Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Punisher (Vol. 1) #3

TITLE: The Punisher (Vol. 1) #3

PUBLISHER: Marvel Comics

COVER DATE: March 1986


23 pages


As I sat down to begin the review and I looked back over the previous post where this issue was selected, I guess I kinda waxed eloquently a little more than I usually do. In fact, I didn't leave myself with a whole lot of anything new to write for the preamble here, but there are at least two other distinct thoughts that do came to mind.

To begin with, this is the first mini-series (or series) I remember reading that really surprised me when I initially read it. I had been reading comics for less than a year by this point, and being the brash punk that I was, I thought that I had seen it all. But here we had a mini-series about a borderline villain that was truly unlike anything I had read up to that point. Perhaps that's why I remember this series more for the feelings it evoked, rather than the actual content of the story.

Second, is that this series made me a Mike Zeck fan to this day. The surprising thing, however, is that there's not a lot of his work in my collection. I never did go longbox diving for his past work, but I always kept my eye out for his name in the credits. Unfortunately, he never did land on another series that I collected regularly, but his covers for Deathstroke, The Terminator were a big part of me deciding to collect that series.

  • Writer: Steven Grant
  • Penciller: Mike Zeck
  • Inker: John Beatty
  • Letterer: Ken Bruzenak
  • Colorist: Bob Sharen
  • Editor: Carl Potts
  • Editor in Chief: James Shooter
The issue opens up as a gang war is raging across New York City. One of the mobsters involved, Santiago, is being watched by snipers on a nearby roof as he exits a cafe. As gunfire rains down around him, killing his two bodyguards, his driver pulls up and rescues Santiago before he is gunned down as well.

As Santiago swears vengeance on Ejszaka and his men for trying to kill him, his relief at getting out alive is soon replaced with despair as he realizes that the Punisher is driving the car that saved him. As they are chased through the city by more of Ejszaka's hitmen, the Punisher explains that he didn't save Santiago out of the kindness of his own heart. He's going to do something for him, by helping him stop the gang war.

Santiago soon realizes that he's not in a strong enough position to survive a protracted gang war, and he reluctantly agrees to call another peace conference with the other mob families in the city.

We soon get a small clue as to what the Punisher is up to as he returns to the apartment of his lady friend, Angela.

It seems the Punisher was the one that initiated the gang war, in the hopes that the various mob families would wipe themselves out. It didn't work out that smoothly, as too many innocents have been caught in the crossfire. Now, he just seeks to get the peace going again to bring stability back to the city.

Angela tries to convince him to join forces with The Trust, a shadowy vigilante organization that sprung him from jail in the first issue. Little does the Punisher know, however, the she is working for them and her apartment is bugged. As two members of that organization listen in, we find out that The Trust is getting impatient that the Punisher has yet to officially join their cause of wiping out the New York mobs.

Weary of groups, the Punisher tells Angela he'll think about The Trust, when he notices that someone is watching her apartment. He sneaks up on the car parked outside to find out that it is Tony Massera, the son of a respected mob boss. It's immediately apparent that this kid is no threat to the Punisher, but he swears revenge on the Punisher for killing his father. The Punisher walks away, condemning him to his father's fate if he should try to carry out his threat.

Back to his plan, the Punisher is on hand to personally "convince" several of the mob bosses to attend the hastily convened peace conference. Before he leaves the last one, he questions him about Marcus Coriander, a relatively new boss on the scene that he doesn't know much about. He gets the location of his office, but that's about it.

The Punisher heads back to Santiago's place to listen in on the peace conference. As the conference call begins, gunfire is heard on the other lines as the mobsters are all being gunned down at once. Santiago manages to hear one of the bosses implicate the Punisher as the gunman with his dying breath. As the Punisher steps out of the shadows of Santiago's office, it's revealed that it's an impostor in the Punisher's outfit. He guns down Santiago as the real Punisher comes bursting into his office, too late to save the one gangster willing to help him.

It's soon apparent that all of the mob bosses but Coriander are dead. He has done what the Punisher could not do, as he has eliminated all of the heads of the various mob families of New York. There now remains just one more thing for the Punisher to do, and that is to pay a visit to Coriander to finish things once and for all.

Across town, Coriander is anything but elated at the current turn of events. Yes, his competition is all but destroyed, but the Punisher remains. The army of Punisher lookalikes that he had sent out to do his dirty work have returned, and Marcus gives them orders to find the Punisher and kill him. He then leaves them to their target practice as he heads into his office.

Unfortunately for him, the Punisher is there waiting for him. During his interrogation, Marcus reveals that he is working for the Trust. If the Punisher kills him now, it will just be that much easier for the Kingpin to come back and reclaim his power and throne. As he struggles with the long term and short term implications of killing Coriander for all of the innocents that have suffered by his actions, Marcus grabs a desk lamp and strikes the Punisher in the head. That buys him enough time to burst out of his office, as he orders his men to kill the Punisher.

It's not really a fair fight, and the Punisher is soon back chasing Coriander as he flees his office building. As the Punisher closes in on him, Corianer opens fire. He misses the Punisher, but strikes and kills a little girl in the lobby.

Coriander escapes, as the Punisher is momentarily paralyzed by the horror of what has just witnessed. Flashbacks flood his mind of his family being gunned down in central park, and of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire from his time in Viet Nam. He soon snaps out of it, redoubling his efforts to make Coriander pay, when he catches up to him in an alley.

Distraught over what he has just done, Coriander is a mess. He gives up the name of the man who he's working for, just as he is shot dead by someone standing behind the Punisher. He turns to see that the shooter was none other than his lover, Angela!

It turns out that the Punisher was getting played all along, as the Trust was using him for their own agenda. They had hoped he would join them, but he was too much of a loner. Now, he is nothing more than a loose end that needs mopping up. As the Punisher struggles to make sense of everything, Angela takes aim and fires at him.

The Punisher collapses to the floor of the alley, finally realizing that he can trust no one before he loses consciousness.


To tell you the truth, as this issue started out, I thought it was a little on the weak side. I was starting to get disappointed that it wasn't living up to the memories that I had of this being a good mini-series. As the issue progressed however, and we get to the mob conference, it really picked up pace and never let go.

It's at that point that all of the various storythreads and plot points begin to converge and the action ramps up. It was interesting to see the Punisher in a vulnerable position, as he struggles with the idea of working with a vigilante organization. The fact that the one person he let himself get close to was in on it from the beginning, makes the betrayal all the more painful, as we get a sense that the Punisher may be a somewhat sympathetic character after all.

The on-panel death of the little girl seems a little harsh, as it serves to remind the Punisher of the true purpose of his mission. Even today that scene is jarring, and I can only imagine how it played at the time. We had yet to be hit over the head with the "grim and gritty" characters that seemed to plague the early 90's, so I suppose we have this issue to thank for it. It's a shame that such a cliched genre movement would soon overshadow the character of the Punisher, as there seems to be real effort to play him as more than just a mindless vigilante here.

I suppose it's a testament to what Steven Grant and Mike Zeck started, however, that there has pretty much been a continuous stream of Punisher comics in their wake. Not all of them have been good, but there have been a few gems to be found over the years.

If there's one area of disappointment to be found here, it's sadly to do with the art. I don't seem to remember Mike Zeck being this inconsistent in the interior pages, but I found it really jarring from page to page, sometimes even from panel to panel. Maybe it's the fact that his covers for this series were so iconic, that I had assumed the same level of craftsmanship got carried to the inside as well. That's not the case however, but there's still work to be enjoyed between the covers.

All in all, it's good to see that one of the touchstone series from my "golden age" of comic book reading still, more or less, holds up to today's standards.

All characters and artwork reproduced are (c) Marvel Comics

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