I have found that there are two kinds of Garth Ennis (Preacher, Crossed, The Boys) fans: those who think he’s at his best when writing The Punisher and those who think he’s at his best when writing war comics. The Punisher: Born gives us the best of both worlds – a war story about pre-Punisher Frank Castle.
Born is a story told mostly from the perspective of Stevie Goodwin, a Marine who is nearing the end of his tour, set near the end of the Vietnam war. The comic follows Goodwin as he serves under a pre-vigilante Captain Frank Castle at Firebase Valley Forge – a base which no one seems to care about, during a war that everyone wants over and done with. Goodwin just wants to live through his last remaining days, but he also feels it’s his duty to serve those remaining days as opposed to hanging out at the base like most of the men stationed there. He follows Castle, with the rest of his troupe, on scouting missions making sure that the base is kept safe. Unfortunately for Goodwin, what he doesn’t know is that no matter what, Frank Castle will always be surrounded by darkness and violence, and Born is a prime example.
Garth Ennis is the currently only person I’ve ever read Punisher comics by, so maybe I’m slightly biased, but this is quite possibly the greatest Punisher story ever told. It sheds a new light, or lackthereof, on the character of Frank Castle, a man who’s at his best in the midst of war, murdering every enemy in sight. He loves war, he wants war, he needs war, and he is willing to do anything to make sure that he stays in his war. He never truly breaks his “no innocents” code that we all know, but he comes darn close to it, and that just shows us truly how dark and damaged he really is. We see that darkness in his inner monologues which ultimately leave us with an ending as bleak as it gets. If you know the story of Castle and The Punisher, then you’ll know that his life has been on a collision course ever since he stepped into Vietnam (who knows, maybe even earlier than that).
The art by Darick Robertson (Transmetropolitan, The Boys) is impeccable, the perfect balance of realism and comic book fantasy feeling. He is able to capture emotions very well along with the carnage and gruesomeness of war. The colors are brilliant, though a tad iffy in a few scenes. One scene near the end has Castle looking almost like a zombie – although that may have been the point.
Garth Ennis is one of the greatest comic book writers out there and this piece is a prime example of that. Born is a bleak and heart wrenching story filled with violence and humanity as well as damn good writing which features one of the best monologues I’ve ever read. It opens the 4th and last issue, and depicts the “Great Beast” that dwells within the world of man, symbolizing guns. It may not technically be a “Punisher” story, but it is an important story in the history of the character and gives us a small insight on how he became the man that he is now. Therefore, if you like war stories. If you like Frank Castle. If you like stories of survival and stories of the darker side of humanity; then I urge you to pick up The Punisher: Born.