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Punisher: The Platoon #1 (review)

Punisher: The Platoon #1
Marvel Comics, October 2017
Writer: Garth Ennis

Punisher: The Platoon is a new comic book mini-series from American publisher Marvel Comics. It focuses on the character named Frank Castle, a vigilante operating under the name “The Punisher.” This mini-series is notable because the writer, Garth Ennis, is very closely associated with the Punisher franchise. In 2004, Mr Ennis wrote the Marvel MAX version of The Punisher. This very violent title is considered by many as the definitive version of the character. It is also worth mentioning the Marvel MAX run because The Platoon is set in the same continuity. It includes a returning character by way of a narrator/writer, and whose dialogue with other characters serve as the framing device for what is essentially a flashback to Frank Castle’s past.

Despite the tie-in to the Marvel MAX series, it is not a required reading as The Platoon can stand on its own. The title requires only familiarity with the concept behind the Punisher character (which some new readers should have at this point, following the highly successful Daredevil Netfix television series in which a version of the Punisher was played effectively by actor Jon Bernthal.)

The story of The Platoon features the narrator/writer (which the comic does not show, a curious narrative effect which places the reader in the shoes of the narrator) meeting several former war veterans, who were all in the same platoon as Frank Castle during his tour in Vietnam.

The comic dwells upon a fragment of backstory that most depictions of Frank Castle gloss over. The character became a vigilante after witnessing his family die in the crossfire of a shootout between rival gangsters. But this horror was only the tipping point, the one event that sent Castle over the edge. There had to be many things that helped groom the character and set him down on the path to being a psychopathic, brutal antihero. The narrator in The Platoon suspects that his first tour in Vietnam is one of these catalysts.

The flashback to the character’s deployment in Vietnam shows a different Frank Castle than what readers expect. Frank is a large, imposing man. But this youthful version exudes a calmer, and some would even say happy, demeanor including mild patience towards curt colleagues. However, there is already something bubbling underneath. The character is calm but calculating even in dealing with allies: he downplays his rank and hides his combat experience, claiming that his buddies will have to show him the ropes despite being the ranking officer. It is a mistake to assume that this is the character’s expression of modesty. Castle instead keeps his cards close to his chest, and would prefer to be underestimated.

The comic’s climax sees Castle bending the rules by calling an airstrike on what should be a routine inspection of an empty area, in order to save his colleagues from a group of Vietnamese snipers lying in wait. The scene exemplifies, on the one hand, the character’s compassion for his platoon (who are treated as cannon fodder by their superiors). But on the other it showcases his cunning and ruthlessness, as he inspects the charred remains of several Vietnamese soldiers with the same nonchalance one would expect from a man sweeping his porch.

The denouement of the comic also sets up a mystery regarding the identity of the narrator, as well as the introduction of a possible antagonist for the story: one of the surviving Vietnamese snipers, a young female soldier who is now obsessed with getting revenge on Frank Castle.

Mr Ennis has a monumental reputation as a writer in the US comic book industry. Having Mr Ennis’ name on the comic is an imprimatur of quality, and most likely one of the biggest reasons for people to pick up this comic. Expectations of quality should be met. Further, Punisher: The Platoon plainly demonstrates that Mr Ennis has his handle on the Punisher as a surprisingly complex character. Readers who are expecting a lot of action may be disappointed as the first issue relies more on a narrative framing device to tell the story through flashbacks. But the story points to a lot of Mr Ennis’ finessed brand of bloodshed in future issues.