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It’s a 90s Flashback! Rereading Punisher: Suicide Run

Welcome back to the second edition of My 90s Summer! Each week this summer, I will be rereading a comic book that I read during my formative years in the decade of die-cut, variant, poly bagged, chromium enhanced, foil covered comics. (Last week was Venom Lethal Protector)

This week I am tackling one of the comic book stories I most fondly remember from my youth, the Punisher Suicide Run story from:

  1. The Punisher 85-88,
  2. Punisher War Zone 23-25,
  3. and Punisher War Journal 61-64.

Yeah, that’s right, kiddos! Uncle Frank had three ongoing titles at the time… is what I would say if he didn’t actually have FOUR ongoing books if you count the classic (read: gawd awful) Punisher 2099 book.

But enough background! Hold onto your pouches and sealed poly bags! It’s time to go on a Suicide Run!

Punisher Suicide Run: The Story

The good news is that Suicide Run actually holds up from my youth. It’s a decent Pre-Garth Ennis Punisher story. All Punisher stories have to be judged in that manner. Garth Ennis created the definitive Punisher stories. Everything before and after that can be considered to be good, even entertaining, but not great. That’s just a fact. Get over it.

The ten issues (eleven of you count the totally 90s zero issue) of Suicide Run finds Punisher potentially dying after collapsing an entire skyscraper on himself and every stereotypical gangster 1990s popular culture could muster.

Spoiler: he’s not really dead!

What kind of street level hero with zero superpowers doesn’t survive that? The surviving gangsters try to capitalize on Frank’s supposed demise, while the anti-Vigilante government task force blow hard’s at V.I.G.I.L. try to run down the slew of new Punishers that have risen to claim the mantle of murderous sociopath of the people.

A delirious Frank Castle manages to find himself in a small upstate New York town that feels more like a southern Confederate enclave. He’s assisted by a, um, self-described special needs “‘tarded” girl (PC, this is not… yikes!) who just happens to be the daughter of the local podunk sheriff.

Once found, the sheriff beats and jails Frank like he had just found out he had salsa that was made in New York City. But fear not! Frank eventually gets the good ol’ sheriff on his side and they go on a touching murder spree of the assembled gangsters besieging the town to get at Frank.

Pro tip: all great stories must, MUST, feature a trigger happy, but well meaning, podunk sheriff. Always. Hollywood, call me.

Of course, everyone and their mother finds out that Frank is alive and well, descending on this town in true capture the flag mode. The last few issues make for pretty intense reading. I could definitely see this being a compelling story playing out on the TV screen (more on that later).

It all works out, leaving Punisher some time to take down a coupleof the wannabe Punishers running about. It’s as close to a genuine 1990s action movie as you can get in comic book form.

Punisher Suicide Run: The Art

Exhibit A: Punishers Everywhere!

Like the story, the art is actually great. I can’t make too much fun of the technique, but some of the visuals in Suicide Run are too deliciously 1990s to not make fun of in their own right.

One of the weirdest aspects of Suicide Run is how many Punishers come out of the woodworks once the word gets out that Frank Castle has finally kicked the bucket. As if having four ongoing titles and several miniseries and one-shots being published at the time wasn’t enough, apparently the folks at Marvel thought we needed more Punishers like we needed more Spider-symbiotes.

Lynn Michaels, Payback, New Punisher (AKA Yuppie Punisher), the mafia backed Hit Man, and Outlaw (a black British Punisher) were all running around the pages of Suicide Run trying to capitalize on the Punisher brand for one reason or another. Of course, Ennis did it better in his run. That’s just a fact. Get over it.

However, my favorite of the new Punishers is the one fans and Marvel dubbed Idiot Punisher. Desmond Kline was a slovenly postal worker who apparently loved watching tv and feeding pizza to his dog before Frank went to the big house in the sky.

Making only two comic appearances spread out over two and a half pages (and that’s probably being charitable), Desmond was so inspired by the Punisher’s life of fighting crime that he decided to get off the couch and become the new Punisher.

Unfortunately for the untrained and girthy Desmond, his time would prove to be short. After confronting some thugs while standing on top of a car, he accidentally slipped and the aforementioned thugs decided to end his miserable life

In a medium where death has zero permanence, I actually don’t care if Wolverine ever comes back. Banshee can stay dead forever. Flash Thompson too. The only character who deserves to be returned to this glorious comic book life is Desmond Kline, the Idiot Punisher. I would read the holy bejebus out of an Idiot Punisher miniseries. Give it to Garth Ennis and let him go crazy like he did with The Boys. Idiot Punisher was taken out like a chump. A character of his gravitas must be respected. Bring him back, Marvel!

Angry white men… UNITE! Along with the stereotypical yet hardly consequential army of gangsters, the primary villain of Suicide Run is V.I.G.I.L., who are basically vigilantes hired to go after vigilantes. Because we Americans all know that the solution to violence is more violence.

Exhibit B: Keeping a V.I.G.I.L.

But man, it’s the beginning of the Clinton Years. And we all know about how those darned Democrats treat vigilantes. That’s right, Slick Willy started his presidency in the Marvel Universe by slashing V.I.G.I.L.’s budget. Harsh, bro! That’s something comic book George Herbert Walker Bush would have never stood for when he was comic book presidenting!

So in order to bolster their profile to get more appropriations from those stingy, limp-wristed Democrats, they decided to target Punisher. Like everyone else, they aren’t fooled by the fact that an entire building exploding and burying Punisher would actually kill him. No sir, they grabbed their assault rifles and unnecessary pouches and began the search.

Of course, every hotheaded anti-Vigilante group filled with wannabe Vigilantes has an alpha hotheaded wannabe vigilante. The leader of this lunkheaded pack was none other than Blackwell. He has every stereotype in the book: a bad ‘tude, radical fire-red hair, gnarly weapons, always going off-script, a loner, and enough ‘roid rage to take on the Punisher!

Except, you know, he totally gets smoked by Frank. Maybe the guys at V.I.G.I.L. just needed more pouches. Whatever. He shows up nearly every issue and rages, end he even kills one of his fellow V.I.G.I.L. bros to justify going after Lynn Michaels and Payback. He keeps telling Punisher that Frank can’t kill because he’s a cop. Boy, was he wrong. R.I.P., Blackwell. V.I.G.I.L. will never be the same without. And by that, I mean it will now be much less douchey.

Exhibit C: Hillary Lied, Americans Died… or At Least They Ride Greyhound

As if cutting funding to the totally bodacious V.I.G.I.L. wasn’t enough, those darn Clintons found ways to make misery aboard one of America’s most sacred institutions, the Greyhound bus. Microchip is traveling to see if the rumors of Punisher’s return are true. He decides to ride the bus like a true American patriot, only to be accosted by an unwashed liberal. Ugh, shudder, true American. Shudder!

The dirty lefty gets what he deserves for bothering Punisher’s right hand man when Microchip maces him with some kind of paralytic spray. Gotcha, liberalism! It’s not surprising that a scene like this and other subtle Clinton-ear jabs are peppered throughout. Two of the writers of the story arc–Chuck Dixon and Larry Hama–are well known conservative comic book writers. It’s good to know that they were at the vanguard of protecting our democracy from such liberal commies!

Exhibit D: Being Politically Correct is for Chumps!

Oh, boy. Probably the biggest surprise in my rereading of Suicide Run was how decidedly unpolitically correct things were during these years. The first issue of Suicide Run features an awesome line up of gangsters that can only be described as a Who’s Who of cultural stereotypes.

You have gangs featuring what amounts to Irish McAlcoholics, African American drug runners, Texas good ol’ boys, Asian martial arts gangs of all stripes, Italian mafiosos, and everything else in between. If you could have been marginalized or easily stereotyped in the 1990s, there was a gang ready to misrepresent you in every possible way in Suicide Run.

The 1990s were a different time, and maybe it’s my modern day sensibilities, but seeing a world like “‘tarded” is jarring. Though it’s used not as a direct insult, the fact that the above line is repeated a few times throughout the latter half of the run is kind of pointless and callow. Couple that with the usual gun-loving, conservative friendly tilt Punisher books from that era had, Suicide Run offers a few eyebrow raising moments.

Punisher Suicide Run: Why You Should Check It Out

Suicide Run is actually as good, if not better, than I remembered from reading it back in the 1990s. It’s a solid action movie comic that moves along at a brisk pace. As with any Punisher comic book, potential readers should turn their logical portions of their brains off.

Sure, Punisher easily faces around 470 baddies and has a skyscraper explode and collapse on top of him during the story arc. Just let it slide. It works better if you don’t put too much thought into it at all.

Another reason to check out Suicide Run is the fact that it serves as an inspiration for season two of the hit Punisher Netflix series. There’s probably little disagreement that Jon Bernthal’s spot-on performance as Frank Castle has been the definitive onscreen version to date.

As I was reading Suicide Run, I could easily picture the actor tearing into the scene and making it his own. The last half of Suicide Run is strong, and I can see a “city under siege” story playing well to Bernthal’s strengths, especially given the Afghanistan battle flashback from season one.

Much like Wolverine in the 1990s or Deadpool or Harley Quinn of today, The Punisher should be remembered as a cautionary tale of comic book over exposure. During the 1990s, Frank Castle was like Jesus, Elvis, Coke, and Santa Claus; he was everywhere! Besides his main titles, there were countless Punisher miniseries, guest appearances, and one-shots all carrying the Punisher banner.

While not a scientific count by any means, you could conservatively guarantee that Punisher would be in at least a dozen Marvel comics books in any given month from 1990-1995. Punisher even had a series called Armory where he opined on and on about his sexual fetishes he had for weapons. It was basically a romance comic for folks wanting to arm teachers like me today.

In fact, Frank’s ubiquitous presence in comics of the 1990s has led to one of my favorite urban legends of the era, that Marvel to this day has an entire filing cabinet chock full of commissioned stories that were never published! Imagine the mix of racial stereotypes, nutjob conspiracy theories, untold dunks on Bill Clinton, and EXTREME weapons the we, the Punisher adoring public, were never privy to because Marvel had too many Punisher stories.

That’s it! Like Frank, we made it through the Suicide Run! Next week, I will be sticking with Marvel and looking at one of the weirder titles from Marvel in the early 1990s, Darkhawk. Did you know he’s kind of popular currently for no apparent reason? Find out why next week!