Before The Punisher waged his personal war on the streets, he was an enlisted soldier in Vietnam.
My day is made when I get a new Punisher graphic novel in my hands! This time, we’re going back in time with The Punisher Invades the ‘Nam. It collects The ‘Nam #52-53, #67-69; Punisher Invades the ‘Nam: Final Invasion #1; Punisher War Journal (1988) #52-53; Punisher War Zone (1992) #26-30. Sounds pretty solid, right?
“Years before he brought his personal war to the mean streets of the Marvel Universe, Marine Sgt. Frank Castle fought in Vietnam — and the man he would become took shape in those killing fields. Revisit the horrors of the ‘Nam along with Frank as he battles side-by-side with comrade-in-arms Mike “Ice” Phillips and faces down a deadly jungle sniper, and fights alone in his final tour of duty to rescue a crew of downed airmen from a sadistic vivisectionist. Plus: Years later, “Ice” comes to the aid of his fellow veteran — but can the two of them take down the paramilitary group the Sons of Liberty and a Central American drug kingpin?”
Tell us more!
Let me break down the stories for you, starting with The Nam #52 and 53. The story is written by Roger Salick, with artwork done by Mike Harris and colors by Ed Lazellari. It’s only two issues, but the story is very enjoyable. There’s a sniper killing American troops that goes by “The Monkey”. When the Monkey eliminates a Colonel, Captain James reaches out to one the man that can match sniper skills with the deadly assassin. Of course, the person is Frank Castle. The pair play a deadly cat and mouse game that is suspenseful.
The next story focuses on The Nam issues #67-69, written by Chuck Dixon, with artwork by Kevin Kobasic and colors by Phil Felix. The story begins with a soldier that is wounded during battle. To help keep him calm as he is being rescued, another soldier in his platoon tells him a story about a tough soldier from Brooklyn named Castiglione. Castiglione (Frank Castle) uncovers a scheme that reveals there are traitors at the base he’s stationed at. There are a trio of higher ups that are persuading young soldiers into paying a nice sum of money in exchange for them being sent home. However, after the naive soldiers fork over the dough, they are actually being sent to their death while proof of their existence is erased. Castle uncovers the plot and goes to war against who he thought was his own.
The Punisher Invades the Nam: Final Invasion is easily the darkest story in the graphic novel. The story is written by Don Lomax, artwork by Alberto Saichann, and colors by John Kalisz. The borders on the pages are black and fill in the darkness around each panel, adding to the atmosphere of the story and easily distinguishing itself from the other stories in the book. Final Invasion continues the story of Castglione. Castgilone has pissed off one too many of the upper brass due to his recent actions and they are not letting him sign up for another tour of duty. Disappointed and confused about what his new life will become, the Punisher goes home to live life like a civilian. However, that tour is cut short as he has figured out that he can change his name and enlist under a new name. Enter Frank Castle. With a new name he becomes friends with a rogue Vietnamese soldier named Junior and together they take on the VC’s and attempt to rescue captured soldiers from the Death Hole, a vicious place where soldiers are tortured and experimented on by a sadistic doctor. Like I said, this is the darkest story in the bunch, but it is also my favorite. The entire Death Hole, evil doctor vibe appealed to me and it is satisfying to see the Punisher deal with the situation at hand.
Up next is Punisher War Journal #52 and #53 written by Chuck Dixon, artwork by Gary Kwapisz, and colors by Glynis Oliver. These two issues have Castle dealing with a paramilitary psycho group called the Sword of Liberty. They believe that America is under siege from foreign powers and nothing is going to happen to their precious America under their watch. Frank has picked up a few tips and is hot on the gang’s trail. He muscles an arms dealer who is supplying the Sword and moves in. Little does Castle know, a fellow soldier by the name of Ice who served with him in Nam is also close behind the gang. A wealthy man has paid Ice to infiltrate the gang and bring back his daughter Deena, who has fallen in love with the Sword of Liberty’s leader. Chicks always digging the bad guys! The two cross paths and attempt to put the Sword down for good.
Ending this incredibly entertaining graphic novel is Punisher War Zone (1992) #26-#30. It’s written again by Chuck Dixon, with artwork by John Buscema, and colors by Kevin Tinsley. This story has Castle teaming up again with his fellow solider Ice and a more familiar face, Micro. Frank is tracking down an arms dealer in the Florida Keys, even disguising himself as the man he is looking for. All seems to be going good until the man’s sister he is impersonating sees him and calls him out to be phony. Then the chase is on as the real arms dealer surfaces and attempts to flee with his sister from the grasps of the Punisher.
The Punisher Invades the ‘Nam was far more entertaining that I remembered the stories being when I first read them. Maybe my age at the time has something to do with it. I read them a long time ago when I was younger and maybe not as familiar with the sensitive subject of the Vietnam War. This collection of stories shows how the war shaped Frank Castle into who he is today. It details how hard it was for him to leave the war and the destruction that he grown accustomed to. He felt empty without a purpose and once his family was murdered, he really had no other reason to live his life.
There is some really powerful artwork displayed in the book. We get up close and personal with the Vietnam Memorial Wall in DC when Frank visits and stands beside another war brother while reflecting on their past. Each of the writers have written entertaining and saddening pieces. There is a lot to take in with this book if you sit and think about it. If you’re a Punisher fan, this is an easy pickup to add to your library. If you are a newer Punisher fan, as in you’ve only watched the Netflix show and want to learn more, definitely pick this up because it captures the essence of the Punisher way more than that Netflix series could ever hope to.