Hello, Legions of the Unspoken!
I sure hope you enjoyed the first installment in our Six Weeks of Punishment leading up to Daredevil Season 2! Emily and I had a ton of fun doing the podcast, and speaking of a ton of fun, the 90’s were saturated in the form of fun that only arrives in the form of an inter-company crossover!
Speaking of crossovers, you’re well aware that we’re heading quickly toward the Daredevil crossover with Punisher, but let’s also keep in mind that we are rapidly approaching the Batman/Superman movie as well! We have’t seen this many crossovers since…well…the 90’s!
There were possibly too many crossovers at the time, but you couldn’t convince me so then, and you’d still have difficulty convincing me so now. While there were some real stinkers and some cash grab crossovers, I was still entranced by the idea of characters meeting that rarely met. I wanted to see the outcomes of these fights! I wanted the supporting characters to interact. There’s something magical about these stories to me, and sadly, the first Batman/Punisher crossover, Lake of Fire, just didn’t capture that for me. I’m not a big Denny O’Neil guy, and he wrote that one in a way that sort of embodied what naysayers say about crossovers. The book did look good, and redemption was possible because Punisher/Batman: Deadly Knights would emerge next.
Deadly Knights washed the bad taste of Lake of Fire out of my mouth with the ferocity of a fire hose. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the creative team of Chuck Dixon, John Romita, Jr., and Klaus Janson did what i feel is still the best Punisher story of all time, and Chuck Dixon certainly knew his way around the Batfamily as well, with long runs in that area of comics, including his excellent treatment of both Nightwing and Robin (Tim Drake).
Dixon knows how to craft an action story. I probably read more of his stuff in the 90’s than anyone else’s. Every month, I could expect MULTIPLE solid action tales from his pen alone than some writers could do in a year. JRJR and Janson also certainly make his tale come to light. They waste no time. From the moment the cover is opened, we see Punisher raining fire upon the savage mooks of Gotham City in his quest to find Jigsaw.
The place is surrounded by Gotham’s finest, but Commissioner Gordon doesn’t think any of this apocalyptic gunfire is worth risking any of Gotham’s finest over. He’s probably right, as you can tell from the picture above, Punisher and these goons are in a gunfight, and as much as I love Punisher, he’s definitely not worth risking any cop lives over.
After Punisher manages to plant a few rounds in some paint vats, he blows up the place BECAUSE PUNISHER. He moves in to question the surviving mook (being the last guy to survive a firefight with the Punisher is like winning a lottery where the prize is being slow-cooked in a vat of creamed corn like on that one Halloween episode of Roseanne. What did you really get?) when everyone’s favorite flying rodent-styled-vigilante arrives on the scene, as he is wont to do when people are shooting paint vats in Gotham City.
Of course, Punisher has his own ideas, despite Batman’s presence. What’s especially interesting about this crossover is that the last time Frank Castle met Batman, it wasn’t really Batman (Bruce Wayne). It was Jean-Paul Valley, better known as Azrael, also known as THE CLAWED TANK WHO WOULD BE BATMAN.
One of the first things Castle figures out here is that this Batman isn’t the same as the Batman he already fought with and beside. For all of the stuff we love about Punisher, I feel like his detective skills are one of the things that we don’t discuss enough. It takes him maybe 14 seconds to figure out what it took Gordon weeks to figure out; it’s also something I do not believe Superman ever figured out. (I’m possibly wrong about this. Correct me in the comments if so!)
Punisher manages to question the lone surviving mook, but Batman shows up, Punisher figures out who he is, and Batman proceeds to engage Frank in a fistfight. Normally it’d be a huge mistake to take on a gun-wielding Punisher with just your fists, but this is Batman.
The mook Punisher was trying to question gets away and makes his way back to his boss, Jigsaw. Jigsaw came to Gotham City in the last Batman/Punisher crossover, as he wants to move on the mobs here to get away from the heat of NYC. It seems like he would have opened up shop somewhere not famous for having the world’s most prominent vigilante in it. Maybe somewhere like Dos Rios, Texas?
The mook promised Jigsaw that he said nothing about him to Punisher, but Jigsaw’s partner, The Joker, doesn’t believe him and shoots him. Or maybe Joker did believe him and shot him anyway. There’s no telling, y’all. IT’S THE JOKER.
Of course, everything isn’t Joker’s-lips rosy between these two. Jigsaw is mad about not having made more headway into the Gotham City gang scene, and he lets Joker know this in a very diplomatic fashion. He tears the place apart. Of course, Joker is an insane and evil clown, so he isn’t impressed and reiterates to Jigsaw that Joker’s plan is the best. Once they get in, Jigsaw will be entrenched. Also, as a bonus, Joker has gotten Jigsaw’s face fixed. I’d wonder why Joker doesn’t get his own face fixed, but then I’d be wondering about The Joker, and I am quite sure that doing so for too long will just render one mad.
One of my favorite aspects of this book is how both Batman and Punisher find the other one to be crazy. They each claim that they are the proper response to the criminal element and that the other is nuts. It’s like watching Ed Gein and Jeffery Dahmer call each other cannibals. You listen because it’s interesting while knowing that the pot is calling the kettle black, or in this case Bat. Of course, in their worlds, the other is the one that is off his rocker. Punisher doesn’t get it when it comes to Batman because he isn’t a wanton murderer, while Batman doesn’t get Punisher because Punisher IS a wanton murderer. If this wasn’t about wanton murder, I reckon they could agree to disagree, but that seems like too an intense a topic to let drop easily.
Batman can’t let Jigsaw’s presence in Gotham City drop easily. Of course, neither can Punisher, who’s brought Microchip with him to help gather information. Both Microchip and Batman are asking and answering the most important question in this scenario…
Of course, the information that one can glean from a computer is limited, or at least it was in 1994, what with having to use an AOL floppy disc to get going. Think about that; despite how impressive that Batcomputer looks above, it was still using dial-up. You hearing the modem noise? GOOD.
Since one can only learn so much, both Punisher and Batman take to the streets in their own ways to get more intelligence. Of course, with Batman, this means we get to see the awesome and infamous MATCHES MALONE.
Frank Castle’s cell phone looks about 10 years ahead of its time, so perhaps the Batputer from earlier at least has DSL. Matches is driving around a gangster, Jimmy Navarone. Jimmy just happens to be the next target of Jigsaw and Joker in their bid to move up the Gotham Mob Ladder. (That should be either the name of a story of some sort of awesome Batman accessory.)
A key point above is Frank asking Microchip to nose around in Navarone’s computer business, which it leads us to some Hackers-style…well…er…um…hacking between Robin (Tim Drake) and Microchip. This is a neat little bit here, and it’s so cool to see Batman’s supporting cast in this crossover. It’d have been much easier to just have Punisher and Batman punch each other in the shadows of the Bat-Signal, which has somehow been changed into a skull for most of the comic, but instead, by getting to see Batman’s supporting cast, even if it’s just seeing Alfred being delightfully snooty for just a second, Dixon has deftly given anyone who picked this up that didn’t already follow Batman a sense of Batman’s world that may entice them into pickling up another issue. We also see all of Punisher’s supporting cast, which really just means Microchip, once again, BECAUSE PUNISHER.
I suppose Jigsaw could sort of count, as he’s been around Punisher for quite some time. I honestly think he has the superpower of being the only guy throughout all of history and time that Punisher is unable to kill.
Back to the story, Navarone is living it up at the clubs, and Punisher has grown tired of waiting. He walks by Matches, but he doesn’t make him. Also, let the hack-duel begin!
Despite seemingly having an open invitation to the depraved (I’m basing this on the crazy look that duck is giving us in the lower right panel), The Toy Box actually is very selective in regard to its clientele, as Frank Castle learns very quickly upon entering the establishment.
Punisher has a scar but Jigsaw doesn’t. Nice.
Yep, that’s Jigsaw, and he is looking good! Jigsaw just can’t resist messing with Frank Castle before he offs him, and I just had to show you the best possibly glimpse at Jigsaw’s new face as he does it.
As you see above as well, Batman is on his way to The Toy Box, where you just know that this “conversation” between Jigsaw and Frank Castle isn’t going especially well. Of course, we can’t forget that the reason that Jigsaw and Joker are even there is because they are chasing Navarone in order to remove him from the Gotham City Mob power structure. First, though, let’s get Punisher some guns.
While all this is going on, the Hack-Joust between Microchip and Robin comes to a close, and you see just why he’s the Boy Wonder!
Robin seems to think that Batman is missing all of the action, which is sort of like thinking that someone on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean could miss all the water. Dude, the action is all around him. Batman being Batman, he jumps right in, with Bat-Bombs flying.
Batman doesn’t recognize Jigsaw based purely on his voice, but he does recognize someone else’s voice despite the cacophony that must be reverberating in this building, what with all the gunfire, explosions, Bat-Bombs, and ninja kicking going on.
The world catches fire as Punisher and Batman join forces to get out of this maelstrom, although neither of them seem to be especially happy about it. Of course, how happy is Punisher supposed to be? It’s barely 18 seconds into this fight and he has already gotten shot.
In the midst of all the fighting, Punisher gets Batman some breathing room by, you know, blowing folks away. This distracts Punisher enough to enable Jigsaw to sneak up on our beloved vigilante, but it also costs Jigsaw dearly…
I think there are three moments in this book that everyone was waiting for, and we’re about to hit all three of then in rapid order. The first one happens right now, as the shit has hit the fan, there are mooks everywhere, and the only thing that can save the day is Batman and Punisher, side-by-side, taking out or taking down every Gotham mobster in sight.
Of course, what fun would this be if our two vigilantes didn’t toss a barb or two at one another, and how could this guy be Batman if he didn’t tell Castle to leave town when his immediate killing is over.
The fight breaks down, and Batman winds up taking on Jigsaw while Punisher chases down The Joker. The Batman vs. Jigsaw fight is as uninteresting as it sounds like, and I don’t find this to be the fault of the creators. The fracas looks and sounds as good as it could, but at the end of the day, it’s Batman vs. Jigsaw. Even with Jigsaw’s facial road map, I am sure that dealing with Two-Face the second of every month has Batman finely attuned to the nuances of dealing with those afflicted with severe facial scarring. He shows it by making short work of Jigsaw.
What’s much more interesting is Frank Castle vs. The Joker. Of all of Batman’s opponents, The Joker is the one that you routinely hear come up in the constant “should Batman kill?” debates. There’s a very strong argument that he is a deadly force that should be eradicated. To Batman, the stronger argument is that he is a person and so he’s entitled not to be murdered. This is sort of what makes Batman Batman at his core. Despite his brutality, there’s a core of decency that enables Batman to provide even The Joker with respect for him as a human being.
Punisher, of course, is bereft of all of that, and thinks the best thing he could do for The Joker is put a bullet right in his brain.
Castle was this close to killing The Joker, but Batman stepped in to stop him. Of course, Punisher isn’t going to take that lying down, which leads to our final of the big three moments, which is Punisher hitting Batman with a punch; you gotta buy the book to see that one!
As much as I love The Punisher, I’d be the first to admit that Batman could take him in hand-to-hand combat. I think it’d be a little harder than most folks that I know, but that may be because of my love of the character. I honestly wish we had seen a bit more of the two of them fighting in this book, but the story moves along well without it. I don’t miss it as I read it, but afterwards, I notice it in reflection.
In the last of their encounter, Batman takes Punisher down again, saying that while Punisher may have been entitled to one punch, it’s just going to be the one. Batman takes advantage of one last opportunity to call Frank Castle crazy. So he responds by calling Batman crazy.
The books ends with Punisher leaving Gotham City and heading back to a New York City that he knows and understands, which is the only ending the book really could have had.
All in all, this was a quite satisfying read. Some of it moves a bit fast for my tastes, but there was a lot to squeeze in here, especially when considering that there’d be no opportunity for a follow-up issue. Fans of both Batman and Punisher will be happy, and a fan just looking for an event would get those three big moments.
I have to give credit to Richard Starking and Comicraft for the lettering job as well. The captions for Punisher and Batman really stand out and add a level of depth to this story. I love it when I get to see creators take advantage of the little things that only comic books can do to add depth to a story.
That’s it for Round 2 of your Six Weeks of Punishment, Legions! Thanks for coming to Gotham City with Frank and I! Be here this weekend when Emily Scott shows us how Punishment will work in the future world of Marvel 2099!!!!