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.
“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.