Saturday, December 8, 2012

Who Punishes The Punisher?

"Gerry Conway was writing a script and he wanted a character that would turn out to be a hero later on, and he came up with the name the Assassin. And I mentioned that I didn't think we could ever have a comic book where the hero would be called the Assassin, because there's just too much of a negative connotation to that word. And I remembered that, some time ago, I had had a relatively unimportant character ... was one of Galactus' robots, and I had called him the Punisher, and it seemed to me that that was a good name for the character Gerry wanted to write--so I said, 'Why not call him the Punisher?' And, since I was the editor, Gerry said, 'Okay.' " -- Stan Lee, describing the recycling of the "Punisher" name

And with more than enough punishment to go around, these two characters continue to co-exist:

The original Punisher is still an interesting character to me, even though I've yet to hear one word from him and I'm only aware of vague details of his origin. He really amounts to being Galactus' pet Rottweiler that's sicked on planetary inhabitants who try to interfere with him while he's setting up his energy converter in order to drain the planet's life force:

Up to that point (and perhaps ever since), Lee's description of him during his introduction is all we have to go on:

I had the impression Lee was shooting from the hip as far as coming up with wording that would give the character sufficient build-up to tackle the Fantastic Four. But we can speculate on a couple of things. First, since Lee gives a point of origin for him, it's likely Galactus conscripted him rather than creating him as he did Ardina. (Nova even called him an alien at one time.) And we learn that half of him is actually alive. Indeed, when Iron Man has his own battle with the Punisher, writer Bill Mantlo reiterates Lee's description with this interesting tidbit:

The Punisher's status as a partially living being is certainly conspicuous enough--but that would seem to be where our speculation has to end. The Punisher's actions, as well as the circumstances of his appearances, have him come across as more of a deadly, unfeeling automaton to be used by others, with little to no deviation throughout the character's history. It's probably that rep as a powerhouse that keeps his origin at bay, since he's obviously more useful in a story to throw things in disarray and challenge whatever character(s) he's thrown against. That was definitely the case with the FF:

(Anyone notice the error in Reed's analysis?)

But it wasn't until his battle with Iron Man (while in thrall to the Rigellian Colonizers) that we would get to see a real knock-down drag-out with the Punisher. First, Iron Man maneuvers his foe into the path of a "super missile," where the Punisher bears the full brunt of the explosion (which accounts for the injury Iron Man analyzes above). But when the two crash-land in Detroit, the battle begins in earnest and Iron Man vows to stop the Punisher:

The Punisher seems bred for battle, meeting Iron Man's strategic decisions and countering with his own power. Iron Man is pretty much facing a bruiser here--and Mantlo's scripting keeps the reader riveted:

Finally, it's all or nothing, as Iron Man takes a gamble which seems to be the go-to tactic other writers occasionally pull out of the hat whenever Iron Man is in danger of losing a desperate battle. Yet by now we've been well-prepped to see the Punisher go down, so we're not really picky at this point how it gets done:

And for the first time, we see the Punisher laid out. You might even say "punished," heh heh. The citizens of Detroit, a city that's seen better days, didn't exactly appreciate having their city turned into a war zone.  But they had a ringside seat to one hell of a battle--and Iron Man, still standing at the end of it, had an impressive win to add to his history.

Of course we didn't see the last of the Punisher, eventually ending up again with Galactus. I was a little disappointed to see Galactus send a small army of Punishers against Thanos, which effectively quashed any curiosity the Punisher may have held to readers as an individual entity. I suppose that's really no great loss--there's been no demand from readers for those details, as far as I can tell. But being the scrapper that he is, the Punisher will probably still have a job at Marvel for the foreseeable future.

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