Monday, May 14, 2018

Punisher - The Platoon: Love on the battlefield

If you grow up on a steady diet of war comics, you're almost certainly going to turn into a big namby-pamby pacifist, because the best war stories aren't about the great tactics, or brilliant generals, or the movements of nations. They're about the poor bastard down in the trenches, trying not to get his fool head blown off.

Garth Ennis knows this better than anybody and never hesitates to sign up for a war comic, because stories set during the most intense and dramatic experiences in human history tend to be very interesting stories to tell, especially if you never forget the humanity in the blood and mud.

Ennis has still steadily telling his own brand of war stories, usually in a series of limited comics, for a few years now. Sometimes he even manages to get his themes of the injustice of war into things as unlikely as that Dick Dastardly comic, but his Punisher war comics for Marvel have been a step above.

For such a thuddingly unstoppable character, there really is no limit to the type of stories you can tell about the killing machine that is Frank Castle. He can be used as a full-stop on this whole horrible mess, or can be a symbol of the United states' deep-held belief that might makes right, or he can be a dude who just goes straight ahead and blows shit up and machine-gun some unforgivable scum straight to hell.

And the story of his Vietnam experiences - which were such a scar across the mid-to-late 20th century - have even more scope. We've already seen Ennis' Castle in action in Fur: My War Gone By and the Born limited series, but the first days in country, and the first people he ever killed, have now been examined in The Platoon.

Part of the reasons the Punisher war comics are some of Ennis' best is that he gets paired with a brilliant artists like Goran Parlov's art, whose art can be bombastic as hell, while also selling the silent moments, where there are no words for what's going on, and it's nobody else's damn business what those who were there were thinking anyway.

Parlov's art is always glorious, and Ennis raises his game to match it, getting new mileage out of the oldest of themes and ideas. The best thing about the Platoon story is that it captures that soldier's feeling that he will die for the man beside him, and that this is what keeps them going. That it's a true love – platonic, sure, and only sometimes physical - but real love between two men who save each others' lives on a regular basis.

At the same time as the Platoon was coming out, Ennis' ongoing War Stories comic at Avatar had a more traditional love story, of lost lovers impossibly reunited in the ravages of a continent set aflame by brutal conflict, and it's a spark of rare genuine warmth in the coldness of the constant conflict.

The love between two soldiers on the battlefield might not be as romantic as that kind of traditional love story, but it's just as valid. It can lead to sacrifice and unbearable bravery, but it's mostly there to get the soldiers through their long tour of duty, before they can go home. As Punisher: The Platoon coldly reminds us, love doesn't win wars - but it can help get us through the horror.

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