Garth EnnisPunisher
Punisher: The Platoon
Medium: comic
Year: 2017
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Goran Parlov, Jordie Bellaire
Keywords: Punisher
Format: 6 twenty-page issues
Website category: Comics
Review date: 10 February 2022
Garth Ennis returns to the Punisher for the first time in nearly a decade... except that he doesn't, exactly. This is a young, inexperienced Frank Castle who's definitely not yet a killer vigilante. Ennis's earlier Vietnam mini-series, 'Born', was set during Castle's third and final tour of duty in Vietnam and was very much about how he became the Punisher, but this is his first tour. He's still learning. He's a sort of idealist. "Combat experience?" "Zero."
It's pretty good. Ennis knows his stuff as well as any military historian, but also has his usual blood-and-guts instincts. It's a good, solid, exciting Vietnam story. You can see the proto-Punisher, but he's not there yet. He's given himself a mission. He's going to save the life of every man in his platoon. This is the opposite of most Punisher stories, obviously, and more uplifting than them.
If you're hoping to read all of Ennis's Vietnam books in order, though, I've got bad news for you. They loop. You've got to read them in publication order, really, which would be:
(a) 'Born' (2003) -- Castle's third tour
(b) 'Valley Forge, Valley Forge' (2008) -- the last story arc of Ennis's Punisher MAX run, which is mostly a present-day military story but has lots of excerpts from a book by Michael Goodwin about the events of 'Born'. It's strong stuff.
(c) 'Fury: My War Gone By' (2012) -- a Nick Fury series, but the third of its four arcs is set in Vietnam and includes Frank Castle. I don't actually own this, unfortunately, so I can't say for sure that it really belongs here. But I've put it in the list anyway.
(d) 'The Platoon' (2017) -- Castle's first tour, but with a present-day framing story of Michael Goodwin interviewing some of the survivors. This will work a lot better if you've read 'Born' and 'Valley Forge, Valley Forge'.
After reading this, though, I went on to reread 'Born'... and, combined like that, they're astonishing. The combination is far better than either mini-series on its own. 'The Platoon' shows a man who's doing the near-impossible and keeping his men alive, although he's obviously willing to cross a lot of boundaries to get that job done. In contrast, 'Born' portrays an absolute clusterfuck of a military situation, plunges Castle into hell and has a gut-punch ending. He murders an officer to keep his bit of war going and so, effectively, is the man who killed his entire platoon. If he'd let events take their course, they'd have all gone home. He made the right decision for the war as a whole. For personal survival, not so much.
On its own, 'Born' is powerful. As the second half of a story that began far more hopefully with 'The Platoon', it's a thousand times worse.
(Incidentally, Ennis has since written another Punisher limited series: Soviet #1-6 with Jacen Burrows, 2019-2020. I don't have that, though, because it doesn't seem to have a trade paperback. I'm puzzled.)
One day, I hope Ennis writes a mini-series about Castle's second tour, although maybe he thinks he's already covered that in 'Fury: My War Gone By'. (I'd need to read that to find out, alas. If anyone sees a trade paperback of that for sensible money, point me in its direction.) I'd love to see Castle's Vietnam saga completed... but this one-two punch of 'The Platoon' and 'Born' is already a hammerblow. Bloody hell.