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Punishment Is Black And White

Longbox Graveyard #130

Welcome to an all-new installment of The Dollar Box, where Longbox Graveyard looks at single-issue stories or short runs of comics where the original cover price was a dollar, or less! This week is a special treat, as an ace guest columnist returns to tell us about a blood-spattered, black & white adventure of one of the most badass Marvel characters of all time!

Hey there guys! It’s me, Dean Compton, again, and Paul has once more graciously allowed me a chance to venture back into the Longbox Graveyard once more, and this time, I am doing so with a character that goes nicely with Graveyards … THE PUNISHER!

Punisher is not just my favorite character in comic books, but is arguably my favorite character in anything ever. Whenever I find myself watching any sort of genre fiction, I always wonder what a Punisher crossover would be like. One night, I even acted out a Punisher/Farscape crossover for my girlfriend in what may be the most romantically dorky moment in all of history, recorded, unrecorded, and cosmic.

When I was young, I admired Punisher because I thought he took care of problems and issues in the simplest way possible. He eradicated them. His solutions were final and due to various influences, I felt needed. If only Spider-Man would kill Doc Ock or if Batman would finally do in The Joker, wouldn’t the world be better?

Now that I am older, I am still just as obsessed with Punisher as ever, and I am sure my girlfriend and I do not go a day or two without discussing Punisher in some way, and I have shelves dedicated to Punisher toys and posters of Punisher up everywhere. Now though, I understand just what a fascist Frank Castle really is, and how he is actually the epitome of a psychopath. I understand he is trying to solve a problem, but as a famous anarchist pamphlet once said, “You Can’t Blow Up a Social Relationship.”

boom goes the relationship!

not that Punisher won’t keep trying to blow up ALL social relationships

Now I admire the character of Punisher for his edge, for his cunning, for his completely driven and simple outlook on life. To Castle, there is only right, wrong, and Punishment. I wish I had such a simple outlook and philosophy sometimes but, with you know, much less mass murder.

Punisher is a perfect candidate for Longbox Graveyard because he is truly born of and for the Bronze Age. The 70’s were a time of great crime in this country, and even greater than crime was the fear of crime. People were afraid of the violence that they believed was overtaking every nook and cranny of every urban area in America, and the culture began to reflect this. Death Wish, a movie about a vigilante who loses his family and then murders criminals in retaliation, was a big hit at the time, and as we know from this blog and other resources, 1970’s Marvel Comics tried never to miss a craze of any kind. So they gave us Amazing Spider-Man #129, the first appearance of Punisher!!

Amazing Spider-Man #129

Different and Deadly also applies to the gun Punisher is firing, which seems to be the world’s smallest sniper rifle

Punisher showed up a few times as a Spider-Man villain/partner, including a good team up against Moses Magnum, the best named underused villain of all time, in an issue of Giant-Size Spider-Man. Marvel Preview #2 by Punisher co-creator Gerry Conway and Tony DeZuniga, is Frank Castle’s fifth appearance. He must have been received pretty decently, as he was given a tryout in Marvel Preview, one of those big Black and White numbers Marvel published several of during the 1970’s. They published a couple into the 90’s, but their numbers were vastly decreased by the time I started my collecting days. This one was a try-out mag, and while Punisher would get another solo appearance in the B&W Marvel Super Action #1, his solo career would not take off until the 1980’s.

I do recall seeing some of those Black and White magazines in a few convenience stores during the early 1980’s, and my Dad had a couple of old copies of Creepy and Eerie that could be found in various nooks and crannies in our house. One morning when I was about four, I woke up before everyone else and somehow stumbled across one and began reading it. I shrieked at something that would be decidedly unscary now, but must have seemed like Cthulhu him damn self walking in to do dentistry on someone to a 4-year-old awake before everyone else at 5:45 in the morning. Dad was cool and told me it was all just a story, but I had nightmares about it for weeks. Oh Comics!

That was a great experience for me though because it instilled in me a feeling about black and white comics from the 1970’s that persists to this day, which is that there is something inherently scary, edgy, risqué, and taboo about them, thus making them cool as hell to me then and now! In truth as well, these magazines were just that. Unburdened by the onerous and autocratic Comics Code, these stories are definitely aimed at a young adult (16-24) audience, and I am sure they succeeded fairly well on a critical level. These Punisher stories are great, and stand up to this day as definitive installments in the history of Castle, as Marvel Preview #2 has the first presentation of Punisher’s origin!

Marvel Preview #2

the Skull inside the logo is very creepy and he is also very happy about the fact that he is very creepy

As Paul has mentioned on occasion here, Marvel does a fantastic job with characters that are created to capitalize on fads. Power Man and Iron Fist are the primary examples, but I think due to how action movies and culture evolved, the fad of the urban vigilante that spawned Punisher became less of a fad and more just another trope upon which action films are bases, and so folks don’t realize that here is another character created by Marvel based on a fad that outlived the height of its fad. There is something insanely impressive about that. It’s almost like Marvel had the ability to take the permanent essence out of something meant to be temporary.

We start off with Punisher on a building, sniper-style, trying to stop a sniper from assassinating a politician. Punisher is Punisher though, so he manages to snipe the sniper first, which is the most meta moment I have ever seen associated with an assassination attempt.

Marvel Preview #2

Punisher talks about how the sniper found the perfect spot to assassinate the politician which means Punisher found the perfect spot to ASSASSINATE AN ASSASSIN. Most Badass Thing Ever.

I am unsure if it is because this is the 70’s or if this is just my take on this, but we are two pages in and this comic just feels more dangerous than most. The black and white is perfect for the world of Punisher, where things are darker. The black and white effect also has a sub-textual impact on the story. This is the way Punisher sees the world. Things are black and white. There is only right, wrong … and Punishment.

Punisher proceeds to do his best Batman impression and bounds across the rooftops in order to find the assassin before he can get away. Punisher is expecting a dead or highly wounded mook when he gets there, but he gets a little more than he expected as well.

Marvel Preview #2

if Punisher is a concerned citizen then the rest of us everywhere are basically slackers

MIKE! MIKE HAULEY! I am unsure why, but I always laugh at that line. Maybe it is Punisher’s widow peak in the panel to the left of that one. Who knows? I do know that my initial thought is that Punisher is lucky that he has developed that “Punisher Sense,” but then I realize that he developed that sense during the horror of the Vietnam War. That isn’t lucky at all.

Of course, none were as unlucky as Mike Hauley, who got shot by Punisher and was then napalmed to death from a helicopter.

From here Punisher heads for a town he apparently loves so much that he writes about it in his War Journal. (I wonder if anyone ever did the whole dolls/action figure thing with the War Journal and accused Punisher of just keeping a diary. I hope so.)

Marvel Preview #2

the Chicago Chamber of Commerce is probably incensed at Punisher’s endorsement of The Windy City

Punisher visits an informant of his named Grundy in Chicago, and I am sure that since Archie and Punisher exist in the same universe that this means Punisher’s informant is somehow related to Miss Grundy. Hey kids, continuity is king!

I am a fan of how Punisher describes Chicago. I have never had the pleasure to enjoy an extended stay there, but I hear it is wonderful, and anything that makes Punisher less morose for even half a second must be the epitome of heavenly.

Notice the War Journal entries that I mentioned earlier. This is one of the first appearances of that particular trope, and it is something that is decidedly Punisher’s within superheroes. All of our favorites have an internal monologue, but very few literally record their thoughts, and no other hero’s monologue gets such a cool paradigm with such a cool name.

Grundy gets shot almost immediately after talking to Punisher, which makes him like most people that ever meet Frank Castle. Punisher chases down the assassin, but this one is determined not to divulge details at any cost!

Marvel Preview #2

I am unsure which is more disconcerting: Punisher speaking jive or threatening to turn someone in to the cops

The self-destruct mechanism always sort of reinforces just how serious the bad guys are. As Punisher leaves the scene, he recalls the sequence of events that him to becoming “America’s Greatest Crime Destroyer.”

Marvel Preview #2

Marvel Preview #2

first time Punisher’s origin is ever told

The black and white panels somehow reinforce the tragedy that is Punisher’s origin. The lack of color makes the event seem almost real somehow, as though you were looking at grainy pictures of the event as it happened. All of Punisher’s decisions somehow become understandable after one views these panels. In fact, I dare say there is a part of everyone who views this story who wonders what other decision Punisher or anyone else could have possibly made in the face of such a torrent of torment.

After this happy trip down memory lane, Punisher meanders his way through his beloved Windy City and finds those the deceased Mike Hauley left behind. Of course, this is troublesome because Punisher, you know, shot Mike Hauley and all.

Marvel Preview #2

If she wasn’t recently widowed, she would have repaid that slap with a deep kiss, as was the tradition with male action stars who slapped sense into ladies at the time. Glad it has changed.

Despite dishing out a viscous slap that probably left a welt on her face, Punisher is not so upset with Hauley’s widow as to leave her to die when her husband’s assassin’s rather rudely arrive. That Frank Castle has a heart of gold!!

Marvel Preview #2

That fireball looks like one Mario would throw. The Fire Suit is cool, but the Goomba Shoe will rule forever.

Now Mrs. Hauley knows that not only is Punisher not crazy, but that her obstinacy nearly cost her and her children their lives. Perhaps she will simply do exactly as psychopaths in skull shirts say from this moment forth.

Punisher uses the information to track down what appears to be an ultra right-wing militia style group about 20 years before ultra right-wing would gain prominence in the mainstream with the Ruby Ridge/Waco/Oklahoma City incidents. Marvel was once again way ahead of societal trends, although this time they didn’t know it, and I certainly wish that things had gone differently at those incidents. What prescient social insight, though! And Punisher is the perfect character to have predicted such characters. What was this crazy right-wing militia up to and why? I think the best way for these groups to be represented is by speaking loudly from behind a podium to the group at a secret meeting while simultaneously revealing an interloper who had infiltrated their midst.

Marvel Preview #2

Marvel Preview #2

the leader of this militia appears to be a cross between Colonel Sanders, Uncle Sam, and some generic Nu-Metal rocker from the early 00’s

Punisher destroys the base and this militia by taking out their power supply. The comic ends with an explosion, which only seems right due to the ordinance Punisher constantly puts out. We are then treated to a federal officer named Dave Hamilton who says that Punisher blew this group up, and that Hamilton will never stop hunting until he finds Punisher, even if it takes the rest of his life.

This comic was sick! I hadn’t looked at it in some time, and when reading it again for this article, I was taken back to the first time that I read it. I had gone to my first ever comic book show, which was in Little Rock, Arkansas. Little Rock is about two hours from my hometown, and I didn’t know when I would get to go to another one. I brought three WIZARD TOP TEN hot comics to trade, Batman: Sword of Azrael #1 and 2 and Batman: Vengeance of Bane. This was August of the year that Azrael took over for Batman, so I decided this mini-treasure that had me the envy of all the other 7th-graders who couldn’t figure out how to get girls to talk to them was worth trading to a dealer for Marvel Preview #2. That move looked better and better in the long run until Bane got hot again after Dark Knight Rises. Still, I regret nothing!

That having been said, I appreciate this story much more as an adult than as a teenager, despite having the same level of passion for Punisher this entire time. I think the nuances of Black and White were just lost on me at the time. Imagine that, a teenager who can’t grasp the complexity of subtlety!

There was another Punisher appearance in a Black and White called Marvel Super Action, and based on this house ad touting the previous Punisher appearances (all in Spider-Man) from Marvel Preview #2, it seemed like Marvel had at least tentative plans to get behind Punisher for a series of some sort.

Marvel Preview #2

Alas, that was not to be. Also not to be is a write-up on that other black and white Punisher story in Marvel Super-Action #1. I had intended to write about both of them here, but this one was so good, I had to devote this entire article to it! The best laid plans are often destroyed by Punisher; ask any mook who survived an encounter with Frank Castle. BOTH OF THEM.

However, I am sure I will find a way to get Paul to let me play in the Longbox again sometime soon bringing you the tale of Punisher going after his family’s assassins. In the meantime, check out my 90’s comics blog — The Unspoken Decade. Check out my live radio programs, Her Dork World, His Dork World on Thursday nights at midnight on VOC Nation, on Twitter, and on Facebook. My other show, Compton After Dark, is on VOC Nation on Sundays at 11:30 PM Eastern. Find that show on Twitter and on Facebook.

Thanks for reading. I know Punisher is one of the more dichotomous characters in the Marvel Universe, but maybe after reading this all the haters will have a little more compassion and understanding for the most morally upstanding serial killer superhero comics has ever seen.

Bustin Loose,
Dean Compton

Thanks, Dean, for the in-depth work at a character who has been long-overlooked here at Longbox Graveyard! I will certainly look forward to your next Punisher blog, and readers should also return here later this summer, when Dean will share his memories of the All-Star Squadron! In the meantime, please visit Dean at his many links above, and keep an eye out for the return of Super-Blog Team-Up, when Dean joins the team for our next installment, in two weeks’ time!

IN TWO WEEKS: #131 Thanos: Love & Death

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Posted on May 7, 2014, in The Dollar Box and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. I had never heard of “You can’t blow up a social relationship – the anarchist case against terrorism” previously. I did a Google search, and skimmed through it. Interesting reading. It brings to mind a Dadevil story arc D.C. Chichester wrote in the mid-1990s, “Tree of Knowledge.” I should review that one of these days.

    The long and the short of it is that agents of Hydra, masquerading as ultra left wing anarchists, are committing various terrorist attacks in New York City. This results in the goverment enforcing martial law in the city… which is EXACTLY what Baron Strucker, the leader of Hydra, wants to happen. By manipulating the government into curtailing civil liberties & freedoms in the name of combatting terrorism, Strucker is undermining libery & democracy, and pushing the United States in the direction of the Fascist society that he dreams of achieving.

    Like

    • Dean Compton

      And that line of thinking also isn’t too different from what Bin laden wanted to do to the US via his terrorism. WE must be ever vigilant against such paradigms.

      The pamphlet is great, and while I do not always agree with it, I will say that the times that anarchism has been a maximum level of violence has not paid off well for the philosophy. Take the Propaganda by the Deed era of the late 1800’s/early 1900’s for instance. It sullied anarchism for awhile, and the philosophy really only got its prestige back in the 30’s with the Barcelona CGT. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda_of_the_deed

      But again, I am not necessarily against violence in revolutionary politics. I think this http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/peter-gelderloos-how-nonviolence-protects-the-state lays out a great case why. I’d certainly prefer the least amount possible though.

      Thanks for reading and enjoying! Sorry to go off on a tangent, haha.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tangent away, you guys, this is certainly more interesting than “Who’d win: Punisher or Deadpool.”

        Dean, are there any comic characters or stories that attempt to address Anarchy in any but the most simplistic manner? (Aside from V For Vendetta).

        Like

        • Dean Compton

          Anarky from the Batman mythos immediately springs to mind. He started out as a full-fledged anarchist, but eventually became more influenced by Neo-Tech philosophy as his creator, Alan Grant, became more influenced by it. I don’t think he ever really lost his anarchist slant entirely. Green Arrow at his most left is probably a council communist/left Marxist/Autonomist.

          Batman himself is what I would call an anarcho-fascist. He believes in the utmost freedom for himself, but he also thinks he should have lots of, if not categorically unlimited, power over others. For their own good of course.

          I wrote an essay many years ago about anarchy and super-heroes, and how many things about superheroism lend themselves to anarchy easily. Take for instance how most groups, e.g. The Avengers, were historically ran via direct democracy. Also, people leave groups freely and usually w/o punishment. That is an example of voluntary association, which is a tenet of Anarchism.

          Also, superheroes obviously believe in mutual aid, which is the idea that those who can help should do so, and people who need help should be able to expect it to be provided. This is also proven to be as much a component of evolution as the “survival of the fittest” natural selection that gets more play than this element of how species evolve.

          I can think of a few more, but Anarky and Green Arrow are your best bets for leftist anarchists in superheroes. For Right wing anarchy, look no further than Steve Ditko’s The Question or Mr. A, although The Question eventually becomes much more similar to a Libertarian Socialist (what I am as far as anarchy goes) than to his Objectivist roots.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Dean, if you want to blow the dust off that essay and dumb it down a bit for us here funnybook fans, I’d love to run it at Longbox Graveyard.

            Reformat it as a “Top 5 Anarchist Superheroes” and we have comment sections gold (though if you really wanted to blow up the internet, you’d sell it to WhatCulture).

            Like

        • Dean Compton

          and also, Punisher totally takes Deadpool. ;D

          Like

        • Dean Compton

          This might give you a laugh. It is super off the beaten path, but cool, superhero, and anarchist.
          http://libcom.org/library/buffy-anarcho-syndicalist-capitalism-bites

          Like

  2. Really enjoyed this, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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