ďHow I Won The War - Part 3: Mutually Assured DestructionĒ
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artists: Ariel Olivetti, Dean White (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
After a couple of fairly solid issues, this monthís Punisher: War Journal is a bit of a letdown. Having already dealt with the Punisher's role in Civil War fairly comprehensively, there isnít much more in the way of story for this book to mine from that event. Nevertheless, Fraction uses the first half of the issue to further his exploration of the relationship between Frank Castle and Steve Rogers as two soldiers separated by a number of years and some fundamental differences in their attitudes to the war that they currently face.
Flashing back to the war in Vietnam, Fraction shows us an early meeting between a young Frank Castle and Captain America. Itís nice to see Cap given a harder edge as he deals with a group of Marines, and it made me realise just how rarely we get to see Rogers in full military mode, acting more as a soldier than a superhero. Castleís unwillingness to strike Cap shows a certain respect, but subsequent developments also mark Frank out as a socially dysfunctional, obsessive and almost masochistic individual. It's quite a fitting take on the character and suggests that these psychological elements are seeds of his future identity as the Punisher which predate the murder of his family. However, it doesnít add a huge amount to the present-day story, other than fleshing out the reasons why he wonít fight back against Captain Americaís physical reprimands. Although this vignette is a little confusing if weíre to reconcile their meeting with the current Marvel timeline, some creative thinking would allow it to pass by fairly easily. However, the writer then muddies the waters by suggesting that the Captain America that Frank Castle met in Vietnam might have actually been a stand-in during the period in which Steve Rogers was frozen in ice. Itís an addition to the story which only weakens the ideas that Fraction is trying to get across about the two men, and he should have had more confidence in his readers to accept the blurry continuity of the encounter in the service of an important element of the story.
The book then jumps ahead (presumably to allow the events of Civil War #7 to play out) to show the Punisher recovering from a four-day period of unconsciousness which isnít given any explanation. Finding himself in a S.H.I.E.L.D. armoury (again, for reasons which arenít given here), he tools up and prepares to re-enter the Marvel Universe proper, again bringing his war on crime to super-villains rather than the more grounded enemies that he faces in his MAX title. In the main, itís a welcome development and gives Fraction an angle which should allow for a more traditional super-hero take on the character in future issues; however, the details of the story have to be kept so vague as to be bland and uninteresting, for fear of spoiling the still-unreleased Civil War #7. Iím not averse to tight continuity between books, but when an unreleased issue of another book is required reading in order to properly understand whatís going on in current issues of this title, it can only have a negative impact on the readerís reaction to the story. In truth, the Civil War tie-in elements of this series already feel stretched and unnecessary, and Iíll be interested to see whether writer Matt Fraction can hold interest in the book once he has to go it alone.
Ariel Olivetti continues to produce some pretty art. His figures are delicately shaded and outlined in finely detailed lines, and the muted, soft colouring of Dean White adds to the more realistic style of the visuals. It might not be my first choice for a more traditional superhero book, but it works in the context of this title. Unfortunately, itís in service of a below-par story which doesnít provide much insight into the title character beyond what we were given last issue. Whatís more, this issue doesnít stand as complete in its own right, and those of us who want to know more are going to have to wait another month for the final instalment of Marvelís big crossover book to fill in the gaps. Itís bad planning on Marvelís part, and I can only hope that similar events in future will be handled in such a way that satellite stories like this one arenít reliant on the content of other books in order to make sense. On its own terms, the story isnít even that compelling: this is very much a transitional issue to set up the post-Civil War direction of the title, and I can only hope that this is the final instalment that will feature Captain America and his Secret Avengers, as Civil War is already starting to feel like it has outstayed its welcome here.
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