Comic Book Review: Punisher: War Journal #4

Punisher: War Journal has been a pleasant surprise. I didn’t really expect much from this title when I gave the debut issue a try. Wow, has Fraction just impressed me. Marvel has a real gem on their hands with Matt Fraction. This guy could be the next Ed Brubaker. I am confident that Punisher: War Journal #4 is going to be another good read.

Creative Team
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Mike Deodato

Art Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Story Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10

Synopsis: The issue begins with talking about loss and how humans mourn and celebrate that loss. How we embrace the pain. We see the Armadillo walk into a dingy bar. We see Stilt-man’s body on display. A super villain in a magenta helmet and outfit is already there. Armadillo and the magenta villain give each other a hug. There is also a Doombot present. Armada set up the Doombot so that Stilt-man’s wife would think that he was big-time.

The two villains then talk about the old days when they were big time villains making tons of money from all their heists. We see more small time villains enter the bar for Stilt-man’s funeral service. We see the Prowler, Rhino, Dragon Man, the Eel, Will O’ Wisp, the Gibbon and the Chameleon.

We see Chameleon talking to a villain in a bear outfit. Chameleon breaks down talking about how he has been struggling with depression. The other villain lends a shoulder to cry on and tells Chameleon to let it all out. The other villains catch up with each other about how their families are and how they have been doing.

The narration states that this is all the villains can do to stave off the darkness. That they do anything to maintain a human connection. To remind themselves that they are alive.

Stilt-man’s wife then enters the bar. She is an absolute hottie. She used to be the villainess known as Princess Python. We see the Gibbon sitting at the bar bemoaning the fact that no one asks what a Gibbon is anymore. The Gibbon says he is a loser. He wonders if he could ever get a hot wife like Princess Python. Princess Python then walks over and tells the Gibbon to come dance with her.

The Prowler reminisces how he never would have become a super villain if it hadn’t been for the Stilt-man. That when the Prowler was just a window washer, he was a bystander to a fight between the Stilt-man was battling Daredevil.

The Stilt-man knocked the Prowler off his scaffold while trying to attack Daredevil. Daredevil heroically rescued the Prowler. The Prowler thinks to himself “Cracker!” The Prowler never thanked Daredevil. All he could think about was the Stilt-Man. That was the moment that the Prowler decided to become a super-villain.

The villains proceed to get drunk and tell old stories about Stilt-Man. The narration continues that when these villains were big time that it wasn’t this life or death stuff you hear about nowadays. That they knew how to have a good time. They knew how to laugh at themselves. That the whole world used to be like this. Nobody judged them.

We then see the Armadillo accidentally spill his drink on the Rhino. The Rhino gets angry and gets in the Armadillo’s grill. Unfortunately, the Rhino is in a wheelchair and is still recovering from the beating the Punisher gave him. The Armadillo apologizes to the Rhino and says it was a mistake. Armadillo offers to buy Rhino a drink. The Rhino says that he gets beat up by one normal guy and now he has to take if from punks like Armadillo.

Rhino gets up and charges Armadillo. The two villains brawl. Their brawl then causes the rest of the villains to start brawling with each other. The narration continues that nobody was killing anyone. That this was their idea of a good time. That this is how they do whatever the hell it is they do anymore. That this may explain why they never really got anything done.

Suddenly, Spider-Man enters the bar. Spider-Man can’t believe that they are all fighting at Stilt-Man’s wake. Spider-Man is stunned that Hobie Brown is here and in his old Prowler uniform. Spider-Man tells Puma to get Hobie out of here. Spider-Man then tells the rest of the villains to be careful. That the world is not so fun anymore. That he doesn’t want to go to any more of these wakes.

The villain in the magenta helmet and cape says that they are all pathetic. That they let Spider-Man come in and lecture them and then leave. That they could be great again. He asks who is with him. Who wants to be evil again?

Suddenly, the villains start collapsing and throwing up. The magenta villain realizes that they have all been poisoned. The magenta villain looks for the bartender, but he is gone. All that is left at the bar is a piece of paper with the Punisher symbol and the fake mustache Frank Castle was wearing while posing at the bartender. The villains realize that the Punisher has killed all of them. Suddenly, the entire bar explodes.

We see the Punisher walking away from the burning bar. The Punisher says that he celebrates loss every day. But, some days he gets to celebrate it with fireworks. End of issue.

The Good: Punisher: War Journal #4 was another good read especially considering this was nothing more than a filler issue. Fraction pulls of an interesting character study on broken down D-List super villains. The reader actually feels sorry for this collection of super villains. Each villain comes across as a regular Joe with the same kind of problems that we all deal with. Either it is lack of satisfaction with your job, lack of success with the opposite sex or the sinking feeling that life is beginning to pass you by. These villains come across as well developed and sympathetic characters.

Fraction does a neat job of taking the new Marvel Universe in the wake of the Civil War and contrasting it with the old Silver Age Marvel Universe. All of these super villains are pretty dated. They all have pretty goofy gimmicks, powers and costumes. In the current Marvel Universe, everything has to be hyper-realistic. The heroes and villains all have to be grimmer and grittier than ever.

This collection of D-List villains no longer has a place in the new Marvel Universe. And Fraction begins some of Marvel’s house cleaning with this issue. I suspect that this is just the beginning. Marvel wants to clean out the stale older characters and replace them with fresher new characters. It appears that Punisher: War Journal will be the vehicle that Marvel uses to get rid of plenty of older D-list villains.

Personally, I have no problem with this collection of villains getting killed off. Only the Chameleon and Rhino were characters of any real quality. And I have a feeling that the Rhino is probably still alive.

Fraction continues to do a good job handling Frank’s character. What is interesting is that Frank comes across as the villain in this issue. The villains are all likeable and sympathetic. They all have the same desires and fears that we all have. On the other hand, Frank comes off like a total psychopath. The Punisher appears like nothing more than an engine of destruction. Fraction reminds the reader that there is fine line between what is considered a hero and what is considered a villain.

Fraction serves up plenty of solid dialogue. Fraction also generates some good chemistry between the various villains. I dig that these villains show compassion and friendship for each other. Just because a character is a “villain” does not mean that they aren’t capable of friendship and compassion. I never bought into the idea that all villains are nothing more than mad dogs that have no friends.

Of course, Fraction does a good job balancing the sensitive side of these villains and their bond with each other with their basic violent nature. These villains are fighters and violence is what gives them a purpose in life. I thought it was consistent and made sense to have this meeting de-evolve into a huge barroom brawl. After all, boys will be boys and sometimes they have to let off a little steam.

And I liked that Fraction made a point to state that none of the villains were really trying to hurt each other. They were just having their version of fun. Compare that with the Pro-Registration side fighting with the Anti-Registration side. Those heroes were looking to inflict some serious pain on each other. Those heroes had nothing but hatred and blood in their eyes every time they fought.

Fraction also injected some humor into this issue. And this was absolutely necessary with an issue as grim and depressing as this one. I liked the Doombot that kept yelling “Kneel before Doom!” And The Gibbon bemoaning the fact that no one ever asks the question “what is a gibbon” anymore was funny. A little bit of humor keeps an issue from taking itself too seriously.

Mike Deodato did a great job with the artwork. Usually guest artists for filler issues are rather weak. That is most certainly not the case with Deodato. I have always enjoyed his style of art.

The Bad: Just three very minor quibbles. I found that all the villains pretty much had identical external voices. It would have been nice to see a bit more variety.

Also, I wish Fraction would have killed off Puma and The Prowler along with the rest of the villains. Having Spider-Man appear and tell the two ex-villains to leave didn’t work for me. It would have made The Punisher that much more of an unforgiving bastard if he took out the two reformed villains. It would re-enforce that the Punisher believes “once a villain always a villain.”

Lastly, isn’t it just a bit early for a filler issue on this title? I mean, c’mon, we are only on issue #4. I think you could probably go at least ten issues before serving up a filler issue on the readers.

Overall: Punisher: War Journal #4 was another solid read. I dig what Fraction is doing on this title. We now see that the Punisher is going to be Marvel’s literary tool to clean up this new Marvel Universe of characters that are stale and outdated. It is nice to see the Punisher back in the mainstream Marvel Universe making plenty of noise.