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Spotlight on ‘Punisher War Journal’ Marvel Comics. Writer Matt Fraction. Art Ariel Olivetti

Posted by Adrian on June 21, 2007

It was great to see a revival in the Punisher War Journal series, as far as the character and his place in the wider Marvel Universe. Garth Ennis who has been writing a solid and definitive Punisher run on Max comics (Marvel Adult comic spin off) for awhile now, and he has been able mold the character into a gritty, dark and very distinct style. Garth Ennis established the everything is “black and white” persona in a world where there is only Frank Castle (aka The Punisher) and the bad guys, no superheros, just the contemporary issues of terrorism, sex slavery in Eastern Europe, company corruption and organised crime.


Matt Fraction has opened The Punisher back up into other possibilities, set him up back in a world with superheros and mixes the contemporary issues of the day. Fraction has does this extremely well. He has formulated a character with a little more depth and unique style, which is needed. As the two Punisher’s (Garth Max Punisher and Fraction’s Punisher) are alike and not alike at the same time, which is good. As the reader can enjoy two characters that are written extremely well. So in the sense the two Punisher publications (Max and the Marvel general title) do not come across as a competitive aspect from the two writers, rather a complementary respect for the core character, Frank Castle aka The Punisher.

Fraction introduced his style within the Punisher War Journal in the middle stages of the Marvel Civil War run. It was a stellar introduction, backed up by some of the most stunning comic art seen today, courtesy of Ariel Olivetti. Olivetti draws comic art like a South American social realist (he is from Argentina), exaggerated characters, pale colours, lot’s of details and expression in the character faces and background environments. Sparse in the amount of drawn backgroud characters but full of atmosphere and emotion. Amazing art. So the team of Fraction and Olivetti embark on returning the Punisher to the Marvel universe, which is in turmoil. The registration act has been introduced, and Frank Castle continues on removing the bane of humanity, the shitty underworld of killers, drug dealers and anyone else involved in the direct exploitation of the innocent. So we see in Fraction’s world for the Punisher, the crooks happened to have various superhuman powers, as opposed to Ennis’s Punisher, where the Punisher operates in a world like ours, reality based with no superhumans

The Civil war run of the Punisher was the nice wedge between those two inevitably hopeless sides, Ironman who is Pro superhuman registration and Captain America’s Anti superhuman registration. Fraction created an interesting contradiction with the Punisher who neither stood on either side of the Civil War and is a wanted fugitive – which was basically a paradox for the civil war conflict. Although the Punisher somewhat aligns himself with Captain America’s side, in which we learn of some old history between Captain America and Frank Castle, which occurred prior to Frank going to Vietnam. Fraction attempts to create some depth to Frank’s character, as Captain America gives the troops a brief lesson in hand to hand combat, he asks Frank to attack him. In which Frank refuses to, thus gets a beating from Captain America. What was Fraction trying to project? Maybe it is that distinct ‘black and white’ aspect that Frank Castle (The Punisher) later developed whilst meeting Captain America at ‘bootcamp’ pre Vietnam. So the beginning of Frank’s early perspective of defining what is good and bad in the human character; occurred within the early historic altercation with Captain America (pre The Punisher). Even if he didn’t like Captain America, he was good, one of the good guys.

But, the Civil War conflict didn’t do much for The Punisher after disposing of two underworld villains in front of Captain America (Captain America was trying to look for more people willing to defect to his side – even if the were bad guys), Captain America delivers a brutal beatdown upon The Punisher and of course the Punisher doesn’t fight back. So this is the beginning of the end of any kind of allies for the Punisher, apart from hooking up a weaponsmith by the name of Stuart Clarke, a nerdy, character obsessed (doesn’t like Ironman) genius. Olivetti draws a nice contrast of the overpowering Punisher and the nerdy Clarke as they become general fugitives – with S.H.E.I.L.D in close pursuit. Lead by G W Bridge, who is obsessed about capturing the Punisher.

Fraction is also prolific in recreating some background characters and giving them substance. In the case of G W Bridge, the first issue of Punisher War Journal shows G W Bridge praying in a mosque. So obviously he is a Muslim, hired by a US government agency (S.H.E.I.L.D) to hunt down the Punisher. Again, Fraction throws in some complexity into the background of the comic, outside from Frank Castle’s black and white perspective. It really separates the character of the Punisher from other characters in the comic, although Fraction has opened up some interesting insights within the Punisher’s mental makeup.


After failed attempts at capturing the Punisher, G W Bridge is sacked as a contractor for S.H.E.I.L.D. Meanwhile on the run with Clarke and the Punisher heading towards the Mexican boarder, an alarming situation unfolds. A local journalist in a nearby town on the Mexican boarder discovers that a Nazi super criminal by the name of the Hate Monger who has massacred Mexican immigrants who live in a border ‘layup’ town, whose inhabitants eventually were going to cross the boarder into America. She is caught and forced to capture the massacre as it unfolds by the Hate Monger and his army.Frank decides to go after the Hate Monger.

Fraction introduces some political commentary to the Punisher story. Namely the illegal Mexican immigrants that make it across the boarder into America and right wing policy of turning a blind eye to vigilantes that attempt to stop the flow of Mexicans entering America. So the extreme racist character of the Hate Monger is a clear representation of what would happen to illegal immigrants by a white supremacist. Fraction allows Clarke to make the social commentary regarding illegal immigrants. That most of these illegal immigrants are from extreme poverty looking for a better future, hardly criminals or people that threaten America. The Hate Monger is the epitome of racist thought in America, as he (Hate Monger) declares, ‘America should be white, Christian and right’.

The Punisher infiltrates the Nazi’s inner circle after an initiation blind folded, which involved confronting a crazed bull. After successful smacking the poor thing over the head with a ripped off piece of wood. He is then brought into the inner circle.

Things do not turn out to well for Frank, the Punisher is found out, tired to a pole and attacked by the Hate Monger. You have some interesting duality going on, since the death of Captain America. The extreme version of what the American dream should be have emerged. One being The Hate Monger, in a similar attire as Captain America. The Punisher also feels he needs to project a type of homage to Captain America, and also adorns a uniform similar to Captain America.


It’s Fraction exploring that missing hero complex. As Frank castle says, ‘he hated my guts’ (Captain America) but Frank cannot abide by seeing the Hate Monger distort and attempt to justify slaughter of Innocent in the name of America.

Of course Olivetti handles the art exceptionally though out this comic arc, the various drawn contrasts between the Hate Monger and The Punisher. Stuart Clarke and (we find out in this story) his girlfriend the reporter Tantia (the woman who photographed the massacre).

Punisher War Journal is a great comic and it is correct to say that Matt Fraction is a rising star in the comic world. What can be said about Ariel Olivetti’s art? It’s just amazing. I hope there is a continued partnership between Olivetti and Fraction they have both made a solid entry into the Punisher stories. It really can only get better.



7 Responses to “Spotlight on ‘Punisher War Journal’ Marvel Comics. Writer Matt Fraction. Art Ariel Olivetti”

  1. robfindlay said

    ehhhh, I just can’t get it up for Punisher-cum-captain-america.

    Not a huge “super-hero” fan anymore, though I’m going to give the Avengers a try, or maybe not.

    The characters I love are Dardevil, Batman, Punisher-MAX, Blade, Cal Macdonald, Spider Jerusalem.

    Dudes that are for the most part human, frequently a-moral and slightly insane.

    Ima goona add you to my blogroll.


  2. zekukith said

    See what you are saying, but I think Matt Fraction is experimenting with the Punisher character away from Garth’s run. He is doing a good job.

    I like the mental super heroes too. It seems Marvel is doing this more than DC. And I thought Marvel was going too straight and narrow at one point, so I switched to DC and Willstorm, and now have gone back to Marvel. Titles like hero’s for hire, She-Hulk, World Wide Hulk are a hoot. Ellis’s Thunderbolts is off the scale with dysfunction.

    take care

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