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Acts of Vengeance: The Punisher vs. Doctor Doom (Review/Retrospective)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”

In celebration of the release of The Avengers, this weekend we’re taking a look at the massive 1989-90 crossover “Acts of Vengeance”, which pitted various villains against some unlikely heroes. I’ll be looking at some of the most fun match-ups. This arc is collected in the companion omnibus.

I tend to like my Punisher stories with a hint of the ridiculous about them. I seem to be the only person who thought that Garth Ennis did his best work on the character as part of Marvel Knights rather than Punisher MAX, because I tend to think the character works best as a sort of an absurd straight man in mainstream comics. He is, after all, a character who uses superhero iconography (a giant skull on his chest, no matter how stripped-down the iteration) while being a guy with a gun who likes to kill criminals. I’ve always felt that the character required a suspension of disbelief that that only really worked if he was played just slightly ridiculous. Of course, that’s my opinion, and I seem to be in the minority on this, but it probably explains why I found Mike Baron’s tie-in to Acts of Vengeance – pitting the Punisher against Doctor Doom – to be so much damn fun.

Closing in to seal his doom…

Note: The always wonderful Chris Simms took a more indepth look at this unlikely crossover on Comics Alliance, perfectly capturing the wonderful insanity of it all.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t beleive that the Punisher needs to anchored to continuity or anything like that, I just find it easier to enjoy his stories when they’re played with just a hint of the absurd. I’ll also confess that I have very little experience of Mike Baron’s extended run on The Punisher during the late eighties. Still, if these two issues indicate how fun and gleefully enjoyably ridiculous his work on the character was, sign me up for a nice deluxe collection of it. Obviously I’m only judging off two issues, but I’ll freely concede that I really enjoyed them. I honestly think the best part of Acts of Vengeance, which was a mess of a crossover, is getting a chance to sample the creative teams who just happened to be working on the comics at the time.

Here, we get a glimpse of a Punisher who is just doing what he does best – killing things. In a way, Baron seems to write Frank Castle similarly to the way that Bob Haney wrote Batman: Frank is a bad-ass with complete conviction for his own moral authority and very little patience for anyone who messes with him. At one point, early in the story, Frank is taking out a gang of gun smugglers and muses, without a hint of irony, “The only private party who should have free access to assault rifles is me. The Punisher.” I like the fact that he thinks about himself in a way where he appends his own name. Because, c’mon, if you had a badass sobriquet like “The Punisher”, you’d use it at an given opportunity.

Packin’ heat…

Hell, Baron’s Punisher is so tough and manly that he uses swearwords repeatedly, even though they are being censored. It’s not just to express exaggeration, it seems like this Punisher likes to drop an obscured obscenity at least once a page. Of course, some might argue that repeatedly censoring swear words maybe limits their efficiency, but Mike Baron’s Frank Castle doesn’t seem to care. If you don’t like it, read some other #%$!ing book.

However, the absolute best part of Baron’s Punisher is the fact that he never once seems confused or disorientated by the fact that Doctor Doom is coming after him. He just seems a little bit frustrated, because all the time he’s dealing with this Doctor Doom nonsense is time he could be spending doing stuff he enjoyed, like killing gun runners. When Micro points out that Doom is a little outside the normal street-level thugs Frank tangles with, Frank seems a little agitated rather than worried or confused. “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” Micro asks, clearling panicking. The Punisher responds, matter-of-factly, “Look, how was I to know? I have no idea why he’s on my case.” Geez, it’s so tough being a mass-murdering psychopath sometimes. By the time he calls Doom “a nutso robot”it seems like he’s really had enough.

Um… this isn’t what it looks like…

Despite the fact that he has no idea why Doom is coming after him, he never seems bothered to find out. When Doom keeps coming after him, Frank actually asks him out loud, “I still don’t get it. Why do we even have a problem?” Indeed, most of the heroes seemed similarly confused by the event, but Baron’s Frank Castle seems to treat the premise with the absurdity it deserves. If Doctor Doom is going to hatch a crazy supervillain plan to kill to him, damned if Frank isn’t going to beat him at his own game. After all, a crossover where Frank Castle shoots a Doombot in the head isn’t any fun, so Frank concocts an ellaborate plan to get the good doctor off his back through blackmail. Baron’s logic might not be bulletproof, but he seems to embrace the absurdity of the situation completely, making it work in the same way that Bob Haney made Batman work in The Brave & The Bold.

This is a version of the character with a lot of superhero trappings, including a van that works on auto-pilot (“it’s programmed to take evasive action”) and even a “rocket pack.”As Doom destroys his auto-pilot van, Castle laments, “There goes another battle van! With unit costs approaching a million bucks a piece, I should order a dozen!” Don’t stop to wonder where a guy knocking over mob dealers can find twelve million dollars in cash, and just go with it. Baron doesn’t take the character too seriously, and I actually love that. Hell, we even get to see the Punisher in lederhousen. Which is worth the price of admission alone.

Doomed by his ego…

In fact, I have to admit that one of the best parts of Acts of Vengeance was watching the villains interact with one another. Obviously Mark Gruenwald wrote a brilliant confrontation between Magneto and the Red Skull in Captain America, but it’s just as fun to watch the Kingpin and Doctor Doom interact with one another. The more I think about it, the better Acts of Vengeance seems to have been for the Kingpin. After all, he got a veritable army sent after the web-crawling Spider-Man, Doctor Doom against the Punisher and Ultron against Daredevil. Not bad for a guy who is basically a New York mobster. He seems to come out way ahead of Doom, who only got a bunch of fifth-stringers taking on the Fantastic Four.

Indeed, it seems like the Kingpin is well aware that he has a bit of an advantage here, as much as Doom might mock him. “You actually believe this is your operation,” Doom goads. “You, who are incapable of shielding your operations from any well-armed vigilante?” As always with Doom, it’s fun to hear the other villains respond to his whining and posturing, by pointing out he isn’t exactly riding a wave at the moment. “Be careful, Doctor,” Kingpin warns. “Your long exile makes you reckless.” The Kingpin manipulates Doom into taking on the Punisher through the tried-and-tested schoolyard method of “no-you-can’t-yes-I-can”, as Doom suddenly demands, “Do you doubt I can do it?” Kingpin innocently inquires, “Do what?” Doom responds, “Eliminate the Punisher.”I love how easy it is to manipulate the prickly Doom, despite his arrogance.

Just ignore all that happening behind you…

Sure, Baron’s Acts of Vengeance crossover isn’t a masterpiece. There’s a lot of comic book logic involved, particularly when Kristof takes time out to show Frank Castle “the pride of [his] collection”, somehow oblivious to how that would come back to bite him. Still, it’s a lot of silly fun, which is really what this event was all about when it was at its very best. I think The Punisher tie-in actually captured it pretty well, if I do say so myself.

In celebration of Acts of Vengeance, we’ve taken a look at some of the more memorable tie-ins and crossovers:

2 Responses

  1. Damnit, now I have to find these issues. As for absurd, well considering Barron’s run ended with the Punisher turning black and he he created and used to write a character like Badger, absurd seems to be Barron’s middle name. If not, it should be.

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