I Am Punisher (Black)

When I mentioned a story where the Punisher becomes a black guy for a few issues last week, I was surprised to learn that there are quite a few people out there who aren’t familiar with it. I’m not sure why this came as a shock, given that I’m fully aware that not everyone spends their time studiously catching up on the early-90s adventures of Frank “The Tank” Castle, but with a story that boldly deals with the kinds of socio-political issues that this one does, I was sure it would have reached a wider audience.

So, anyone actually buying that premise? No? Okay then, best to just move on.

The story in question runs through Punisher v.2 #60-62, but it actually gets its start seven issues previous, in a story called “The Final Days.” Said days were, as you probably expect at this point, significantly less final than originally advertised, but it was the storyline that marked the departure of long-time writer Mike Baron from the series.

Essentially, what happens is this: After taking on the Kingpin, the Punisher is caught by the police and sent to prison for… well, for being the Punisher, really. Turns out that killing pretty much everybody he meets over the course of fifty issues is actually illegal. Go figure. One rigged trial later, and Frank’s locked up in Rikers, where he is promptly set upon by a gang of cons led by perennial antagonist Jigsaw, who finally gets his revenge by carving up Frank’s good looks like a Christmas goose.

Incidentally, in his last appearance, Jigsaw’s face was actually fixed by a villain called the Rev who may or may not have been Satan, and subsequently ripped apart again thanks to the Punisher’s judicious use of a cactus, marking the first time those particular plot elements would play out, but not nearly the last.

Anyway, thanks to some help from a convicted cannibal named Derek Pike, Frank’s able to spring himself from the hoosegow, and once a nine-fingered Microchip gets back from Thailand (long story), he’s able to secure the services of…

 

 

Melinda Brewer, brilliant plastic surgeon turned heroin-addicted prostitute.

I’ll pause here for a second while we all try to figure out that little character arc.

So after dealing with a few of the Kingpin’s henchmen, Frank and “Dr.” Melinda head to a chemical plant upstate where she explains her tragic origin and reveals that her skills actually do go beyond standing on the street corner in a purple mini-dress and cooking up that sweet, sweet horse without setting her entire tenement on fire:

 

 

See what they did there? Melanin, for those of you without access to Wikipedia, is the biopolymer primarily responsible for human skin color, which–in the Marvel Universe–also has magical face-mending properties. Thus, once the foreshadowing’s been laid down and Melinda’s forced to tearfully blow away a couple of bounty-happy thugs in the closest thing to an emotional moment you’re going to find in an issue of The Punisher from 1991, she sets down to operating.

Shockingly, despite the fact that she is both going through heroin withdrawl and operating in a filthy abandoned factory (both of which, I’m sure, Dr. Scott would advise against), the procedure goes off without a hitch and Frank gets put back together with one slight change:

 

 

Thus, wanted by the law, hunted by the Kingpin, and being, y’know, black, the Punisher decides it’s time for a little road trip, and hits the open road for a trip to Chicago in order to take the most appropriate course of action.

He starts hanging out with Luke Cage.

 

 

At the time, Luke was going through some difficulties of his own after the presumed death of Iron Fist, which was later explained in Namor of all places in a story involving both plant-men and the Super-Skrull. It was the first attempt at updating the character since his original appearance in the ’70s, and involved him ditching New York for Chicago, getting rid of his classic yellow shirt costume, and liberally borrowing lines from Flavor Flav.

No, really.

 

Time for Cage’s etiquette school, boyeees!

 

Thus, the Punisher heads to the Windy City and–after he is immediately pulled over and beaten by a gang of racist cops–teams up with Luke Cage to take on a gang of inner-city crack dealers, and, well, that’s pretty much it.

Other than the fact that he keeps things incognito by putting duct tape over the big skull on his body armor and drops the occasional one-liner that’s almost worthy of Commando, there’s not a whole lot worth mentioning about the story. Frank and Luke argue about whether it’s okay to shoot people in the face, Chicago’s inner city drug trade is busted, and eventually, Frank’s skin returns to its normal shade in a story called, I shit you not, Fade to White.

But not before Our Hero gets a chance to drop a little Hammer on ‘em.

 

 

60 thoughts on “I Am Punisher (Black)

  1. So does that mean we’ll be seeing the return of Black Punisher in the next story arc of Punisher War Journal? ;)

  2. What type of ish? Fraction crafted this hustle? I need to get my hands on this issue and see what da dew. Forreal. Did Castle get down with the “Always Bet on Black” line, too? ‘Preciate the Comics clue, Sims. I thought this issue was urban legend.

  3. Hey, didja know Mike Baron is a Republican? And they’re so well known for their racial sensitivity.

  4. Apparently extra Melanin not only makes you black, but also changes your *hair* to that of a black person’s as well.

    But not your baby blue eyes…no sir.

  5. Fraction crafted this hustle?

    I believe that Matt Fraction was indicating that he feels as if his current material could never live up to the blinding awesomeness of material such as this.

  6. It’s bizarre that Scott McCloud never mentions this issue when he talks about comics and their potential for greatness.

  7. I just got those comics from my brother for Christmas. Oh it as very Merry Holiday in the Bunker this year! Indeed!

  8. after he is immediately pulled over and beaten by a gang of racist cops

    What?!? Frank suddenly becomes a wimp after turning black?

  9. Ah, I always tell my comic-reading friends about this arc. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  10. I would pay a large quantity of money to attend Luke Cage’s Etiquette School.

    I can’t seem to find it in my local society pages – Chris, maybe you can help us out with a quick primer?

  11. Add me to the roster of people that own these issues. At the time I distinctly remember saying out loud “This is dumb. I’m not buying this.” Then I looked at Luke Cage again and I bought it.

    So now that Tom Jane’s dropped out of the sequel is C. Thomas Howell available?

  12. They were saving that title for a Wolverine story in MCP two years later…

  13. Wow. All this story needs is Black Punisher and Luke Cage sitting down over a bucket of fried chicken and a few wedges of watermelon…

  14. this is fantastic. and, i wouldn’t joke about the magical healing properties of melanin. it is oft said that “God made black, and black don’t crack.”

  15. Um, where did Frank’s nose go? (in the panel just before he’s about to be operated)

  16. Now THIS is some classic Punisher right here. Though even 11-year old Josh was a bit incredulous when it came to buying the whole “magic blackifacation surgery” aspect of things. Still, it got the Punisher teamed up with Luke Cage, and that’s never a bad thing.

  17. The cover of #60 is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. I love how, as soon as they’re both black, Luke Cage and the Punisher look so much alike that the Punisher pretty much has to hold his gun up so you can tell who’s who. I don’t think that bodes very well for the racial sensitivity of what’s inside.

  18. Luke (#13)
    “I just got those comics from my brother for Christmas. Oh it as very Merry Holiday in the Bunker this year! Indeed!”

    Luke, you missed a perfectly good chance to make a “Sweet Christmas!” joke. Tsk tsk tsk.

    Dr. K (#19)
    “Little known fact: Cage’s Etiquette School was the inspiration for the Flavor of Love Charm School.”

    Brilliant. We need a Luke Cage’s Etiquette School. It’ll take the loser from Who Wants to Be a Superhero? and have an actor as Luke Cage teaching them how to be badass but morally upstanding superheroes.

    Make it happen, Marvel!

  19. Mike Baron is a political liberal worried about Islamic Terrorists. This does not make him a Republican. Dan Coyle=bigot?

    By the way, you didn’t mention that the issues where the Punisher teams up with Cage were scripted by Marcus McLaurin, an afro-American. Weird wild stuff going on in the Punisher office.

  20. Burke: really? Would any liberal write Baron’s rather hilarious Punisher and Rush Limbaugh versus environmental extremists story? A story which I loved, by the way.

    But I don’t object to being called a bigot, particularly when the subject is Jeph Loeb.

  21. If you can’t see that he’s making fun of the Limbaugh analog in that story… PWJ #37 btw for those of you reading at home… well, then I don’t know what to say.

    The only conservative to have written the Punisher, save for Bill ” small government” Mantlo, is Chuck Dixon.

    *Insert icon and color coded comment box here.

  22. Jeez. Are there any Marvel stories dealing with race before the year 2000 that don’t suck?

    Even their ethnic characters from back in the day (Black –Panther–, Shang Chi, Misty Knight, Luke Cage) are based on stereotypes and exploitation film personalities. Not the best mold to design a character from.

  23. How is the highly intelligent and proficient king of an isolated African advanced society based on stereotypes or blaxploitation films?

  24. Black –Panther–??

    You do know about the Black Panther Party: founded in the 60′s, active in the 60′s/70′s, did good community work but also associated with extremism, militarism, racism, etc.? While not based on exploitation films or stereotypes, his name and era of creation [his first comic appearance --technically-- predeates the official founding of the party, but literally only by a few months] always connected him to that sense of black militarism which was also part of those movies and stereotypes. I wouldn’t want to read a comic about, “The White Klansmen,” even if he was an intelligent king of some mysical European city, so I never really understood why, “The Black Panther” was cool with so many people. The name and imagery associated with it just seems like its from an era of clumsiness and ignorance when dealing with ethnicity on Marvel’s part.

    I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but I’ve just never felt comfortable with BP’s character. Then again, growing up as an African-American in a largely African-American city exposed me to an idea of what the Black Panthers are that others might not have had as children.

  25. Don’t quite see how the BPP was “associated with . . . racism,” unless the racism in question was J. Edgar Hoover’s (whatever else you think about the Panthers, you gotta admit their history marks the FBI’s greatest success story). Of course, Kirby’s creation of the Black Panther does predate the BPP; and his name was changed to The Black Leopard briefly to mitigate the association. What, should they have retired the character just ’cause Huey Newton was meshuggeh?

  26. Regarding racism: You think the Panthers –liked– white people? I’m a proud African-American, but they were –extreme– black nationalists, which is just a euphemism for anti-white.

    As for what should have been done: Personally, I wouldn’t have retired the character, but if I had been Kirby I would have changed the name after the Party was well established and kept the name different. I wouldn’t want a black character to be intertwined in such racism any more then I’d want a white character to be associated (even if by image) with the Klan.

  27. Dan Coyle – Way to avoid the fact that you tendentiously misread Chris’s statement that the “Final Days” storyline prior to this one was Baron’s last on the title. Are we now to infer that Marc McLaurin is a racially insensitive Republican?

    (P.S. I’m a Democrat.)

  28. At least they didn’t call T’Challa by his original codename, the Coal Tiger.

  29. Dudes, that storyline was forced on me by editor Don Daley. I vas only following orders. Yes, I look back at those stories now and I cringe.

  30. You shoulda posted the cover of the ish where Frank gets hassled by racist cops–”I believe our friend is looking to do the Rodney!” A classic of Too Soon.

  31. Mike Baron–seriously, with Nexus and the Badger in your column, you could spend the rest of your life writing Chick Tracts, and the balance would still be in your favor.

  32. Since when does Black Nationalism equal anti-white? You can spout how African-American you are all you want (which I’m assuming you’re using to validate your viewpoint) but your speaking is from a white-centric viewpoint of what American Blacks are. Akelexre, you state the Black Panther’s were extreme and militant. This is true but they always maintained that the laws for Americans should be able to be upheld by ALL Americans. One noteworthy example of this is the American right to bear arms. They carried their fire arms, in plain view, to make the point that baring arms wasn’t just a white American right. For this they got labeled militant. Since when does exemplifying the mandates stipulated in the constitution make you militant?
    I also question your “I’ve just never felt comfortable with BP’s character. Then again, growing up as an African-American in a largely African-American city exposed me to an idea of what the Black Panthers are that others might not have had as children.” (Again the I’m African-American to validate your viewpoint).
    A Black Muslim pointed out to me once, in no uncertain terms, “that there are many African-Americans who are just Black skinned whites in disguise. Note them by their speaking. A man’s true nature comes from his speaking, and if the speaking isn’t in accord with who he appears to be on the outside, there is a disconnect. Pity him for he knows not who he is.”

    I bring this up because this thread is concerned with why Blacks in comics are so poorly and cliche ridden. Bill Cosby tried to show that Blacks in America didn’t have to divorce themselves from their heritage while being American. The gains groups like The Black Panther party had to do, were done so succeeding generations of American Blacks could “feel uncomfortable’ with African comic characters. The freedoms Blacks now have in this country are a direct result of those struggles which were paid by groups like The Black Panther Party. The price was their willingness to be perceived as villains.

    The Black Panther comic character is not (nor need be) even remotely connected to the struggles of American Blacks. Writers tried to make a connection many times throughout the BP’s run but it never took hold because he wasn’t an American Black. He is, and will always be a true African. We are beholding to him by our shared history but the BP character isn’t beholding to us outside of the bond that all humans share with each other.

    The most current series is the most accurate. That’s what made it so good. The Black Panther isn’t a Black character, he’s an African one who is finally being written so.

  33. I waited 19 years to discover what happened after punisher turned black. 2 issues? I am so disappointed. Aw well, what do you expect from the early 90s? I do believe it was that year that all those black / white buddy-cop dramas started showing up. Still too early for Frank to blast away at racist cops – I mean, they are criminals and all. Did they ever do a Frank goes arab story line?

  34. @Akelexre

    Your statement “Regarding racism: You think the Panthers –liked– white people? I’m a proud African-American, but they were –extreme– black nationalists, which is just a euphemism for anti-white.” is completely inaccurate from a historical point of view. The Panthers were NOT black nationalists, they were Marxists. The Panthers actively worked with militant groups of various ethnicities, including the Young Lords, the Weather Underground, and AIM. The Panthers were not seeking to create a black nation, which is the central tenet of black nationalism. You clearly have no idea what you are talking about and should probably read more about what black nationalism is and what the Black Panther Party stood for. Their main attorney, William Kunstler, was white and their philosophy was based on Karl Marx, also white (although the influence of Mao is equally strong, you might notice that Mao is also not black). What type of black nationalist organization would cite two non-blacks as its main influences? Why, an organization that is Marxist NOT black nationalist. Invest in “Revolutionary Suicide”, “Seize The Time” and “Assata” to actually learn something about The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.