Graphic Novel Review: Punisher: The Platoon

The Punisher: The Platoon

The Punisher: The Platoon - Credit: Archant

Frank’s first tour of duty...

(Panini Books)

Before Frank Castle’s family were murdered by mobsters… before he became a relentless vigilante seeking his own deadly form of justice… before all that, were the seeds of The Punisher already growing inside his head?

That is the unanswered mystery at the heart of this book, which is set in the MAX continuity and focuses on a young Castle on his first military command in Vietnam. The mainstream Marvel Universe has updated his wartime experiences to Afghanistan, but here writer Garth Ennis and artist Goran Parlov tap into the brutality of the south-east Asian conflict and use it to shape their protagonist’s future.

This is a ‘Nam of malfunctioning weapons, futile missions and blood-soaked skirmishes, yet also a battleground where friendships are forged which last a lifetime, honour occasionally triumphs over orders, and one man proves his mettle under the horrendous conditions of jungle warfare.

Ennis has already cemented a reputation for writing fastidiously researched war comics which aren’t afraid of shying away from the grim truth of human conflict, and here he is ably assisted with meticulously presented visuals from Parlov, ensuring an accurate presentation of Vietnam from all sides.

His framing device sees a war journalist interviewing the survivors of Frank’s platoon for his latest book, and allows for personal commentary of events from a variety of perspectives, avoiding Castle’s first kill gaining any sort of mythical properties and keeping events firmly grounded in reality.

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We never discover whether the Frank who served this first tour of duty was relishing this precursor to the savage violence of his later alter ego, or whether he was merely doing the best he could to protect those men in his care. But then we already know that the trigger point to his later career was the murder of his wife and children, so is that really a question we the readers need answered?

One could argue that instead of showing the disparate elements which created the Punisher, this story actually proves what a loyal and decent man Castle was before his life was torn apart, and that his experiences in Vietnam would never have spawned his dark counterpart in isolation.

Regardless, it remains a fascinating look at the genesis of a vigilante, and adds to Ennis’ reputation for gritty and realistic war comics which offer a perspective on events often absent from the history books. Highly recommended.