Monday, February 6, 2017

The Patriot And The Punisher!

It's probably not unheard of to find two men on the same page as far as their commitment to fight crime, and yet be such polar opposites in the way that they bring dangerous criminals to justice. That's an observation one could easily make of Captain America and the Punisher, who differ sharply in how they deal with those who have broken the law. For Cap, he feels he's done his duty by stopping the perp and putting a halt to their plans, at which point he punts to either local or federal law enforcement for their dispensation; whereas the Punisher's methods can be deciphered from his very name, his brand of vigilante justice being summarily and fatally dispensed from the barrel of a gun, and appeals denied on the spot.

It's fair to say, then, that the Punisher's methods are in conflict with what Captain America feels that his country and its citizens aspire to: "I cannot represent the American government," he would define his role, "...the President does that. I must represent the American people. I represent the American dream, the freedom to strive to become all that you dream of being." Yet along with such weighty ideals, he also fervently believes in upholding the law, and everyone's rights under that law, including that of due process. The Punisher, however, sidesteps the judicial process that, if skillfully navigated or taken advantage of by a defense attorney, could lead to a criminal's release back onto the street--taking it upon himself to act as both judge and jury, and, if necessary, executioner. It seems a rare day that he doesn't find it necessary; in fact, even before he's apprehended a target criminal, their sentence has already been meted out in his mind. To the Punisher, Cap's high-minded ideals are one thing--the reality is something else entirely. Only one of these men keeps a "war journal," and it's not difficult to guess which.

Unlike the Punisher's encounters with Spider-Man, there aren't many meetings between the Punisher and Captain America on record (that is, "on the books" in a comic book sense)--which seems strange, since in Cap's mind the Punisher likely exceeds the rather harmless description of "misguided" by many levels and would normally merit a manhunt to apprehend him. Yet after they meet for the first time in 1980 (that is, with Frank Castle now firmly in his role as the Punisher), and other than a brief confrontation in the Punisher's "War Journal" title, it would be over a decade later before the two would cross paths again extensively and be featured in a three-issue mini-series in 1992, where they tackled a conspiracy involving a South American dictator.

But how did that first meeting set the tone for their future dealings with each other? If we're going by the cover imagery of that initial issue, the Punisher, while a great admirer of Cap, isn't inclined to bring his code of conduct into alignment with Cap's unrealistic restrictions--not by a *ahem* longshot.

The catalyst for this first meeting is in the form of a mob courier who has information on a secret meeting of underworld bosses--a prime opportunity for the Punisher to take out the leaders of two mobs at a stroke. But the fearful courier has an unexpected guardian angel in Cap, who has saved his life already from two hit men from a rival gang and now encounters him again, his life in danger once more--only this time from the deadly soldier known as the Punisher.

With the courier still alive after the Punisher's escape, Cap makes sure he gets medical care before racing to head off his armed attacker. Yet it's clear that Cap has made up his mind about the man, thanks to what he's just seen--actions which support what he already knows of the Punisher's reputation.

Meanwhile, the Punisher has reached the site of the meeting and begins making preparations for his deadly assassination of the mob bosses. With the Punisher being a lone operative, and given his tendency to document his activities, one of the key insights into his character is in the form of the meticulous updates of his so-called war journal, acting as narrative as well as a substitute for the thought balloons which other solo characters such as Spider-Man are provided with to move the plot along. This war of his appears to play out in his head on a daily basis, as if to reinforce his commitment to wipe out the threat that others are too incapable of taking action against--the criminals whose vicious lifestyle has robbed him of his entire family.

While the Punisher is in the field, we're never quite certain if these journal entries are made after the fact, or whether we're simply witnessing the way his mind works--a distraction to deal with the grief that he must still carry for his loss. Perhaps it's a combination of both. With all the titles that he's successfully headlined, there are surely instances where he's been pictured either recording or writing these entries; on the other hand, keeping records of criminal activity is one thing, but why keep hard documentation of how you set a detonator, or how this or that criminal would pay for what they've done? Something tells me this man would be making a "war journal entry" for practically anything that was relevant to his circumstances--almost a kind of therapy that his subconscious has put in play.

With Cap's arrival, it's another opportunity for the two to come to terms and find common ground; unfortunately, Cap has already demonstrated his intention to interfere with the Punisher's plan, and the Punisher responds accordingly. How curious, though, for the Punisher to open fire, considering that his plan depends on stealth and surprise on the premises. The resulting fight that breaks out serves to demonstrate the difference between these two men, with Cap the only one taking steps to preserve lives while making sure that the gang members are dealt with. By the same token, there's no denying that it's the Punisher's methods that allow Cap to take the initiative, whether he wants to admit it or not.

Once he's in close quarters, Cap handily deals with the remaining opposition. During the wrap-up, it's revealed that Giovanni's "bodyguard" is actually a federal agent who was working undercover--a fact that Cap doesn't hesitate to mention to the Punisher, whose detonation of the tower would have ended her life. Though in the end, that explosion still occurs; with the Punisher on the verge of being taken into custody, he activates the detonator and uses the explosion to cover his escape. In the aftermath, it's clear neither of these men are willing to cut the other much slack.

As for whether these two had their reckoning, that first image that you glimpsed above that shows Cap whaling on the Punisher makes it clear that they haven't resolved their differences. Interestingly, the altercation (to put it mildly) comes during the time when Cap and his allies are in the middle of a war of their own--the events of Civil War, with the Punisher having joined Cap's team "since the other guys started enlisting known thieves and multiple killers." But later, when the villains known as Goldbug and the Plunderer are brought in by Diamondback and offer their services to Cap's team, that lens is the only one the Punisher sees through--and he guns the newcomers down in cold blood. At that point, Cap has made his choice regarding the Punisher's character--and certainly his continued presence in their midst.

Ironically, it was the Punisher who was on hand when Cap finally surrendered to Iron Man's forces--picking up Cap's discarded mask and giving the item serious thought. Frankly, I don't think the world is ready for "Captain Punisher"--but the House of Ideas has gone off the deep end before.

The Punisher faces the incredible Hulk!
(He'll probably need a few more guns!)

Captain America #241

Script: Mike Barr
Pencils: Frank Springer
Inks: Pablo Marcos
Letterer: John Costanza


Colin Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

The look on Cap's face in that last panel seems to suggest that Cap is something of a fanatic in his own right, albeit one with a starkly different code than the Punisher.
Talking about the upcoming Hulk/Punisher meting, I seem to remember the Punisher going after Ulik at one point. Or maybe he was just trying to get away from him, which makes more sense!
It takes a lot to amuse Ulik, who's not generally known for his sense of humor, but the Punisher shooting at him with a mortal weapon struck him as pretty funny. I can't see the Hulk being amused by it, however. He doesn't like that.


Comicsfan said...

M.P., I believe you may be thinking of Lt. Stone of the Code: Blue special forces unit, who was intent on arresting Ulik and bringing him in. It's definitely worthy of a post one of these days--Stone's tenacity in treating Ulik as any other perp to be brought to justice was such a clever sequence and made for fun reading. :)

Anonymous said...

While the Lt. Stone/Ulik clash is a favorite of mine, (Ulik wears a suit and sunglasses at one point!) the Punisher did try to off Ulik, quite a few years later. I don't know how to post a link, but just google Ulik vs. Punisher.
It's kinda funny!


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