Born is a four-issue comic book limited series featuring the Marvel Comics character Frank Castle a.k.a. the Punisher. The series was released in 2003 written by Garth Ennis and penciled by Darick Robertson.
If you think payback's bad, you haven't met Frank Castle. 86%
May 22, 2012
Since late 2010, I've been getting into the world of graphic novels, mostly with acclaimed Batman titles and some limited series like V for Vendetta and the Watchmen. I recently got into The Punisher after a respectable comic buff confirmed that I'd love Garth Ennis's spin on Marvel's iconic vigilante (especially since Ennis's Punisher books are under Marvel's MAX imprint, which is made for titles featuring gory violence, nudity, and sexual content). I picked this one up first as it was the cheapest, and am glad to have read it!!
Punisher: Born is set during the Vietnam War in late 1971. Valley Forge Firebase on the Cambodian border is one of the last US military bases in the region, and Captain Frank Castle is one of the last Marines on the base committed to the fight. With dwindling supplies and manpower, Castle senses a giant Viet Cong attack, and to survive, he must make a grim decision that will change his life forever.
While this comic benefits from having a cast full of believable characters, it's Frank Castle that's the best developed character here, after all, as this story is about how he'd become the type of killing machine that's a central trait for The Punisher. Like what some other reviewers have pointed out, this story is like a character study of Castle. Castle is portrayed as a man who lives for the war, and throughout the comic, he struggles with an inner-voice that keeps nudging him into becoming an unstoppable killer. Born does a great job portraying Castle as a man with the darkest urges to go on killing those “that deserve it.” Examples of this is when he leads General Padden to his death by making him walk to a sniper range after Padden threatens to shut down the base, and when Castle drowns McDonald for raping a female Viet Cong (though Castle would shoot her in the head, stating that they're here to kill the enemy). The two other most developed characters are fellow Marines Steve Goodwin and Angel. Goodwin counts down the days when he'll be taken out of Vietnam for good while feeling optimistic for all the good things that he thinks await him, and Angel is a druggie that doesn't care about “coming home,” as he feels being black, that all that awaits him is a deadly ghetto.
The artwork in this comic is, for the most part, superb. The way the characters are drawn is impressive (despite being in a comic, they have a strong “realistic” aesthetic to them), and especially with Castle, he perfectly matches the unfortunate person whose young, but has seen way too much darkness for someone his age. In the panels where there's combat, there's a sense of visual grittiness that perfectly fits the grimness of the war. This is all done thanks to line artist Darick Robertson and ink artist Tom Palmer, which their combination of artistic contributions create a visually detailed, grimy look of the last days of the Vietnam war.
My only complaint with the artwork is that in the scenes where you'd see Castle and other Marines in the jungle, you can notice that stock “leaf” and “grass” paint brushes from Photoshop were used to color the trees and grass. Not to knock on Palmer, but you'd think that because this is an effort by a publishing juggernaut like Marvel, that they'd stray away from using such stock artistic tools in this area. Knowledge from my college studies in action, hahaha. Oh well, besides this one blemish, I loved the artwork in Born.
Without spoiling the ending, I'll merely say that near the end, Frank Castle looks like something from your worst nightmares, and is a perfect visual representation of the man.
With Born being a part of Marvel's “mature” MAX line of comics, it's certainly not a comic you'd lend out to the kids. With this book taking place in the Vietnam War, there's plenty of scenes with soldiers being torn apart with Claymore mines (this is really gruesome) and heavy-caliber gunfire. There's also a part of the book where a Marine rapes an injured female Viet Cong guerrilla, though you only see an exposed breast on the guerrilla and an exposed buttocks on the Marine.
There's also a lot of salty language in this comic, as the F and S-bombs are used pretty liberally and even some racial slurs are thrown around, though none of these feel gratuitous as given the context of the story, these salty words fit in perfectly.
Garth Ennis struck gold with this tale telling how Frank Castle would eventually become The Punisher. My only overall complaint with this mini-series is that it could have been a little longer to develop the story and characters some more, but what's done here is really well-done, and you should read this if you're craving a comic that does a great job showing how The Punisher was formed.