Comics : Punisher War Journal (Vol. 2) #2

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This story is part of an Arc: "How I Won the War"
     Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

This review was first published on: 2007.

Background...

After the events in last issue, the Punisher is firmly entrenched with Captain America's Anti-Registration forces. The Punisher does not feel strongly either way about the merits of registration. However, he feels compelled to side with Captain America because Iron Man's side is using known killers in order to achieve their ends. It remains to be seen if Captain America will trust the Punisher. Meanwhile, the Punisher's re-emergence has caused a growing fear in S.H.I.E.L.D. The peacekeeping organization is willing to circumvent the law in order to capture the Punisher.

In Detail...

"Dead Soldiers"
Punisher War Journal (Vol. 2) #2
Feb 2007 : SM Guest
Summary: Spider-Man appears
Arc: Part 2 of "How I Won the War"
Editor:  Axel Alonso
Writer:  Matt Fraction
Artist:  Ariel Olivetti
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Review

War Journal #2 starts out with the Punisher being interrogated by Captain America. Captain America distrusts the Punisher's motives and methods in dealing with criminals. According to Cap, the Punisher is a vigilante killer incapable of being a true hero. The Punisher retorts that Cap's stand over registration has made him exactly like the Punisher, a fugitive on the run over his principled beliefs. Captain America's methods have proven to be archaic. Plans much worse than Stamford are being put into motion by villains every day. The Punisher uses a WWII analogy but Cap remains unconvinced that the issue is so black and white.

The Punisher manages to escape his bondage and comes face to face with Captain America. Cap decides that in this instance he needs the Punisher's assistance. He reasons that America needs Frank to perform his soldierly duties. However, Patriot eavesdrops on their conversation and relays what was said to Luke Cage. Without warning, Captain America punches the Punisher through the wall. He goes into great detail what separates the anti-registration heroes from the insane ideology of the Punisher. Cap compromises by offering a spot on the team if the Punisher agrees to help them using non-lethal methods. Luke Cage strongly disagrees but Captain America forcefully cuts off his dissenting opinion. Meanwhile, G.W. Bridge conducts a covert surveillance on Stuart Clarke. However, Clarke takes note that he being watched. He figures that he is not the main target; rather they are looking for the Punisher.

We then get a series of scenes detailing the Punisher and Captain America on several missions critical to the cause of the anti-registration side. The Punisher proves his worth to Captain America. However, he deduces that Captain America, no matter how great of a leader, cannot win this war without help. The mismatched pair takes down the villain Molten Man. Unfortunately, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents show up to try and arrest the fugitives. The Punisher further proves he can be trusted by stunning, not killing, the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Captain America is impressed and the pair leaves hastily.

Later, the Punisher enters Clarke's apartment. He picks up some needed technology (including the suit he uses to infiltrate the Baxter Building in Civil War #6). Frank tells Clarke that Bridge will be dealt with later and not to worry. After the Punisher leaves, Bridge makes an appearance at Clarke's building. He simply wants to warn Clarke that his association with the Punisher is dangerous. Meanwhile, the Punisher is included in Cap's debriefing of the planned final battle in the Civil War. Surprisingly, Captain America agrees to include known supervillains on his team (Goldbug and the Plunderer). Not so surprisingly, the Punisher becomes angered and guns down both supervillains. Captain America becomes enraged. The Punisher is unapologetic over his actions but informs Cap that he can be punished for disobeying a direct order.

In General...

Punisher War Journal #2 was a more focused issue than the issue #1. Fraction realized that the strong points were the relationship of the Punisher to his unwitting allies in the Civil War. Very little time is spent on the more mundane plot threads involving Clarke and Bridge. However, Fraction manages to neatly enmesh the less interesting plot threads to the Punisher's role in Civil War. The realization that Clarke is the Punisher's tech guy was a nice touch.

Captain America's principles are put to the test in this issue. In fact, the dichotomies presented by Fraction would not be out of place in a Brubaker written Captain America issue. At times, we almost want Captain America to be a regular supporting cast member in this title. His contrasting ideology to the Punisher makes for some great philosophical questions about war and proper conduct. Captain America's strong stand against registration has made him almost megalomaniacal in his quest to end it. The Punisher's sober retorts bring Cap down to his level. It makes Cap into a more human figure and less of the ideal he has been portrayed as in the main Civil War book. Unfortunately, with all the time spent on Cap, much of what goes on outside of the two character's interactions seems boring.

Clarke and Bridge remain placeholders so that Fraction can get War Journal up to 22 pages. Their influence is entirely related to what the Punisher dictates. They have no real personality. In some ways, this is not surprising. Throughout the Punisher's history, he has been a loner in little need of a strong supporting cast. In fact, attempts to give him one contradict what makes the character and enduring piece of popular culture. The Punisher is a deadly vigilante whose roots lie in the Western motif of the lonesome cowboy. An attempt to give him a supporting cast is quite simply preposterous.

Ariel Olivetti's rendition of the Punisher's world proves to be more focused as well. This is partly due to the story's direction taking the Punisher more underground. The character just doesn't conform well to the daytime. The Punisher works best as an agent of the night, much like Batman for DC Comics. Olivetti's pencils mesh well with the dark (but a rich palette) colors. His rendition of Frank Castle is great: a strong mean jaw, closely cropped jet-black hair, and a menacing scowl to boot.

However, what will happen to the title once Civil War inevitably winds down? At this point, War Journal remains so beholden to the events in Civil War that I just don't see how the Punisher can co-exist. Hopefully, Fraction is thinking ahead, especially now that Frank will be undoubtedly removed from the anti-registration side. Something fresh is needed for the character. Returning the Punisher to his vigilante ways would be too easy and frankly a bit on the boring side.

Overall Rating...

Fraction and Olivetti deserve a half web improvement for trying to fix what did not work in issue #1. Then Punisher seems to be in capable hands as long as Fraction is able to offer a fresh perspective and not just define the character through his interactions with the other Marvel superheroes.

Footnote...

Spider-Man is seen recovering from his wounds to join Cap's debriefing. He has now ditched his Iron Spidey armor in favor of the good ol' red and blues.