The year is 1971 in Vietnam, Captain Frank Castle leads what is left of his Marine platoon while they head out on seek and destroy missions defending their position Firebase Valley Forge. After a few successful ambushes, Castle believes that the NVA are setting up for a major offensive that will over run them. And for some reason, he feels right at home. -summary
The MAX line of comics by Marvel Comics is by far their greatest creation to me; characters such as the Punisher, Nick Fury, Bullseye, and the Kingpin were no doubt tailor made for these edgier and extremely graphic stories. The MAX line was actually created back in 2001, but I was a late bloomer to it until I saw that one of my favorite characters, the Punisher, was taking a leap into that dimension, and ever since my introduction to this new world for the cold blooded vigilante, I can easily say that I been reading the best Punisher stories ever written over the last few years. I've rarely been disappointed with Punisher: Born being among the most interesting despite being somewhat flawed.
Written in 2003 as a four part series by Garth Ennis, Punisher: Born is an origin tale that documents Castle's time during the Vietnam War, and I don't believe the setting could have been much better. The Vietnam War had not only went down as the bloodiest and most pointless war in our history, but quite possibly the scariest because it showcased the absolute worst of humanity; American soldiers were being hooked on drugs and were capable of some of the worst acts with rape being among them. Therefore, I can imagine this world having a truly negative effect on the psyche of Frank Castle. Ennis explores Castle's lust for blood through the eyes of another soldier named Goodwin. And to him, the man fated to become the Punisher is indeed terrifying.
The story follows Castle as he takes extreme measures to prepare for the major NVA attack. The plot mainly deals with the character development concerning Castle, Goodwin, and various Marines "escaping" from the world they currently frequent; outside of the characters, the plot is pretty much thin. When the focus is on Castle, it appears that he's suffering from an internal conflict that fully embraces the horrors of war. This part somewhat feels left up to the readers own interpretation though, because it can seem unclear if it's his own mind taking joy in the carnage, or maybe there's something supernatural playing a role here. There is evidence to heavily support the latter, which lends a rather chilling, and even scary twist to the ending.
When looking at this story, I'm still a little unsure on how to look at Castle from this point on though. If this story is the catalyst to what created the Punisher, then one can argue that Castle was a killer anyway, which removes him from the sympathetic light he was originally portrayed in. I seriously doubt leaving the frontlines would have brought him any type of satisfaction in his life. He didn't need his family to be killed later on to continue some type of war, and this is where some of the story kind of bothers me in a way. I think Punisher: Born could have benefited from a greater length, this way, Castle could have been examined ever since his first tour (this is actually his third). I don't think four issues was enough. I would have liked to see what he was like before the flying bullets, the death, the horror, etc. Taking this story at face value, it seems Castle is probably just as bad as the criminals he kills, with the only thing separating the two is his sense of justice by protecting the innocent. But in a way, it's difficult to count this as a flaw, because it can be argued that this adds to the complexity of the character. Perhaps this is why I have such a fascination with the Punisher and enjoy this story the way I do, because everything can't be cut and dry.
Darick Robertson's pencils and Tom Palmer's ink's could be a good enough reason on its own to warrant a look. The artwork is exactly what one would expect on a story taking place during the Vietnam conflict. The action panels are very brutal with people being shot through the eyes, brains blown out, and ball bearings from claymore mines ripping people to pieces, with splattered brain matter and everything. The night time backgrounds give off this feel as if death is hovering over all of these men just waiting to claim their souls.
Punisher: Born adds a great deal of backstory to the character. He's indeed a complex individual with more depth than most characters. Plus the brutal, graphic action doesn't overshadow the character development. The book is no doubt for adult readers, as it not only features disturbing death scenes, but rape and foul language as well. This is a story that I recommend not only to fans of the Punisher, but also casual comic readers who prefer the dark side of the genre.
-Character development, action, artwork
-Short length keeps story from reaching full dramatic potential
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