August 21st, 2016
Maid of Nails: Before we get into the Punisher, I think we should let people know how XTREME his fans are.
Botswana Beast: Should I read the letter?
[To paraphrase Keats: beauty is truth, truth beauty, and this letter is both]
MoN: So that is what we’re dealing with.
BB: It doesn’t ever mention race, that letter, but it’s fairly indicative of what a lot of early Punisher comics were, which is shooting “street toughs” of undetermined race –
MoN: Were any of these “street toughs” ever named Tyrone or Leroy?
BB: They may have been. Or Hector. So yeah, the Punisher’s origins are as a Spider-Man villain-cum-antihero who is hired by — possibly the Chameleon, I can’t remember, to take out Spider-Man under some false pretext. I think that was 1973, and his debut series was actually a decade later. At that point he became a leading character, shooting largely mafiosi and, as I say, street toughs (that’s not entirely fair characterization; Mike Baron’s a good writer — well, he’s written some exciting action comics), until 1999/2000, when Garth Ennis, the infamous Irishman, took over and really redefined the character.
MoN: A lot more mafia and organized crime, and a lot fewer street toughs.
BB: He does still shoot quite a lot of black people, but –
MoN: There’s a lot fewer story arcs devoted to him shooting black people. Except for Barracuda and John James Toomey (RIP), who gets shot in a setup that the Punisher coerces one of Toomey’s crew into. And then the guy from his crew is yelling at John James Toomey like, “Who’s gonna get your fuckin’ fried chicken now?” DUDE. A lot of people like fried chicken, but I find it odd that Garth Ennis went there.
BB: What really came to define him — and I think they are among the best, if not the best comics ever published, then certainly the best researched — is the adult imprint stuff from Marvel MAX.
MoN: Stuff with more war.
BB: Another favourite topic of Garth Ennis. Anyway, it began in 2003 with the prelude miniseries Born.
MoN: Let’s tell the readers: what is Born about?
BB: It’s about the Vietnam War, of course — because that is the sort of defining thing about Frank Castle, although it’s kind of difficult now; I don’t think Marvel can really sell a character who fought in the Vietnam War, because he would be 65 or something. So Garth Ennis does enjoy a war story, and Frank Castle, prior to any of this, was a guest star in issue #7 of Marvel’s The ‘Nam comic, where he appears as a young man. And it sort of nicely counterpoints him against Captain America because you have someone who fought in a good war and was treated extremely well on returning, and then you have someone who returned from an unjust, shitty piece of American interventionism.
MoN: I’m curious to see how they’re going to handle this, because with Vietnam, it quite quickly started to occupy this symbolic space in the popular American imagination. It was, yes, American interventionism biting America in the ass — you know, you have all these movies about people going to Vietnam: manly men sticking together but, surprise, everything is terrible and everyone is cynical.