One of the most fascinating aspects of Marvel’s comic book universe has always been the fact that, no matter how fantastical the stories get, they’re meant to take place in the real world. Spider-Man doesn’t live in Metropolis, he lives in New York City. Magneto wasn’t shaped by the horrors of the planet Apokolips, he learned about mankind’s cruelty in Auschwitz. And Frank Castle, the vigilante known as The Punisher, learned to kill in the Vietnam War.
While stories like Civil War balance traditional superhero storytelling with real-world commentary, Punisher: The Platoon is very much grounded in reality. Now, Marvel has collected this 2017 six-issue mini-series written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by Goran Parlov. If Punisher fans missed it in single issues, this is a must-read for fans of one of Marvel’s most complex characters.
I’ll admit, I’m not as knowledgeable of The Punisher’s publishing history as I am the X-Men and Spider-Man’s, but I want to say this is the furthest into Castle’s past we’ve ever gone. I know the 2003 origin series Born was about Castle’s final tour in Vietnam. Well, The Platoon takes readers back to his first in 1968 (I can never get over how great Frank looks for his age). And, as Born (which I, unfortunately, haven’t had a chance to read yet) was also written by Ennis, The Platoon very much acts as a prequel.
In this story, Castle is a Marine lieutenant dedicated to keeping his soldiers alive in the chaotic Hell that was Vietnam in 1968. It’s a relatively simple tale, which Ennis chooses to frame as a look back in time via an interview with the platoon in modern times. Well, minus The Punisher, of course.
I’ve seen many a film set during the Vietnam War, and even played a soldier in a Vietnam play in high school, so I feel qualified to say the war aspects of The Platoon don’t exactly break new ground. The real draw here is getting to read about The Punisher before the death of his family pushed him over the edge. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely shades of modern-day Frank in these pages, but also a more optimistic and, dare I say… happy Castle?More importantly, Ennis uses the mini-series to make readers wonder who Castle could have been had his family never become the victims of senseless violence. Don’t get me wrong, he was never going to be the next Steve Rogers, but these pages clearly prove he was a hero.
Punisher: The Platoon is a quick read–I got through it all in one sitting. Much of the credit there is due to Parlov’s art. While many characters’ faces are rendered with just a few simple lines to express emotion, the detail on display in each panel gives the overall story a cinematic touch. You feel the heat of the jungle, hear the ear-shattering gunfire and sense the same dread each of the soldiers grapples with. The Punisher’s story has taken a different turn in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and obviously he could never have fought in Vitenam, but these pages will make you sad we’ll never get to see Castle in Vietnam on the big screen.
In terms of extras, this collection includes the mini-series’ variant covers, as well as an introduction from Ennis himself. So even if readers already own The Platoon singles, die-hard fans may want to pick this TPB up for their collection.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention that this mini-series was released through Marvel’s MAX Comics imprint, so there’s swearing, graphic violence and, yes, nude pin-ups.
Ultimately, though, it’s the Punisher fans who will enjoy this story the most (but readers who enjoy war stories should also consider giving it a read). Honestly, I really wish I had read Born before it, as I’m sure it would have enhanced my reading experience. Although, as it is a prequel, I’m sure the reverse could end up being true as well.