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Abandoned Love: The Punisher’s a Supernatural Killer Angel?

This is the first installment of a brand-new weekly feature that serves as a companion to Abandoned an’ Forsaked. In Abandoned an’ Forsaked, the key is that we deal with stories that were not only abandoned but also specifically retconned so that they never actually happened. However, many readers were interested in reading about instances where a writer abandoned earlier stories/plotlines/story ideas while leaving the original story still in existence in continuity. So that’s what this feature will be spotlighting.

We begin with the Punisher’s short-lived existence as a supernatural avenging angel.

In 1998, we saw the debut of Marvel Knights. It helped revitalize books like Daredevil with Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada and Black Panther with Christopher Priest. With Punisher, though, despite an excellent creative team of writers Christopher Golden and Tom Sniegoski and artists Berni Wrightson and Jimmy Palmiotti, their supernatural twist on the Punisher was perhaps a bit too weird…

We later meet the angel who gave Punisher his new powers…

The mini-series was popular enough that it had a sequel in a cross-over mini-series also written by Golden and Sniegoski and drawn by Pat Lee and Alvin Lee that featured Punisher and Wolverine. Here, Punisher recaps his current status quo…

Well, a year later Marvel Knights brought Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon on board the title for a new maxi-series starring the Punisher. In the first issue, the Punisher was back to basics, but Ennis then did take the time to specifically address the previous run…

Nicely done, Mr. Ennis!

Okay, that’s it for this first week! If you have suggestions for future editions of this feature, e-mail me your ideas at bcronin@comicbookresources.com. Don’t make suggestions in the comments section!

52 Comments

Pretty good job of bringing the Punisher back to his previous status quo in a mere three pages. Most writers would take a minimum of three issues.

Yeah, I’ve always been impressed by the simplicity in Ennis’ return of the character since I truly expected him to just ignore the previous story because addressing it would be way too complicated for his take on the Punisher and instead he managed to get rid of it very simply. So this was the first story I thought about when I decided to go forward with this feature (which, for those of you scoring at home, replaces “When We First Met” in the weekly rotation and replaces “I Love Ya But You’re Strange” in the Thursday spot).

Got an article where good ideas are presented and then subsequently ignored, not even to be forsaken or referenced again?

Well, “good” is often relative, right? I’m sure there were those who liked the idea of Punisher as an avenging angel.

I’m impressed. It took Bob Kanigher all of 5 pages to do away with 4-5 years of the Diana Prince Wonder Woman (I guess that’s going to appear hear soon…)

Whoops. Didn’t see the not in the comments bit. Sorry.

No problema, Aaron, I’ll just temporarily moderate any comment with a suggestion. But yeah, for future reference, folks, please e-mail suggestions!

Ennis’ Welcome Back, Frank is my personal favorite Punisher story. I loved how Ennis was able to dismiss the previous continuity and keep that all in character with the personality of Frank Castle. Also, why is it that the vast majority of mid-to-late 90s Marvel Comics are so blasted hard to get through? Is it a generational thing or something? I just can’t stand them.

After all those years, only now I realize how similar to Spawn this take on Punisher was.

Problematic a character as Punisher will always be, I must still agree that Garth Ennis took the best conceivable approach to his decision to return to classical status quo: acknowledge it, have the character state outright that he has turned away from it, refuse to make too much a point of it.

A refreshing change from the all too frequent attempts at building whole mini series out of soft retcons, only to have them ignored or overturned in turn later.

@b2quared: it is a 90s thing, basically. It is weird how uniformly challenging those comics are. Malibu’s Ultraverse and Valiant (later Acclaim)’s books were also a lot like that. Lots of crossovers, lots of macho shooting, and an almost explicit challenge for readers to try and follow storylines on their own – which could be quite difficult at times.

Ultraverse, Valiant and Milestone books were very strong on continuity, and often enough seemed to care little about making one aware of context. Some 1990s Valiant books make me want to check the cover again to see if I did not open the wrong book, because characters flowed into and out of specific books with rarely ever a warning. And the abundance of “Specials”, “Yearbooks”, “Universe” books, not always with an obvious purpose or entertainment value, was daunting.

b2squared, Luis, I think a lot of books saw the success of the X-men books and decided to emulate the trappings of those books. They were very loud, convoluted, cramped, ugly, and confusing as hell. However I don’t remember Milestone being as bad as you say Luis, but maybe I just never noticed how confusing it was because I got in at the ground floor.

It’s a real testament to the early success of post-Crisis DC and the overview of Jeannette Kahn that despite being the oldest company on the block, at the time DC was actually the least convoluted and confusing. Then of course came Dan Didio

Milestone was definitely continuity-intensive, but yeah, since I was there from the get-go, I never really noticed.

@T.

Ugly is subjective, and that aside, people usually just gripe about Liefeld when it comes to the X-Books art; he was gone by 1992. Joe Mad, the Kuberts, Pacheco, Ladronn – that’s ugly? You must have very high standards lol

nice how garth did not totaly do away with punisher as an angel bit when he turned him back to normal for stuff like that is more suited for ghost rider not the punisher

“Joe Mad, the Kuberts, Pacheco, Ladronn – that’s ugly?”

Joe Mad, definitely, without question. The others, not so much.

Your mileage may vary.

Well, I really preferred the Angel Punisher than Franken-Castle.

And I think that Ennis wouldn’t have any problem to do good stories with the angel/demon theme. In fact, he did good stuff exploring that area in Demon, Hitman, and Hellblazer. Even in Preacher!

Anyway, the “official claim” says that Ennis wanted to tell more “grounded” stories in Punisher (why, I don’t think that “dwarf” gang [in fact, subjects with sawn legs] is so “grounded”, neither that arc with Wolverine being rolled down was “grounded”…hehehe)… but I wonder if there was an editorial decision to do that.

Maybe if a new character was created instead of Punisher being transformed in a vengeful angel (ooops… Ghost Rider? hehe) it would have more chance.

What I know is that I would read more Angel Punisher… hehe

They never really addressed this, but the Angel storyline could have been used to make more sense of the Punisher’s origin. It has always been a bit problematic that his origin tied in to Vietnam, making him old and getting older every year I always though they could have addressed it by stating that the Angels made him younger as part of his punishment.

While some people might find this an odd take on the Punisher property, one could note that his creator, Gerry Conway, has half the time only written him in guest-spots in The Amazing Spider-Man (1963), Web of Spider-Man (1985) – Annual 06 and The Spectacular Spider-Man (1976).

(Of course, Conway copied from Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan and to a lesser degree the Shadow.)

@T.

Ugly is subjective, and that aside, people usually just gripe about Liefeld when it comes to the X-Books art; he was gone by 1992. Joe Mad, the Kuberts, Pacheco, Ladronn – that’s ugly? You must have very high standards lol

When I say ugly, I’m talking about more than the artists. I mean everything. The trade dress on the cover became ugly, the stuff inside was cluttered by awful Comicraft lettering and computer effects that they seemed to go overboard but quite didn’t know how to use yet, word bubbles and sound effects cluttering up the page and feeling intrusive, garish colors and separations, even the ad placement was ugly…I call it the Comicraft era, when everything was being done by them. While I applaud them for being pioneers in using computers to letter and add effects to comics, they seemed to be using them a lot while learning on the fly.

Good point, T. X-Men did seem to jumpstart all of the 90s-ness that we all seem to know and hate.

And yeah, Kahn was for all her faults a decent head honcho. I mean, titles like Starman fit into the universe without being beholden to it, so that’s something. If you get to beholden to it, you get Didio-world, and if you just let everyone kind of do their thing without much continuity-clarity, you get Quesada’s current Marvel “When’s” NOW.

@T: I liked Milestone just fine. But as others stated, it was very continuity-intensive all the same. Not to the same degree that the Ultraverse or Valiant were, mind you, or even early 1970s Marvel. But it did not go through the lengths of clarification efforts that 1970s Marvel employed, either. Boy, do I miss clarification captions and context pages.

—–

About Joe Madureira, the Kubert brothers and other pencilers – it seems to me that while they aren’t weak pencilers, their typical renderings (and Jim Lee’s) are representative of a certain style that was overused to the extreme in the 1990s.

For a while there it seemed that storytelling was no longer expected of comic books; it was all about the posturing, angry expressions, and muscles and weapons bursting out of the page.

Again about Angel-Castle: I don’t see the concept itself as being problematic – if anything, it is less problematic than standard Punisher-as-a-protagonist.

Gerry Conway’s original Punisher was mentioned, but what I have read of that character leads me to believe he was never meant as a protagonist. To this day I don’t think the character is fit to lead a book, actually.

Still, for all his faults, Punisher-as-lead-character is more unique than Punisher-the-Avenging-Angel. It seems to me that Ennis simply wanted to write the former instead of the later.

“They never really addressed this, but the Angel storyline could have been used to make more sense of the Punisher’s origin. It has always been a bit problematic that his origin tied in to Vietnam, making him old and getting older every year I always though they could have addressed it by stating that the Angels made him younger as part of his punishment.”

Rucka seems to have done away with that – in his most recent Punisher series, when Frank flashes back to his time in the army it seems to be the Gulf War. The Max series took Frank as Vietnam vet to its logical conclusion.

Ah Rucka discusses it here:

“In “Punisher” #4, Rucka used the presence of the press to help reexamine and update Frank Castle’s origin. The issue opened with Norah Winters writing a piece about Castle with readers seeing images from various points in his life. One of the images shown is Frank, during his time as a soldier for the U.S. Government. Instead of wading through the jungles of Vietnam as in in previous flashbacks, Castle is shown wearing modern military gear and fighting in the Middle East.

“Steve and I went round and round on this, but ultimately, he wanted to make Frank younger because if he fought in Vietnam, he’s in his 70s, and I get more mileage out of him being in his early 40s. I don’t think that takes anything away from his origin.”

http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=35519

“I think a lot of books saw the success of the X-men books and decided to emulate the trappings of those books. They were very loud, convoluted, cramped, ugly, and confusing as hell.”

Definitely a 90′s excess thing because the X-Men was pretty easy to follow up until Marvel started to become crossover heavy and it got worse everytime after Secret Wars 2. Mutant Massacre, Fall of the Mutants, X-Tinction Agenda, and so on…ugh.

“Cramped” is one word that definitely nails comics like 90s X-Men. There were hardly any backgrounds in these kinds of books, just posing characters and explosions filling up every panel and usually spilling over into other panels on the page. I remember getting a weird feeling similar to claustrophobia when reading them.

It was my understanding in “Franken-Castle” #21 that Remender also addressed the age factor, having the Bloodstone not only heal The Punisher, but rejuvenate him to a more youthful, powerful Punisher. I just assumed that was the bleed over into The Punisher series with Greg Rucka. Oh, how I wish Rucka could stay on The Punisher

Been waiting for you guys to cover this.

As somebody who at the time was completely unaware of the Angel Punisher, I always thought Frank was thinking of a near death experience and never realised this was a way of getting passed an awkward phase of the character. So in that sense the scene worked quite well in not overburdening readers with all that.

it seems like most superheroes have eras that are really looked down upon, Spidey had the Clone Saga, Superman had Superman Red/Blue and Punisher had…Punisher/Angel.

I remember reading the Punisher/Angel mini in one shot and thinking to myself, “wtf?!?”

I loved how Ennis acknowledged AND dismissed it in his first Punisher mini, has shown above. THAT’S how to do it!!!

I thought (and think) that the Punisher Angel story works great as the *conclusion* of his adventures, but it did hamper any chance of telling classic-style Punisher stories.

The Kuberts are good storytellers? Please shut the $&@# up go read your Greg Land comics.

Comic-Reader Lad

January 4, 2013 at 4:52 pm

I’ve always thought Punisher was a ridiculous one-note character, and all the above pages only confirm that. Those first person narration captions are just so damn corny.

Even in the vaunted Ennis pages, that last panel: “They were WRONG!” with the dripping “Splaaaat” sound effect in the background is so laughable. The fact that you could tell Ennis was trying to be cool only makes it more eyerolling.

Ennis was specifically going for over the top in his initial Punisher run. He even discusses it in a text piece at the end of the issue (something along the lines of “wait until you see some of the crazy stuff in this series.”)

Definitely. Which is arguably why it worked so much better than most other takes on the character. Punisher lends itself to self-parody rather nicely.

PB210

January 3, 2013 at 5:38 pm

While some people might find this an odd take on the Punisher property, one could note that his creator, Gerry Conway, has half the time only written him in guest-spots in The Amazing Spider-Man (1963), Web of Spider-Man (1985) – Annual 06 and The Spectacular Spider-Man (1976).

(Of course, Conway copied from Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan and to a lesser degree the Shadow.)
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Intriguing question; how many Punisher stories did Gerry Conway actually write? This includes guest-spots in other series.

(Conway seems less prolific with Punisher stories than Don Pendleton with Mack Bolan-although the pastiche novels far outnumber Pendleton’s Bolan novels-or Walter Gibson with the Shadow).

I like the idea of the MAX version keeping the Viet Nam bit but the main version losing it. Otherwise with Marvel’s sliding time scale, explaining how the Punisher looks so young in his earliest appearances is an issue, regardless of what’s happened with him since.

One interesting bit of trivia: the mainstream Punisher believes in at least some Christian concepts while one issue of PunisherMAX (or maybe the earlier title Frank Castle: Punisher) noted that the MAX version’s an atheist. I can’t recall which MAX issue but it jumped out at me because the mainstream Punisher sometimes explores Christian concepts such as in the above case.

Not too many.

The Punisher debuted in Amazing #129, then appeared also in #134, #135, Giant-Size #4 and Marvel Preview #2.

Except perhaps for Marvel Preview, all of those were written by Conway.

His next appearance was in Marvel Super-Action #1, written by Archie Goodwin.

By the time he returned to Amazing, in #161, Len Wein was the regular writer.

So, by my count, the answer is “four, maybe five”.

I kind of agree with both Comic Reader Lad and Brian. I do agree that Ennis is deliberately going for the over the top and corny, and that’s part of what makes it awesome, but I also think that at the end of the day, whether on purpose or not, after a while you can’t escape the fact that it’s still over the top and corny regardless of intent.

To give a similar example, there was a movie called Idiocracy that I loved, that was all about how people in the future are getting stupider and stupider. Everyone in the future is depicted enjoying crude humor like masturbation jokes, fart jokes, etc. So you get a sense of superiority from judging all the characters laughing at fart and masturbation jokes, and you feel elevated and smart. But at the end of the day, the creators of the movie are using fart and masturbation jokes for laughs. They’ve created a context for people who feel above lowest common denominator entertainment to enjoy it while still feeling above it.

To a degree, the more I read Ennis run the more I felt that in some ways it was worse than Punisher stories that played the shtick straight because it was strangely dishonest and had a weird cognitive dissonance. It seemed to partly hold the Punisher concept, and to a greater degree superheroes in general, in contempt while simultaneously benefiting from the tropes. Just because he’s mocking those tropes doesn’t change the fact he’s writing a story benefiting from and surrounding them. It’s a similar problem I have with the Frank Miller parody/satire defense.

That is indeed part of the core concept of the Punisher: it self-limits itself, and all the more so when played along with superheroes.

To this day I’m surprised that he was ever considered as a lead character for an ongoing.

If only more bad storylines were retconned like Garth Ennis did here, rather than reboot an entire universe…

I grew up with 90s X-Men, so I find it very distressing to find people dissing all the artists that I loved as a kid. Mid to late 90s Joe Mad on UXM was godlike as far as I was concerned.

Ferb Morgendorffer

January 9, 2013 at 10:42 am

@T (first comment) Funny, I became an X-fanatic thanks to how complex/convoluted things became during the end of Claremont’s run (not a popular opinion from past comments sections I’ve read, I know), but even by the time this was happening I’d had enough. Well, half the reason I had enough was due to how far the books crawled up their ass, the other half being Harras’s micro-managing driving away better writers like Waid, Seagle, & Kelly. Heck, even Lobdell eventually had enough, and he was the pet-favorite (not nessisarily an insult, I still like bits of his X-Men run and love his Generation X run, even if it derailed Jubilee).

But a big agreement on the Khan era of DC, even if I don’t totally hate Didio (I have plenty of problems, mind you). I remember defending DC at the time to my best friend, a casual fan who preferred Marvel, for having better direction and writing*.

@ DeAndrew Way – Agreed, it’s much like the constant hate-on for the last leg of Claremont’s run. I harbor no delusions about the flaws being his own fault as much as Harras’s micro-managing, and admit there’s a lot of rose-tinted nostalgia filtered glasses going on, I still love and defend that era (to a point that ends around Onslaught) as much as I wish Claremont had carried on (sue me, I love the idea of Gateway mentoring a multiversal defenders X-Men team and the Dark Wolverine Saga idea).

*Except for Justice League, as I was a big Giffen/Demattis fan and ranted often about how awful it became, meaning she was surprised when I raved how awesome it became when Morrison took over.

@DeAndrew and Ferb – It’s tough being both a child of the ’90s and a comic book fan. It’s something I’ve learned to take less seriously. On the one hand, a lot of the things people complain about when it comes to comics in the ’90s are almost inarguably bad (the explosion of the speculation market/collector culture, the proliferation of the gritted-teeth-and-big-guns Liefeld school of art, etc.). On the other, you’re always gonna have a soft spot for when you first started to enjoy something.

While I technically started reading my older brother’s comics in the ’80s when I was a little, little kid, I don’t think you could really say I was a comics fan until the ’90s. So I’ll always have tastes born in that era, like my love of Psylocke even though many older comics fans think of the whole “was a British lady, now a Japanese assassin” thing as the ultimate in convoluted ’90s BS. That’s the one I was introduced to, so I’ll always find her more interesting than Brian Braddock’s shy, proper-British kid sister.

I can’t defend everything, though. By the end of the ’90s/beginning of the 2000s, even I had to take a break from Marvel.

“I can’t defend everything, though. By the end of the ’90s/beginning of the 2000s, even I had to take a break from Marvel.”

Which of course would make it even tougher to be a 1990s Marvel fan because older fans tend to see 1998 to early 2000s as the period where Marvel got better for a while.

I’m not sure what’s so hard to about why the Punisher was considered a lead character. He’s basically been one with small breaks for over a quarter century. And he was popular enough before that his appearances were becoming increasingly big things as Miller used him in Daredevil and a Spiderman annual.

The Angel thing was just a bad idea, and it seemed at odds with the whole idea of Knights in that they were getting more real and gritty, and this was getting more fantastic. But they might have had to deal with it because didn’t they have a silly “Death of Frank Castle” storyline before it they had retconned, with him in the electric chair and everything? Just to say at that point the glory days of Punisher writing were long gone.

As for the 90′s, I think a lot of the hate gets thrown in because that’s when a lot of non-story things took place in the industry that people still hate. The dozen variant covers, with foil, for every issue. Image selling all over the place making artists the kings of comics, rather than storywriters. (It’s funny how this has changed, and the Bendis, Morrison, etc. guys are the rock stars now, and the artists are interchangeable story to story or issue to issue). That and some bad runs on some major titles make it sort of a bad memory for a lot. All coming to a head with Marvel going bankrupt in ’96.

While there’s good in any era, I don’t think it’s just “my comics were better.” Because while there are those who find the old stuff corny, I don’t think 80′s fans think 70′s comics, or even more so, 60′s comics, suck. But the industry has always had its ups and downs.

@M-Wolverine – You may be misremembering the 1995 relaunch of the character. The three ongoing titles were brought to a close and there was a crossover across the “Marvel Edge” titles in which the Punisher went on a drug-filled rampage that climaxed in killing Nick Fury (later retconned). A new series was then launched which started with the Punisher in the electric chair but a criminal organisation rigged a lesser voltage to fake his death and then tried to use him. The series lasted only 18 issues and ended midway through a storyline where in the aftermath of a battle the Punisher has lost his memory and is operating out of an abandoned church. I think the amnesia storyline was resolved in Heroes for Hire but otherwise the character drifted on the sidelines until Marvel Knights.

Liefeld clones, to me, were far less irritating than the army of Madureira clones that shambled their way into my favourite books in the mid-nineties. They and Comicraft were the reason I quit comics for half-a-decade or so.

if garth ennis’ punisher met the angel punisher…he would most likely shoot ‘em. No?

Captain Haddock

May 16, 2013 at 9:31 am

I think it’s about the eras you grew up in. I grew up in the 90s so when I saw Punsiher angel, I thought, “sure, why not?” At the time, the Punisher was coming off 4 books and a bajillion appearances that were boring to me, and I couldn’t read a lot of comics from the 70s and 80s cause the dialogue was too dated and I hated Marvel’s house style from those days (sue me). Point being, as someone who had no interest in the punisher, I was drawn to it. It may have rippe doff spawn, but it was a good rip off and had some good Bernie Wrightson art too.

I liked Punisher as Angel (which is something of an abandoning and forsaking of Castle’s previous origin in itself) but that probably relfects that I don’t like the regular Punisher that much. Okay as an anti-hero guest-star, but like Hawkeye, I’m not a fan of heroes who go around killing people.
Punisher’s best appearance was in Damage Control where a terrified executive compares the death of Frank’s family to the near-death of his pet dog. It was hysterical.
Any chance we can get the click-for-comments box back?

I remember the Punisher being turned into a Heavenly Vigilante was specifically Quesada’s idea. I remember seeing his designs with the squiggle on Punisher’s forehead. I know Priest has gotten a lot of flack for this storyline, but I think that it was another case of a good writer doing his best with a bad editorial edict.

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