“Goin’ Out West”
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Ariel Olivetti
Publisher: Marvel Comics
So if you read my reviews of Punisher MAX, particularly the last review, you know that I love Garth Ennis’ take on Frank Castle. I appreciate the fact that Ennis focuses more on the supporting cast than he does the Punisher himself, but no matter how predictable or formulaic the stories may seem, Ennis delivers great action, drama and suspense month after month. I suppose it was only a matter of time before the Punisher made his return to the mainstream Marvel universe and when he finally did, I wasn’t all that impressed. I wasn’t too big on how he was brought back and how his character was handled. But exploring the relationship between Captain America and the Punisher was key for War Journal as Matt Fraction does not do what Ennis does. Instead, Fraction focuses on Frank Castle, an otherwise one-dimensional and violent character, who now has new motivation for his war on evil in the mainstream Marvel Universe. While Captain America’s “death” remains controversial and many are counting down the days until Steve Rogers re-emerges, many writers are maintaining a great handle on how Cap’s “death” is having an affect on the characters they are writing.
One character who readers have discovered have a very profound respect for Captain America is Frank Castle. Both soldiers, the two men come from different eras of war, but deep down they uphold the same love for America. Matt Fraction has proven that he has got the right idea of the Punisher, and this series presents a great balance between the supporting cast and Frank Castle, but much more Castle-centric than Ennis’ series. At the end of last issue, Frank Castle witnessed Captain America’s “death” as the newscast was broadcast all over New York’s Times Square. Most readers have seen the promo art, the Punisher version of Captain America or “Captain Punisher” as I have cheesily named him, and this issue marks the debut of the Punisher’s new duds. So the question ultimately becomes, “why?”
I wasn’t really sure where this issue would go, but Matt Fraction manages to deliver a hit full with suspense, action and humor without the blood and guts that have become a trademark of Garth Ennis. Instead, over the past few issues, Matt Fraction has done a superb job of re-introducing the Punisher to the Marvel Universe with appearances from the likes of Bushwhacker and G.W. Bridge to D-list villains like the Wisp or Dragon Man. Following the political climate of Civil War, Marvel’s post-war stories seem to follow that same tone of politics and choosing sides. The Initiative declares that you are either with Iron Man or hunted by him. Not only is the Punisher a fugitive of the Registration Act, but he is also a straight fugitive evading his predator, Bridge. The politics of not only Civil War but also the real world play a huge role in this issue as the border debate takes center stage.
Perhaps it is only a matter of time before we actually see in reality the events that transpire in this issue. The border debate is a hot topic in America right now, and in this issue of Punisher War Journal, white supremacists decide to take border control into their own hands. It’s an absolutely fantastic idea that really isn’t all that far fetched. After all, the last installment of Darwyn Cooke’s The Spirit presents a father and son waiting on the border with a shotgun waiting to pick off the border jumpers. But seriously, what is to stop a white supremacist group and militia from patrolling the borders?
Anyways, Fraction and Olivetti treats us to some fantastic action on the streets of New York as the Punisher is on the run from Bridge’s assault and from some Cape Killers. In classic, non-violent Punisher action, Frank has no guns, just a few boxes of high tech supplies which he doesn’t use against them, and he escapes the Cape Killers. Seriously, the way that Frank gets away is absolutely classic and perfectly plausible.
However, it is what Frank sees the next day in the newspaper that gets him really P’Oed. The leader of the white supremacists, the classic Captain America villain, Hate-Monger, has desecrated Captain America’s uniform by spicing it up with Nazi regalia. Anyone who has been reading this title knows that’s enough to get the Punisher angry. So the Punisher decides to go to confront Hate-Monger. It is at this point we get treated to only a tease of Captain Punisher.
I applaud and commend Matt Fraction on this issue. This is one of the best “lead-in” issues I think I may have ever read. It keeps the main storyline of War Journal going and keeps it in line with the happenings in the Marvel Universe, but it also keeps moving forward with a fresh storyline. Matt Fraction’s writing is on point, everything flows well and the action, suspense, drama and humor all hit as exactly the right time. Coupled with Ariel Olivetti’s artwork, this is a fantastic issue well worth the price. All you really need is a general idea of what is going on in the Marvel Universe, and you can easily follow this story. Olivetti’s artwork is definitely the strongest it has been thus far on this series. I really feel like he was really passionate about this particular story as he and Fraction are turning into one fantastic team.
This book proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Matt Fraction is a force to be reckoned with and that yes, it is possible to write the Punisher well and not be named Garth Ennis. This is the first issue utilizing Cap’s “death” that I have actually really enjoyed. Welcome back, Frank. This is my Pick of the Week.
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