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The Abandoned An’ Forsaked – Did the Punisher Fight in the Vietnam War?

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In this feature we examine comic book stories and ideas that were not only abandoned, but also had the stories/plots specifically “overturned” by a later writer (as if they were a legal precedent). Click here for an archive of all the previous editions of The Abandoned An’ Forsaked. Feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com if you have any suggestions for future editions of this feature.

Today, we look at how Marvel has handled the Punisher’s service as a Marine during the Vietnam War…

When the Punisher debuted at the end of 1973 in Amazing Spider-Man #129 by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, he mentions to Spider-Man that he is a Marine and Spidey expresses surprise that Punisher is fighting HERE instead of, well, you know, Vietnam…

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It wasn’t until the Punisher’s fifth appearance that we got confirmation that he fought in Vietnam, when he encounters an old war buddy…

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Then, later in the issue (which was written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Tony DeZuniga), we get the Punisher’s origin for the first time…

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And that was it for the Punisher and Vietnam. They just went together for years. The Punisher even appeared in Marvel’s series about the Vietnam War, The ‘Nam…

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In his Punisher Max work, Garth Ennis repeatedly featured the Punisher’s service in Vietnam…

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However, in 2011, the Punisher received a new series written by Greg Rucka and drawn by Marco Checchetto. Was nearly forty years of existence too long for the Punisher to still be written as a Vietnam War veteran? Go to the next page to find out…

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63 Comments

Travis Pelkie

March 6, 2016 at 5:14 am

Which Gulf War?

Of course, if they want to keep Frank in his 40s or so and still have him have been a Marine in a Middle Eastern war, they can still do that one for quite a number of years. Unfortunately.

Presumably they’re keeping WHICH Gulf War vague for just that reason. So this is one of those retcons where it’s like, “Okay, this takes care of the problem for the next twenty-five/thirty years, so we don’t have to address this again for some time.”

Given the sliding scale of the MU timeline, I’m surprised this wasn’t changed sooner.

In 2013, Garth Ennis was talking about plans for a mini-series covering the beginning of Frank Castle’s time in Vietnam

I don’t know if this change is the reason I haven’t seen it yet or if it is still coming

It’s also worth noting that while the MAX version was originally intended to be the same Punisher, due to Ennis wanting to keep Punisher in Vietnam it was decided his adventures take place on a parallel Earth (Nick Fury MAX lives on the same Earth). I’m not sure where it was revealed in a comic vs an interview, but at least by the letter pages of Rick Remender’s run. So Born is actually the first appearance of that Punisher, as noted in Punisher: Official Index to the Marvel Universe. This also explains Microchip having different fates in the MAX series and Remender’s series, and a lot of characters having obvious counterparts in the subsequent PunisherMax title. Plus there’s a detail that I don’t think many people pick up on: the regular Punisher has repeatedly stated that when he dies he believes he’ll continue to punish criminals in Hell, while the Punisher in in the MAX series is an atheist.

So Punisher classic: retconned to fighting in someAsian conflict, Punisher MAX: will never be retconned, always fought in Vietnam.

The Nam’s cover is awful! Looks like snot is coming out of his nose xD

I just always assume any character whose history is tied to war — one where changing the actual context behind the war isn’t important, so much as having a basic conflict — that the war WILL be changed due to the sliding timeline, and characters will be vague about it. Captain America’s origin, to me anyway, kinda needs to be WWII for these reasons:
– people were less excited for war than WWI, there were conscriptions, and yet Steve still wanted to be a soldier.
– there was a more clear Good vs Evil nature to it all
– it was brutal. Yes, all war is brutal, but this is where people saw the real dark side of war.

Plus, he doesn’t need to be young, chronologically, to do his thing. Glad they haven’t changed it, hope they never do.

I kinda wonder if Iron Man has pulled this yet? I mean IIRC, Invincible Iron Man kinda had it look less like Vietnam jungles and more like Afghanistan… I think. May be the movie colouring my perception of it.

Or rather some Gulf conflict. My brain confused with Iron Man’s retcon. I think creating a new fictional country near Vietnam would have been the way to go.

As far as I can recall in previous appearances and/or handbook references he was already described as a veteran of an undetermined war in Asia. Only Ennis explicitly mentioned Vietnam because, come on, he’s Ennis and it’s THE Vietnam War :)

Does that page say “Karine”? Twice?

E. Martin: I haven’t read the stories so will have to take your word for it, but are you claiming that in Frank Castle’s various appearances in The ‘Nam, Vietnam wasn’t even mentioned once?

@Will:
Also, the fact that Cap spent time in suspended animation means that they can always maintain that he was active during WWII, and then they can just keep expanding the number of years he was frozen in ice.

I thought Frank’s record in Vietnam was still in continuity and he just got de-aged by the Bloodstone during that whole Frankencastle kerfuffle.

Captain America, his origion is and should be tied to ww 2. Because of the reasons listed above and roughy half his career, at least his early career, is so tied up to ww2, with the nazis and all that. And he has the scifi way to be connected to ww2 and still be active in the current day, the being frozen part. Iron Mans origin is a bit less tied to any specific war, he didn’t fight in the war his origin happen in, and non of his enemies were tied to the war so the war he was testing his gear out can be changed without screwing things. And frank, his origin is such that the war he served in doesn’t tie as directly into his origin at all. Not like it does with Cap or even Tony to an extent. The whole serving in the marines during a war is part of his background but it isn’t part of his origin directly.

ISTR when I was a teen in the early 90s and there was an Iron Man/War Machine crossover (Hands of the Mandarin, iirc) that rehashed how Rhodey and Stark first met and it was in an unspecified south-east Asian nation, not in Vietnam. So, at least as early as 1994/1995 they were sliding Iron Man away from ‘nam. Interestingly, Ultimate had Stark held prisoner in a Central American nation to create the suit, rather than somewhere in Asia.

For a while Tony was always have had his origin happen in more generic southeast asia and not vietnam because of the US having troops stationed in southeast Asia. I could be wrong but I think it was the Extremis storyline that switched it to Tony being in the Middle East area, Iraq or wherever.

Rollo Tomassi

March 6, 2016 at 8:28 am

I also think that because of the sliding timescale, they kept adding bits to Frank’s origin story. Because in those early BW stories he’s on leave and then goes AWOL after his family dies. In later versions, I thought he had come home from the war and joined the police force before his family died.
Also, the “people responsible” kept changing and growing because he killed the guys from the park, but then in the first arc of PWJ he went after the guys that ordered the hit. Then there were the guys those guys worked for later on. And in the wonderful “The Cell” oneshot (which may or may not be in continuity, or MAX continuity…its vague) he deliberately gets sent to prison to take out the guys behind the guys behind the guys. I’m gonna ignore the Angel/Demon retcon bs.

That could be a good topic for another article. How many times has Frank settled the score for his family.

@Lanier: yup, during Extremis he had a flashback and we saw the updated origin. Which served as basis for the movie.

If anything I think the Punisher was more strongly tied to the 70s style of organized crime than he was Vietnam.

I do wonder how Marvel will retcon (assuming they haven’t already) Xavier’ s backstory. He originally served in Korea and it’s fairly important that he gets conscripted. Changing that to any post Vietnam war won’t work with that.

Jeff Nettleton

March 6, 2016 at 9:01 am

The black & white Punisher stories were deliberately aping the Executioner novels of Don Pendleton. They were big hits and were duplicated by everyone, most especially Marvel. In the original Mack Bolan book, his father has killed the family and himself, except for Bolan ‘s younger brother, who is gravely wounded. It turns out the father had owed money to loan sharks and Bolan’s sister had been turned into a prostitute, to help pay the debt. When the father finds out, he goes crazy and shoots everyone and himself. Bolan is called back on emergency leave, learns the truth from his brother, then proceeds to go AWOL and launch a war on the Mafia, using military tactics. He later acquires his War Wagon, a tricked out van, loaded with weapons and equipment. All of this would turn up in the Punisher, more or less.

The Nam issues, with the Punisher, were horrible. Up to that point, the series had been handled (mostly) seriously and with an eye towards authenticity, especially under Doug Murray. Don Lomax (a veteran, like Murray) kept it straight and Chuck Dixon mostly did. However, the Punisher was added as a sales-boosting stunt and destroyed any credibility in the magazine. The story itself reads like an even worse rendition of Rambo, to me. I haven’t read Ennis’ stuff, to see how he handled the character in the war. I have read some of Ennis’ other war comics and he at least tends to strive for realism, in general.

Really, I’m kind of surprised Marvel didn’t start moving the needle sooner. There were plenty of conflicts to throw into Castle’s background, right after Vietnam and up through the various Gulf conflicts. Personally, I would have tweaked the character from being a Marine, to Army Special Forces, as it gave you more possibilities for combat, clandestine or open, across the decades. As it was, most of the writers had no clue about Marine missions and the differences in training and tactics between the Army and the Marines. Then again, you didn’t get many writers with a military background, unlike the Silver Age, where many writers and artists had at least served in the peacetime military, if not during WW2 or Korea.

The real interesting one is Magneto. His origin is so tied down to world war 2 that you can’t really change it, however there was that period of x-men where he was turned into a baby. THAT story could be retconned and revealed he was made younger when he returned to adulthood maybe. For a little while….

Rollo Tomassi

March 6, 2016 at 9:27 am

@Steve thats exactly what they did. Currently Magneto is a man in his mid to late 30s depending on the sliding timescale. In fact, in issue 200 of Uncanny X-Men it was an essential plot point during his trial because his lawyer argued the “younger” Magneto couldn’t be held accountable for anything the previous Magneto had done.

Alaric Shapli

March 6, 2016 at 9:39 am

Steve- It was actually specifically stated, back when Magnetto was first returned to adulthood, that he was younger (and therefor more powerful) than he had been before, so that wouldn’t be a retcon. However, as far as I know, his WWII-related background wasn’t added to the character until years after his return to adulthood, so it wouldn’t have been done with that in mind.

Alaric Shapli

March 6, 2016 at 9:40 am

(Several years after, anyway.)

I would argue stuff like this is the biggest argument there is for going the DC route and rebooting your universe every couple decades or so. The Magneto one is particularly problematic because of the specific ties to WW2. I would say most of the characters who had ties to the cold war have more or less been retconned (instead of trying to beat the “reds” to Mars, Reed Richards was just trying to develop private space travel, for instance). Both Juggernaut and Flash Thompson also served in Vietnam initially (I think that’s where Juggernaut got his gem). Trying to undo this stuff can be a huge hassle. Just look at the way DC tried to reconcile the Earth 2 Black Canary with the Earth 1 Green Arrow prior to Crisis.

Ethan Shuster

March 6, 2016 at 9:49 am

Obviously, this is a common thing that you end up having to do with wars in comic books. Unless you wants 80 year old characters. Another example has been in G.I. Joe comics, where many characters’ back stories are tied to Vietnam. That series has been revived recently and I think the specifics of the war just haven’t been mentioned much if at all.

I think one problem with that sort of thing is that sometimes the story is tied into that specific war. You could argue that all war is the same on some level, but the country, the difficulty of the war, public reaction, treatment of soldiers returning, etc, etc, is often a part of the story and makes Vietnam a unique war. In fiction of the 1980s, Vietnam is the root of all evil. Even so, I suppose the trauma of war or disillusioned soldiers sadly are not things unique to any war.

I thought Frank’s record in Vietnam was still in continuity and he just got de-aged by the Bloodstone during that whole Frankencastle kerfuffle.

That was before this retcon.

“It wasn’t until the Punisher’s fifth appearance that we got confirmation that he fought in Vietnam, when he encounters an old war buddy… later in the issue (which was written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Tony DeZuniga)…”

Just out of curiosity… what was the issue?

“he deliberately gets sent to prison to take out the guys behind the guys behind the guys.”

Between this statement and the lack of differentiation between Vietnam and Afghanistan, I am thinking way too much about Hot Shots! Part Deux.

Oops, sorry, Marvel Preview #2.

I hate this sort of stuff, even though I agree it’s necessary. To my mind, the “real” Punisher fought in Vietnam, just like the real Spider-Man and Fantastic Four began their careers in the 1960s. I do wonder why I don’t feel the same way about Batman and Superman. The cynical answer would be that I wasn’t there to read Batman and Superman in the 1930s, but that isn’t the reason, because I also began reading the FF in the 1980s, when the more obvious 1960s stuff was long gone. I think that is because Batman and Superman really changed and acquired new elements after the 1930s, they’re more timeless. But the Marvel heroes have, essentialy, stayed the same. Most of them are 1960s and 1970s characters, DD and the X-Men are 1980s characters though.

also: do NOT call Marines ‘soldiers’ like in that quote from the CBR piece. US Marines notoriously HATE being called ‘soldiers’, they’re MARINES. Marines do different training and are allegedly tougher than US Army soldiers.

Although Delta and the USASF (aka Green Berets) would probably laugh that one off.

I don’t care. Just treat the Punisher character with respect. Stop writing him as a generic maniac. Certain writers have done this over the years, including recent years.

“Marvel Preview #2.”

Cool, thanks. :)

The problem with Magneto and the sliding time scale is that, even though he was turned into a baby and then restored to adulthood as a young man, that happened part way through his career as a villain, which still means that he was a senior citizen when he made his debut “10 years ago”.
I’m picturing him magnetically levitating his walker in front of him as he attacked Cape Citadel in X-Men #1.

Is that Gung Ho from G.I. Joe standing behind Castle in the top panel from Punisher #4 (with the mustache)?

Speaking of Magneto, has Marvel ever addressed the steroid issues? There is no damn way someone half his age naturally has those arms.

John Trumbull

March 6, 2016 at 1:54 pm

“You know, boys, it’s such a GORGEOUS day… Let’s do our executions in the park today.” – The mobsters from the Punisher’s origin, probably.

given how like dc marvel keeps changing its timeline to keep their characters from ageing too much not surprised that sooner or later some one at marvel would decide nope the punisher was not in nam but his military service was the gulf war either one or two. but his family being slain as the reason he is the vigilantee he is.

Jeff Nettleton

March 6, 2016 at 2:38 pm

@Fury
The training isn’t THAT different, though the mission is. Marines are trained to conduct amphibious landings, which is the more unique aspect of their role. Once they are on land, though, they function pretty much like the Army, and employ the same kind of infantry tactics Now, Marine pilots are vastly different from Naval Aviators and Air Force Pilots. They first have to go through The Basic School, to learn to be infantry officers, before they go to flight school. All Marine officers are infantry officers first, then their specialty.

As to who’s tougher? Many a bar fight hasn’t settled that one. Suffice to say, when the defecation hits the oscillator, it doesn’t matter, as they will fight side by side and be glad of the assistance. That said, Marine basic and infantry training is a cakewalk compared to the Army Special Warfare selection, Ranger School, and BUD/S. It’s a matter of degrees of intensity.

From my experience, though, Marines are a lot more hard-headed; but, they have the sexier dress uniforms. They also tend to view berets as somewhat effeminate. :)

I was a sailor; there wasn’t much difference in the Army, Air Force or Marines, when they are hanging over the side, heaving out their dinner. :) :)

To me the real problem with Magneto and WWII is not Max himself but Xavier. The deaging with Mags makes sense in a fuzzy logic sort of way but Charles is a problem too because he’s always been written as a contemporary of Magneto. He fought in the Vietnam War, helped Magneto track down Nazi war criminals etc. He’s always been portrayed in comics as mid 40s to mid 50s. In original appearances even youngers.

As far as the buff things goes maybe Brian can help put but in swear there was a X-men comic where it was mentioned that mutants stayed viral longer than regular humans. Not healing factor mind you but the effects of old age don’t hit as hatd.

IanC, Cain Marko served in Korea where he became the Juggernaut. If he served in Vietnam, that’s a retcon.

Sue Grafton went in the opposite direction with her Kinsey Mulhone mysteries–she decided after a certain point they’d stop in time in the late 1980s because of some Vietnam-related backstory (she also didn’t want to write a gumshoe in a world of Internet searches and cell phones). Though this was some years back, she may have changed for all I know.

Travis Pelkie

March 6, 2016 at 4:59 pm

Trumbull made me laugh.

@ John Trumbull:
.
In the limited series that introduced the short-lived period in which the Punisher was a supernaturally-powered soldier of Heaven, it was retconned that the public execution, as well as the odd method of execution, was part of a magical ritual that bound Castle to a demon lord, so that every criminal he killed went straight to that demon’s realm and became one of his soldiers.

Rollo Tomassi

March 6, 2016 at 5:43 pm

@Armitage. Now now. We’ve all agreed never to speak of that abomination ever again. The lowest point in the Punisher saga.

Looks like he was retconned to a Gulf War 1 veteran. He’s wearing the Kuwait campaign ribbon in the above imaged (which is a poorly shooped medal rack).

Combaine that with the complete absence of molle and other modern digs on his combat image, that tells me he saw combat in Desert Storm.

Army combat vet here, I recognize some things :D

What’s next, rebooting Gulf War to the war on terror in Iraq ten years from now? I still sticking my guns on the Vietnam experience. That one is more hellish and brutal than the Gulf War. I will not be surprised if Marvel puts some “super soldier” serum to Punisher’s veins to make him more relevant.

[…] First go over to CBR & read the latest The Abandoned An’ Forsaked post.  […]

@Josh
“maybe Brian can help put but in swear there was a X-men comic where it was mentioned that mutants stayed viral longer than regular humans.”
(Did you mean ‘vital’?)
In X-Men Forever, it was the opposite – they burned out and died quicker than normal humans.
But that was out of continuity.

Travis Stephens

March 6, 2016 at 11:54 pm

Didn’t Xavier & Juggy already get retconned into serving in Vietnam in the story where Xavier, Carmen Pryde, and Wolverine meet? Their uniforms certainly looked Vietnam War era, especially the helmets. And I too appreciate the mob ‘s cavalier daylight public executions in the park.

Garth Ennis did a great job of showing how no conflict other than Vietnam could create the Punisher. To say that one’s as good as any other shows incredible naivete, not just about this character, but about war.

I mean, they did it to Iron Man, and he easily could have been translated to any country where we would sell munitions to. So there will always be a newer war to retcon the Punisher to stay current (sadly). But you have to slide it some. Otherwise Reed Richards and Ben Grimm, WWII vets is going to make them really old. :-)

@Jeff Nettleton- Then your answer to who is the toughest should have been “SEALS” ;)

Here is a question: what does Marvel really gain by having its stories set in the present day?

If Marvel has a 14 year continuity, then why is starting it in 2002 better than 1961? Is there any reason that they couldn’t set their stories in 1975 and keep all their historical links intact?

The point is obviously moot, but it is a question.

Dean –
I’ve wondered that myself. It is a little easier, though, to write contemporary times than past times.

A Horde of Evil Hipsters

March 8, 2016 at 3:28 am

Was there really a Marvel comic called “The ‘Nam”? Was this a Commando/Insert-British-War-Comic-Here type “boys’ own adventure” thingy or was it meant for more mature, for lack of a better word, readers?

Regarding Dean Hacker’s point about setting stories in the present day:

People tend to see stories set in the not-distant past as period pieces or genre throwbacks that are only about that period of time and whatever then-current phenomenon said story deals with. For example, I’ve seen articles about the current Shaft comic book that repeatedly have to stress that it is in fact a crime story that happens to be set in the 70s, not a blacksploitation comedy series. Hence, one suspects a Marvel comic produced in 2016 but set in the 1960s would be seen as something like Austin Powers.

Of course, stories set in the “present day” always end up as unintentional period pieces, with references to long-forgotten celebrities and politicians and soon-to-be obsolete technology.

Yes, there was a comic called The Nam. It strove to capture all the complexity of the war and the political issues surrounding it. None of that boys’ own adventure vibe. I think I only read one issue, but I could tell it was grim drama.

And yeah, most people are lazy and dumb and will scoff like zoo monkeys upon seeing an oversized old cell phone in a movie. They forget that there is no such thing as timelessness. It’s an illusion. But most people’s refusal to watch any movie with outdated special effects (not to mention black and white movies, and they’d never ever come close to a silent film) means they’re unused to stories set in the past, except if they are purposeful period movies made today.

Oneminutemonkey

March 8, 2016 at 8:12 pm

The ‘Nam was an interesting comic that attempted to basically retell the war in real time–every issue represented a month in the conflict, so there was a distinct sense of time progressing. Characters came and went, and the writers tried to grasp the complexities of the time and material. Marvel released some of it in trade paperbacks a few years ago, I believe. Though bringing in the Punisher was kind of a sad attempt to boost sales. It was written by veteran Doug Murray, at Larry Hama’s behest. So props for authenticity.

The sliding timeline with comic book characters has always been interesting. The further we get from fixed events, the harder it is to deal with characters tied to those events. Captain America and Bucky, Namor and Torch, they can all stayed tied to WW2 because of various reasons. But even Fury and the Howling Commandos start to look pretty long in the tooth after 70 years, which is why we’ve seen them prolonged through science or magic, or just killed off. And every time a Golden Age hero turns up (as so many still do) it’s harder to accept that even the youngest to fight in the war would still be vital. Most of those simply vanish into the woodwork.

So of course characters who stay active and important in the setting need to be adjusted. Luckily, with guys like Punisher or Juggernaut or Xavier or Flash Thompson who need -some- sort of military service in their background, it’s easy to mumble something about an Asian conflict or a Middle Eastern conflict because there’re so many to choose from… and if you leave it vague, good old Frank can serve anywhere and anywhen that’s appropriate. (Has there ever been an alternate universe Punisher that came back from WW1, for instance?) Problem solved.

The hard part is when you have guys like Reed and Ben, who started off having fought in WW2 back when it was simply accepted that anyone of age in that time would have served. But of course that aspect got dropped when it was no longer convenient or relevant.

As long as we insist on characters who are published over the span of decades, we’ll have to accept the occasional episode of cleaning up their backstory. Superman gets pushed forward to a modern debut, the Justice Society vanishes into a time bubble, Golden Age heroes get put in suspended animation… and then comes my favorite part: when comic book companies try to fill the gap with forgotten heroes, like the Justice Experience or the Lost Generation, to explain the lack of heroes between the Golden Age and today.

While I agree that a Vietnam veteran in the 1970s is not the same as a Gulf War veteran today, that’s true of much of what’s hit by the sliding scale. A test pilot in the early 1960s was way cooler than any time since, and so were the super-spies of SHIELD. There’s no way around it unfortunately.

For my ex-smoker wife, what blows her mind about older movies is all the places people smoke, even in hospitals.

The sliding-scale issue that boggles me the most is probably Namor and the idea he was wandering the waterfront in a fugue for 50 years before FF 4.

Fraser –

I remember reading a Blue Marvel story set in the 1960s, I think, and Namor (healthy of body and mind) was in it. I suppose there is no need for Namor to have spent all that time with amnesia.

Good point Rene. I suppose it’s possible that the slide includes Destiny frying Namor’s brain a lot later than he did in the original timeline.

Superconnectivity

March 21, 2016 at 8:10 am

It is perhaps the least uplifting thing in comics, that even in sliding time, there is so much global conflict, that one war for another is entirely viable.

Yeah, the saddest example is John Watson’s military service in the Middle East being still possible after more than 100 years.

I think Omar Karindu said Batwoman’s origin, that she got into trouble in a military academy on account of being a lesbian, would become dated quickly. I am not as optimistic. While laws that openly discrimate against gays may go the way of segregation laws, the unofficial prejudice will continue.

[…] Checchetto: co-creator of Frank Castle as a veteran of Middle Eastern conflicts (Punisher #4, […]

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