One of the most interesting aspects of Garth Ennis’s run on Punisher MAX was the fact that he not only grounded him in a world mostly devoid of superhumans, but also that he grounded him in a specific time, too: Ennis’s Frank Castle is a veteran of the Vietnam War. And Punisher: The Platoon, written by Garth Ennis, with art by Goran Parlov, is all about Frank’s first tour in Vietnam.
(Garth Ennis loves writing war stories — and even if you don’t like a lot of his other stuff, his war stories really do tend to be great, if a bit bleak. I would totally recommend his Battlefields series, especially Night Witches.)
The book is pretty much a sequel to Punisher: Born, a story about Frank Castle’s third and final tour in Vietnam, when he was the sole survivor of the “massacre at Firebase Valley Forge.” The trauma and the deal that he made (to either some devil or to the violence inside him) that he went through during this period is correlated to what he became after his family died, a mass murderer of criminals, the Punisher.
But Punisher: The Platoon stars a very different Frank Castle, a Frank Castle who has zero real combat experience, and the time is one that is much less pessimistic than Born was — in Born, the Vietnam War is winding down, while The Platoon takes a look at a time when Vietnam was thought to be more winnable.
At first, the book posits that we’re taking a look at a more innocent time period, a time period before Frank Castle became “in love with war,” but really, The Platoon is about how there really wasn’t a more innocent time. One of the remaining platoon members that is being interviewed even points out that Vietnam didn’t destroy America’s innocence — America wasn’t innocent at all, having already massacred the Native Americans and plenty of other groups before Vietnam.
But it might have been that Vietnam that finally made Americans view of themselves change. It wasn’t that America was innocent, it was just that many Americans still saw America as heroic and just and Vietnam shattered that image.
Only one issue of Punisher: The Platoon has come out, but it definitely looks like it’s going to be a fascinating examination of Frank Castle’s relationship with not only war itself, but the Vietnam War in specific. As the title of the issue shows, “Crack the sky and shake the earth,” the Tet Offensive is coming and the war is going to change and so, inevitably, will Frank Castle.