One of the best things about Marvel movies or TV shows is how the comics publisher tends to put out pertinent comic collections to meet any new demand. Case in point, Punisher War Journal Complete Collection by Matt Fraction and, on the same day, The Punisher Epic Collection: Kingpin Rules. This Fraction collection stands out due to it being primed for filming. It not only captures the vigilantism of Frank Castle, but also throws a mean twist on him with new tech gizmos, has him fight a white supremacist, and more.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
The Punisher is back – with a vengeance! When the superhuman Civil War breaks out, Frank Castle finds himself square in the crosshairs of G.W. Bridge, a S.H.I.E.L.D. big gun who always gets his man. Frank should be laying low, but when spandex-clad bad guys start carrying badges…well, that’s something he just can’t abide. But can the Punisher play by Captain America’s rules? In the war’s aftermath, Frank infiltrates a super-militia bent on igniting a bloody race war – and led by the new Hate-Monger! With Bridge in hot pursuit, can the Punisher disrupt the National Force’s plans…or will he succumb to hate? Plus: an all-new look for the Punisher brings the Winter Soldier out of the woodwork…and can Frank stand up to the alien madness of World War Hulk?
Can I jump in easily?
Relatively easily, since it’s the start of Fraction’s run on the character. The opening issues take place during “Civil War” so there is some context required to understand where the bigger story is at.
Reason 1: A match made in heaven
Early on Fraction and artist Ariel Olivetti (who draws the majority of issues collected here) have Punisher track down Stuart Clarke aka Rampage. He’s a younger Tinkerer type who also has mad jealousy for Iron Man. They quickly learn they can help each other in Punisher’s new war in a Civil War world where heroes are fighting heroes. Fraction sets up a believable scenario where Punisher is well aware he can’t do his usual work with guns alone but needs some higher tech stuff. This leads to Clarke helping Frank with weaponry, and later, with a Captain America homage suit for the ages. The two riff off each other nicely with Frank being tough as nails and Clarke being a much more relaxed character. It’s not too different than Frank’s relationship with David Lieberman aka Micro in the Netflix series. Clarke is much more dramatic though with his mini-Iron Man bots and flair for the dramatic. The relationship permeates the entire collection and even takes a very traumatic turn later in the issue when Clarke’s girlfriend gets caught in the action.
Reason 2: Punisher vs. white supremacy
In the second half of this collection, Frank must do the right thing due to Captain America being taken off the board and no other hero being up for the job. The task at hand is stopping mass killings on the Mexican border thanks to a villain called Hate-Monger. Fraction writes him for a modern era with the character inflicting, in his words, border jihad, and proclaiming, “America is for Americans.” Sound familiar? Punisher is going to have none of this but soon finds out Hate-Monger even has a device to spread hate among good-natured people. It’s a device that could be equated to lies and slander these days, but it’s just as powerful. As I read this story I kept pondering if Marvel would ever publish something like this today, but given the political climate around border security, I imagine it could be taken the wrong way. For a film or TV series though it could be quite poignant.
Reason 3: Punisher goes vigilante with star heroes.
It’s rare to see Punisher team up with other heroes, but he does so in this collection thanks to his undying allegiance to Captain America. It doesn’t last long, but for a solid issue Frank is beating up bad guys with Captain America fully backing him up. It’s a cool sequence and it’s fun to see how Fraction links the two on a mission. Cap is well aware Frank kills (in fact that’s what sinks their relationship), but it’s nice to see Cap understand he needs a man like Punisher in times like this. It’s also fun to see how Punisher needs to be strategic in fighting supervillains alongside superheroes when all he has is weaponry.
Reasons to be wary?
The Hate-Monger portion of the story is framed too heavily around flashbacks and flashforwards. Each issue reveals Frank being caught by Hate-Monger but also working him prior to being caught. It takes a lot of the dramatic tension of the story since we know what will happen. It also yo-yos so much it grows tiresome and ends up feeling stretched out and decompressed.
Is there a rationale for the reasons?
I highly recommend this collection and I barely touched on how amazing Ariel Olivetti’s art was throughout. His art stands out especially when he colors the work with an unreal quality that is realistic and dynamic. On top of that, Matt Fraction has crafted quite a dramatic story that would suit the big or small screen. Frank Castle is forced to fight in a world where vigilantism makes more sense than ever and he takes it upon himself to do the right thing. This collection is well written, topical, and well worth adapting to TV or movies.
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