Category Archives: 90s Marvel

The Front Line is Everywhere- Punisher: War Zone #1

Welcome to another installment of The Unspoken Decade!  I hope you enjoyed Angel’s work here last week, and if you didn’t, I reckon you might ought not tell me, what with me being her brother and all!

Over at Longbox Graveyard, I recently penned an article on one of the Punisher’s appearances in the 1970’s in Marvel Preview #2.  I am unsure when it will be published, but as I was writing it, I started thinking about how I needed to get to Punisher sooner rather than later in my own corner of the blogosphere here at The Unspoken Decade.

Punisher has been my favorite comic book character since I was in 4th grade, and he is arguably my favorite character in anything ever, regardless of medium.  I recall the first time I stumbled upon Punisher was a Saturday morning after spending the night at my friend Carse Peel’s place.  Carse was and most likely is as strange as his name suggests.  He was a cool guy, but he also showed me my first porno, talked about sex all the time, showed me his dick constantly, and he told me his mom gave him hickies.  He had an NES and lots of games, though, so I basically had to be his pal then; I would have been violating 4th grade Omerta otherwise.  (We will hear more about a different sort of Omerta later, where the stakes are higher than just Holly Phillips not returning my “Will You Go Out With Me?  Check One of the Boxes.” note.)So I tolerated the weirdest 4th grader not in a Village of the Damned movie because otherwise I would have been bereft of late nights watching USA Up All Night and playing Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out.

He also had a big stack of comic books, and while I would not dive headfirst into the superhero swimming pool for a few years as of yet, I was already familiar with many superheroes  from cartoons like Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, Super Friends, Incredible Hulk, the 1966 Batman show, and many more places of origin.  Hell, I had even bought a comic book or two!  I had never seen this guy in the skull though, and while I was tempted to just dismiss this as one of Carse’s weird books, I instead made the greatest decision I could, which was to open up the book at the risk of it being full of perversion.  Instead, I found the violent glory of Frank Castle, The Punisher.

I asked Carse about him, and he told me he was an Australian hero who killed bad guys because his family had been killed.  So, despite Punisher being my favorite character, I went around for about two years believing that Australia had provided me with Punisher.   I think this misinterpretation came from the fact that the Dolph Lundgren Punisher movie was filmed in Australia, or maybe Carse was just pulling one over on me; where is a great detective like Dakota North to find this out when I need her?

I will tell you some other Carse stories later sometime if you are good, but for now, we have to get to our first gimmick cover of The Unspoken Decade…PUNISHER: WAR ZONE #1!!!

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(Frank Castle would not be the only 90’s character to sport the gun, trenchcoat, and pouches combo, but no one else did so with this sort of panache.)

                John Romita Jr. would be responsible for at least 80% of the panache shown here, with much of the rest filled up by the fact that having a laser sight on an Uzi is amazing.  The cover is Die-Cut, in many ways the least offensive of the gimmick covers that saturated the early 90’s, and it sometimes made covers better.  In this instance, I am in that club.  Just take a gander at the wraparound and inside cover!

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(I like to pretend that the story here is that Punisher is actually shooting those guys with a giant gun as they stand in awe of the longest teeth in the history of The Punisher skull.)

Being somewhat of a gun nut, I appreciate the realism on the cover where Punisher is holding the two Uzis.  If you look, you can see the fold-up stocks on the guns.  Attention to detail like this has made not just John Romita, Jr. one of my favorite artists of all time, but it has also made Chuck Dixon one of my favorite writers ever.  He’s one of the more underrated writers in the business, and he certainly was one of the more underrated writers of the 90’s.  I don’t think he ever wrote a masterpiece other than the first arc in Punisher:  War Zone, but he did a great job on many titles dealing with street level heroes, such as Batman, Robin, and Nightwing.  He somehow had an ability to make these turf wars, seedy warehouses, and mob families seem so real one could almost smell the gun grease.  He was also able to maintain a rather lofty workload; it seems at almost any given point he was writing at least four monthly titles in the 90’s.

That output wasn’t hurting him anywhere here.  I often hear that “no one ever got Punisher before Garth Ennis,” and while I do believe Mr. Ennis is a fine Punisher scribe, to say such a thing is to hurl a hydrogen bomb of an insult at guys like Steven Grant, Mike Baron, and my man, Chuck Dixon.  There are several really good Punisher stories waaaaaay before Ennis crossed the pond and anyone who thinks otherwise is either being self-delusional or they just worship Garth Ennis, and as much as I enjoy some of Ennis’s work, the idea of him being a deity is about as pleasant to me as a rug burn to the face.  If you have read his work, you know why.  If you haven’t, read his Marvel Knights Punisher and his Punisher Max stuff.  It’s really good.

This blog isn’t about how good Ennis is, though, but it is about how good a team Dixon/Romita Jr./Janson is here.  Dixon writes Punisher as the driven psychopath he is, and Romita does a great job having Castle’s body language convey that outlook.  Take a look at Punisher’s eyes as he mows down an informant who has gone nuts and shot a cop.

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(The only thing emptier than Punisher’s eyes is a Sears store at the mall.)

This is the first thing you see when you open the comic book, and already the creative team has established that Punisher is a psychopath with little regard for others…or himself.  Lynn Michaels is the cop that raises her gun against Punisher but doesn’t fire; she becomes an important member of Punisher’s supporting cast and eventually serves as Punisher herself for a bit following the events of Suicide Run, which I am sure I will cover at some point here at The Unspoken Decade.

This arc also explored the relationship between Punisher and his partner, Microchip.  Yes, his name is really Microchip.  My girlfriend did not believe me, so she certainly did not believe me when I told her that Microchip’s son is named Microchip, Jr.  For real, to this moment, she does not believe me.  I understand why not, but come on!  Why would I lie about this?  Anyhow, Microchip is like Punisher’s Alfred in a way, if Alfred was a fat, balding computer genius who didn’t mind that Batman killed folks.   Microchip tries to reason with Punisher about not overdoing it, but this was as effective as kindly asking a rabid skunk to leave you alone while you enjoy a sunny day.

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(I think Punisher bought those Craftsman tools from the same Sears store at the mall I mocked earlier.)

Microchip has been going out a bit, and Punisher is bothered by it.  Since they’re good friends who have been mired in a hellacious war on crime together, Punisher decided to follow Microchip rather than ask him what is going on.  For a fat guy, Microchip is a subway ninja.  All Punisher finds out is that Microchip has been talking to someone.  Since Punisher was all sneaky about finding out where Microchip was going, perhaps he will be sneaky about letting Microchip know he has the information.  OR HE IS THE GODDAMN PUNISHER.

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(Punisher sounds a little like a 7th-grade girl.  “Did you tell him about me?  What did you guys talk about?”)

Microchip leaves, and he does not return for awhile.  The way Punisher interacts with Micro and basically disregards his feelings other than how it works for Punisher is emblematic of what is so great about this character.  He has no feelings for anyone.  He cares not for himself, Microchip, his dead family, or the cops he saved earlier.  He cares only for his war.  All that matters is his war.  I admire that sort of that dedication.  I wish I had a sliver or two of it in my life.

The issue then jumps to what appears to be a generic banana republic, where a scared tyrant is listening to an injured solider tell him how one guy killed 101 of the best men in the tyrant’s army.  As the tyrant expresses incredulity at this, the man kills both of them, lets us know his name is Shotgun, and then vocalizes that his body count is now up to 103.

Jumping back to NYC, Punisher takes out some mooks (man, I love that word) that have decided to engage in an extracurricular hit on a restaurant that doubles as a bank for Triad casinos.  The mooks get in and out, but Punisher is waiting for them with more firepower than he needs.

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(Jesus, if Punisher says he used too much firepower, what could he have used? A nuclear submarine?)

Punisher kills all these mooks, but he saves one.  You see, Punisher has a plan to take down the Carbone mob, and all he needs is a scared wise guy to help him infiltrate the family.  Mickey Fondozzi finds himself both the unluckiest and luckiest guy in the Marvel Universe at this point; he has survived a fight with Punisher, but now he must work for Punisher.  That would be like Cthulhu not eating you, but instead he makes you manager of a restaurant where he eats other people.  I mean, it is good to be alive, but no way could one feel secure at all.

Mickey stands his ground as best as one hanging upside down by their feet can, even dropping the Big O on Punisher.

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(Buttcheeks is too nice of a term for Feds.  I prefer fascist buttcheeks.)

Mickey daring to drop Omerta on Punisher is both brave and ever so funny.  It becomes even funnier when Punisher has apparently gone to genealogy.com and found exactly who Mickey Fondozzi is and what he is all about.

Mickey continues to play tough guy, and so Punisher, in one of the more famous scenes from Punisher lore, decided to make Mickey cooperate the old-fashioned way by asking nicely while using a blowtorch on him.

Or does he?

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(These mobsters sure talk loosely on the phone.  I have known pot dealers with strict phone code, and yet here they are just openly discussing murder.  Wow.)

 

The comic then ends with Mickey bringing Castle into the Carbone Family under the alias Johnny Tower.  Punisher does a lot of cool stuff, but his aliases are never cool.  He always uses some variation of his last name.  I have also seen him refer to himself as Charles Fort and Charles Rook.  I guess some idiosyncrasies are allowed to a psychotic vigilante though.

All in all, this is a great comic.  It serves as a great comic in every which way.  It is a great story with great art.  It’s a great #1, and it does a great job introducing any new readers into the dark, cold, and calculating world of Frank Castle, The Punisher.  When folks badmouth the 90’s in general, and 90’s Punisher in particular, as being bland crap designed just to have gimmick covers to sell books, the first arc of Punisher:  War Zone is almost always my first thought to contradict such nonsense.

Of course, this issue holds a special place in my heart, as it hung on the wall of my local comic shop for months when I first got into collecting.  I got heavily into comic books just after Punisher:  War Zone started.  The first issue I picked up was #5.  Since the other Punisher titles were so deep in their numbering, I sort of clung to War Zone as “My Punisher Title” and decided to grab all of them from #1!  All the other issues of Punisher:  War Zone were there on the shelf back to #2 at my LCS, but #1 was sold-out, and the copy they had on the wall was five dollars.  FIVE DOLLARS!  I pined for that book, but could never get it b/c it would have cost me all my weekly comic book cash.  One day I went in and it was gone.  I was so bummed.  I went home and yelled and was incorrigible because there was no way I would now ever get my hands on that comic that had A PRINT RUN IN AT LEAST THE HUNDRED THOUSANDS!

As it turned out, my mom had snagged it for me for my birthday, so thanks Mom!  She didn’t even hold it against me that I threw such a large fit, and she also never knew that I found the comic under the car seat about a week before I was supposed to get it.  Microchip may be a subway ninja, but I promise no one is a present ninja like me.  I almost always figure out what folks are getting me before I get the actual goodies, much to the chagrin of my girlfriend!

I hope you have enjoyed a little Punisher here at The Unspoken Decade…because you are getting more next week!  I will cover Punisher War Zone #2 and the rest of this arc!  We will never, ever be too far away from my favorite mass murderer here at The Unspoken Decade, because hey, he was the decade in many ways!  After that, though, we will hear from Angel again and finally get into some 90’s DC with Justice Society of America!!!  Yes, I love both Punisher and the old WW2 superheroes!  The 90’s were complex, man.  Ask any Smashing Pumpkins fan!  See you back here real soon!!!

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You Can’t Go Home Again to the House of Ideas-Ravage 2099

     When I was a young man just entering into the world of superheroes in a heavy manner, I soaked up as much information as I could about them as quickly as possible.  That is just how I am when it comes to the various passions that dominate my life.  I can’t just be a Kansas Jayhawks Men’s Basketball fan; I must learn all about how James Naismith (the creator of the game of basketball) was their coach and how they’ve dominated through the years.  I don’t just like the Kansas City Royals; I have learned all about their glory days under the leadership of George Brett and the depth to which they have plummeted over the last 12 years.  (Winning season last year though-WATCH OUT!)  I am not just an anarchist; I have pored over tomes by Alexander Berkman, Noam Chomsky, Voltairne De Cleyre, Colin Ward, and the like.  I also like telling everyone around me about this information, hence this blog.

      So 7th grade me, being much more boisterous and devoid of tact than I am these days, could not stop blabbing on and on about how THE STAN LEE was returning to Marvel Comics on a brand new creation of his, Ravage 2099!

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(Foil Covers of the 90’s were HOT COLLECTOR’S ITEMS!  I bet every person reading this blog is a retired billionaire from selling their collection of foil covers!)

 

Marvel 2099 was a fantastic concept to me at the time, and to be honest, I am still enamored of the concept to this day.  The idea of presenting a dystopian future Marvel Universe dominated by technocrats and a surveillance state completely permeated by a fascist security force fascinates me.  Am I describing the 2099 universe or the goings on in our country and world today?  Here’s a hint; it’s both, with Marvel 2099 being at least slightly more fun and decidedly less open to eroding your civil liberties.

All kidding aside, I was totally all in with the 2099 line.  They gave us Spider-Man 2099, which holds up to this day and will be covered sometime here in the future.  Punisher 2099 was a must for me, seeing as how Punisher was, is, and always be my favorite character.  That title is batshit crazy in the best possible way, and I can’t wait to share my love of it with everyone.  Of course, savvy readers know that Chris Sims at Comics Alliance has already delved deeply into the decidedly brain-bending adventures of Jake Gallows, but we’ll go look on him again.  Doom 2099 was also released with the first wave of 2099 titles, and I would not care for it for its few issues, but it wound up being one of the best uses of a villain as a title character in superhero history.  Of course, seeing as how most super-villain titles are about as enjoyable as the restroom at the Greyhound Station in Saint Louis I am unsure how high that praise is.

What excited me most about the 2099 line though was the fact that STAN LEE himself would be the awesome author!  The Wonderful Wordsmith!  The Scintillating Scribe of Script!!!

But he was actually just the WRONG WRITER!

 stanleesdfsdfsdfsd

(Not the first or most wrong thing Stan Lee has ever done though.)

     Seriously, I could not possibly convey to you how completely overcome by the level of excitement I had for me getting to read Stan Lee original work!  Finally, I would share that same sense of wonder and amazement that young men my age had gotten to feel in 1963 as they sauntered to the spinner rack at their local drug store to pick up the characters Stan Lee co-created like Fantastic Four! Spider-Man!  The X-Men!  I think part of me then thought that Stan Lee deserved his face not just on Mount Rushmore, but that someone should take a laser like Chippendale Chairface had in The Tick and carve Stan Lee’s visage into the moon.

                Remember me prattling on during the first paragraph of my blog about things you don’t care about but I care passionately about that I am trying not to bring up again here?  (ROCK CHALK JAYHAWK!  Win the Tournament Guys!)  Now picture me as a 7th grader who just learned that not only is Stan Lee STAN F’N LEE WHO INVENTED EVERYTHING IN MARVEL* but now he was INVENTING MORE MARVEL!  I told my friends, my teachers, many parents, and our postman had to tolerate a 17-mninute soliloquy about how this was the greatest return since Jesus, and I would maintain even that would be better if Stan Lee were writing the dialogue for the Son of Man.

Rather than a long-haired messiah on the Sea of Galilee, Stan instead was scripting the adventures of a long-haired yuppie who believes so faithfully in the system that he makes Superman look like The Unabomber.

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(The first true sign of a male super-hero:  Ignoring her when the woman in his life is right and trying to warn him.)

 

                As hard as this is going to be to swallow, Ravage was wrong, guys!  Alchemax is chock full of bad guys!  Even more shocking, his taking of the young man whose father was a “polluter” to the head of Alchemax only leads to Ravage being persecuted. Ravage confronts the Director-General, Andlethorpe Henton, who assures him that everything is on the up and up, no matter what the guy with the future hair and future shades says.  Henton and the other Alchemax directors order him killed because he is “far less naïve than we thought”.  So Henton puts through a call to a place called Hellrock to get a Mutroid to frame and kill Ravage!  This all happens on 2 pages, and if you think that my paragraph about this seems forced and rushed, you should read the pages.

I sort of don’t blame Henton, the future’s most evil fat man, for being so upset about being interrupted by Ravage and Future-Shades, as he was about to spend some quality time with Virtual Reality Pixie SexBots.  No really.

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(Henton kills anyone who hears anything he does not want them to, just like the CEOs we know and love now.)

     Henton spends all of his time sexing it up with Virtual Reality Pixie SexBots, Non- Virtual Reality, Non-Pixie, Not-Bot Sex Workers, and KILLING PEOPLE WITH THE DEVICE IN HIS JACKET.  He kills his aide in the next panel which pushes him out the window.  He later kills a whore who also hears too much.  For real, this guy just likes killing people; otherwise, perhaps he’d have one of these “I AM EVIL WITH EVIL PLANS” conversations out of earshot of people.  I mean, come on.  Perhaps his zapper gadget costs a lot, and he wants to get his money’s worth out of it.  Inflation has to be like 20930209382% by 2099.  Inflation is funny to think about.  In 2099, people’s grandparents will be like ours, except they will be talking about when hologram laser photon spaceships only cost a billion dollars.

But I digress!  Ravage and his story await us!  After this conversation, Henton calls the other Alchemax directors, and despite this being 2099 in the future of the Marvel Universe where it is basically always the future anyhow, he needs a secretary to punch this call through to the other directors.  The nature of this call is about killing and framing Ravage, so Henton naturally uses Ravage’s secretary who already knows that Alchemax is up to no good to put this call through for him.  She listens in on the call and learns that they are calling a place called Hellrock to get a Mutroid to frame and kill Ravage.

Why didn’t the dude just blast him out of his office window like he did his underling just for hearing of this plan?  Well, then he couldn’t have sent this awesome Mutroid Leper guy after Ravage, who as he is being attacked, framed, and warned by his secretary (who is also Ravage’s girlfriend, as we just now find out on the page below), still does not understand what is happening.

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(I love the guy on page one in glasses yelling about the Mutroid.  He seems like a proper gent from ‘Ol Blighty 2099.)

                Ravage is now just starting to get it, but in order to really understand that he is in trouble, maybe he should be injured and/or disfigured.

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(I suppose if an eye was not too high of a price for Odin to pay for wisdom, it is not too high for Ravage.)

     After getting shot in the Goddamn eye, Ravage has finally figured it out.  Seriously, the guy goes from hardcore true believer to Rebel 2099 in about 4 panels.   Now he is the best fighter ever who trained all of these guys and so he proceeds to beat them all up.  I do enjoy the way he pushes the guy into the Mutroid Leper though.  Sweet.

We then see Henton getting a massage as he watches this melee on monitors.  At the end, he blows up the office and kills his prostitute masseuse, who first has to mention how smart he is.

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(Her hair style looks like one I would see on another 90’s staple, USA Up All Night.)

                That’s it for the prostitute.  Are her earrings pants?  I really have no clue.  2099 fashion has a lot in common with today’s fashion, in that whatever essence it is supposed to capture eludes me.  Anyhow, Ravage is now fully aware that Alchemax is trying to kill him, so he has Tiana hole up at Dack’s place.  Dack is the kid with the future hair, future shades, and what I presume is supposed to be some sort of future/hip-hop name.  What it definitively is is awful, and it is a testament to the idea that old white men like Stan Lee should not try to concoct what they perceive to be cool street names.

Ravage is now off to garner some weapons, and he has changed from Michael Douglas in Wall Street to Mad Max in the span of a page and a half.   To prove his toughness, he has changed his ENTIRE MANNER OF SPEECH to prove that he is a tough guy.  This mostly consists of him now never using a G at the end of a gerund and making sure to have as many apostrophes in lieu of vowels as possible and only referring to himself by his last name only.

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(What if he made that same threat but his last name was Oglethorpe?  Would you take it more or less seriously?  Jury’s Out.)

                This guy just beat up all the guards in his department, so I am unsure why he does not just find some guns or some future laser photon killing machine like Henton has.  Instead he equips himself with a vest, a sprocket, a lead pipe, and a chain.  He also has a shield, and it does nothing to help him sound or look more formidable.

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(Just 5 pages ago, he made that plastic junk that he is bitching about now.)

                The last page introduces our villain DETHSTRYK!  Yes, that is how that is spelled.  When I bought this when I was young, I was convinced that since the cameo of Dethstryk would make this issue worth a bundle.  Yeah, I was wrong about lots of stuff when I was young.

All in all, this is pretty awful and it is probably justifies the hate that people in the 90’s Hate Squad carry for The Unspoken Decade.  I do feel like Stan Lee was trying really hard here, but the times had just changed.  What he thought would be cutting edge just seemed hackneyed and played out.  I think he thought the dialogue was cutting edge, and that Ravage would come across as a super bad ass, but instead, he seems like a weekend warrior.

This was Stan’s last big splash with Marvel and even at my age, I knew this wasn’t cutting it.  I kept up with the title, but only because I shoplifted it.  What can I say?  I was EXTREME because it was the 90’s!  Kids, don’t steal.  We will come back to Ravage to see him get the Fantasticar in the future here at The Unspoken Decade.

Also, don’t let the fact that this is awful fool you into believing that I am not fond of this.  While it certainly isn’t his best work, this was still a Stan Lee comic that I got to read hot off the stands as a teenager, which made me feel connected to comics history somehow, as though those young men who grabbed Fantastic Four off the spinner racks with dreams in their eyes and dimes no longer in their pocket and I were walking the same path and were intertwined despite our differences in age and eras.  Also, I maintain that the 90’s, maybe the early 2000’s, were the last era where even the bad superhero comics were at least fun, and while I would not say that Ravage 2099#1 is good even under the duress of a Hulk having me in a headlock, no bribe would be needed to get an admission from that this is fun.

Hope you have enjoyed this first foray into The Unspoken Decade.  Be here in a week when we see how the other half of Marvel’s most famous duo, Jack Kirby, fared with one of his works at Topps Comics!  (Here’s a hint; it’s better than this.)