Page 45 Review by Jonathan
Welcome back, Frank!
I have to say, I've missed you, buddy. Nobody but nobody writes Frank Castle better than Garth Ennis and the character is never better than when removed from the chaffing restrictions of the capes-and-tights milieu and placed squarely smack bang into a real world of pain.
"And that is not an order you ever expect to hear. But that was the thing. He had the instinct for it.
"The rest of us knew how to survive, but at the end of the day we were civilians in uniform. A bunch of conscripts, getting short, waiting to go home... which we knew we'd do without a backward glance.
"He'd been in-country a week, but he just knew without having to be told. Him and Dryden.
"There was only one answer to this.
"And not just violence. That's too simple a word, it doesn't cover it.
"This was something else, this was forgetting everything else you'd ever been taught about the very idea of civilisation...
"You had to...kind of let the devil in the door."
The surviving members - well, all except one - of Fourth Platoon, Kilo Company, Third Battalion of the Twenty-Sixth Marine regiment have gathered in a bar at the behest of writer Michael Goodwin, whose book 'Valley Forge, Valley Forge' about the massacre of an entire Marine firebase and the subsequent creation of the Punisher following the loss of his family in Central Park won Goodwin several plaudits. He's interested in interviewing them about their recollections of their absent comrade, their former commander, one Second Lieutenant Frank Castle...
So, just in case you were in any doubt, we are well and truly back in the brutal world of PUNISHER MAX, and indeed back in 'Nam, the veritable world of pain I was just referring to.
So what angle is Michael Goodwin taking this time?
"I guess I was thinking about the innocence we had about ourselves: I'm of that generation too, remember, I was just too young for the draft. But that isn't... Okay, I wrote a book about Firebase Valley Forge and the Punisher. Castle sees his family killed in front of him, and I don't think it's hard to find the roots of what he does next in that third duty of duty.
"But what about his first tour? The one he returns from at the end of '68 and nothing else happens? The one where - just maybe - he still has a chance.
"You see, it's not just about the war and what was lost to it. It's not just about the country, either. It's about the guys who came home. Well, he came home from his time in Vietnam, the time that changes everything about America. He had a life before the Punisher, and I've been thinking about this ever since my book... I...
"The way I see it, all I did was write the ending.
"I never wrote the story."
He has, though, (thank you Garth!) just pretty much written my review for me. I wouldn't normally quote so much from a comic, but I think it's important for you to understand, if you are not already familiar with Garth's PUNISHER MAX material, that this is not a superhero comic. It's a war comic, and more importantly - as in the tradition of the very best war comics - it has something important to say about the profound impact combat inevitably has on the people who go through it. Even a fictional character like Frank Castle. How they are changed. For one cannot go through the horrors of war without being transformed. For some it's only a little, perhaps a shifting they can learn to live with, in time. For others... there is really no way back home ever again. Not in the emotional sense, certainly. Some... well, some perhaps find what they've been searching for all along...
This work is a perfect coda to the Vietnam-based elements, 'Born' now found in PUNISHER MAX VOL 1 and 'Valley Forge, Valley Forge' now found in PUNISHER MAX VOL 4. Yes, technically it's a prequel, but it both informs and is informed by those two arcs which bookended Garth's extended run. Here he's teamed up once again with Goran STARLIGHT Parlov who illustrated several PUNISHER MAX arcs including the utterly hilarious one starring the demented and depraved lunatic, the Barracuda. There is also plenty of black comedy to be had here.
Parlov brings an angular steeliness to young Frank, whilst still giving him the appearance of a young blue-eyed inexperienced man, almost movie star-like in his statuesque and resolute handsomeness, having not yet been exposed to the tempestuous weathering of war. That comes soon enough, though, as Frank's platoon, stuck in a forward position with insufficient firepower and some serious bad country to deal with, rapidly begin to realise that whilst the new LT might be a rookie, he certainly isn't green.