisher goes to Lynn's house after getting attacked by some of the mercs. Are those leg warmers? (We're past the JRJR art at this point, obviously).
After a merc attack at Lynn's house, she makes a pass at the Punisher.
That's the last we see of her in this story. The next time we see the Punisher, he's gone after Rosa Carbone directly.
Art is a complete mess by the final issue.
The Punisher takes Rosa to a shack in rural Pennsylvania. The idea is that he'll tell the Carbone mob that he's holding her there, and then all the mercenaries and the rest of the mob enforcers will come to rescue her, and he'll kill them all.
And that's what happens, with some help from Micro, who tracks the Punisher after a security alarm is tripped at the shack. The funny bit is that the Punisher isn't expecting Micro, so he assumes Micro is one of the bad guys at first.
In the end, just about everyone is dead, except Rosa. Micro and the Punisher reconcile.
It's a good story throughout. It definitely gets more traditional as it goes on. The scenario with the Punisher undercover in the mob is good because there's a sense of danger to it, the threat that the Punisher might get discovered. Once he's out in the open he reverts to his normal unkillable self. And the art gets worse as it goes on. Even if you don't like JRJR and Janson's style, when we get to Mike Harris and the multiple inkers it's just less professional looking. But despite all that, it continues to be good. Lynn Michaels has promise (and she'll continue to be used), and i like Rosa Carbone's takeover of her family's organization. The use of Shotgun is interesting. All the mercenaries that Rosa hires are quirky enough to be interesting even if they're ultimately Punisher fodder. And the dispute between Micro and the Punisher gives the story more depth.
Here is the popsicle scene mentioned in the comments, which was used in the 2004 Punisher film.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: There are actually two distinct stories here. The first is in issues #1-6, with the Punisher infiltrating the Carbone family and taking down Salvatore and Julius Carbone. The second is from #7-11, with Rosalie Carbone asserting control of the mob and organizing the hunt for the Punisher. So they could be broken out into two separate entries. But in issue #7, the Punisher says that taking out the Carbone family has cost him and he's taking some "down time" (granted, by hunting super-predators in Central Park). And the Punisher and Micro are still estranged between arcs. So most likely no other Punisher appearances should take place in between #6-7, and so i might as well condense it into a single entry. Regarding the Kingpin, i agree with Michael and Joe in the comments that it's not really him, although i'll note that the MCP does say that he's appearing here.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (2): showLynn Michaels, Mickey Fondozzi, Microchip, Punisher, Roc, Rosa Carbone, Sal Carbone, Shotgun (Mercenary)
War Zone was the only Punisher title I actually enjoyed back in the day, helped in large part by JRJR's artwork. I only tried the book out because I had a friend who normally didn't like comics but had suddenly gotten into Punisher books. I stayed with the title until a few issues after JRJR had left. Once he was gone I resumed my complete lack of interest in anything Frank Castle.
Posted by: Robert | January 26, 2016 4:01 PM
Regarding the Central Park scenes, remember that a major part of the Central Park Jogger controversy was skepticism that a serial rapist could be operating in Central Park at the same time as a group of kids assaulting and robbing people. So arguably Dixon's scenario was closer to reality then you're giving him credit for.
Posted by: Michael | January 26, 2016 8:53 PM
Issues #1-6 of War Zone was the last great Punisher story arc I ever read back in the day. They could have made for a better movie script than the three actual Punisher flicks altogether.
I've never thought of the bald headed prison guard (notice that's he's wearing some kind of audio device) as the Kingpin, especially since it seems like he just suits up to meet with Julius Carbone rather than show up in uniform, likely to cash in his info. I wasn't reading Last Rites at the time but it seems totally out of character for the Kingpin to seek an audience with lower level mobster even if he was down on his luck at the time. Besides that, Chuck Dixon doesn't even mention the guy by name, so I've assumed him to be an average prison guard on the take who ratted out Stiles after overhearing his conversation with Shotgun. Simple as that.
I loved the dialogue here so much, I sought out an Spanish version of the original trade paperback to share. The art suits the story nicely, but I dropped the book soon as Romita left during the second arc. I only read it in its entirety a couple of years ago after I got this entire run back in my collection.
Five stars all the way here in my book.
Posted by: Joe | January 27, 2016 5:35 AM
The 2004 Punisher movie DID use a lot of stuff from this. The torture/Popsicle scene is verbatim from these comics.
Posted by: AF | January 27, 2016 6:44 AM
Shame these panels don't show the Popsicle scene. It was the best part!
Posted by: JC | January 29, 2016 2:46 PM
Gotta say, Punisher looks like Solid Snake in some of the panels of the Romita Jr. issues.
Posted by: MegaSpiderMan | October 9, 2016 11:30 PM
If my memory serves right, Punisher War Zone was supposed to have a rotating cast of the best creators in the industry. The first arc with Chuck Dixon and JRJR was so popular that they had them back for a second arc. I guess Jr jr left before it was done.
Posted by: Mquinn1976 | October 12, 2017 2:43 PM
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