Wednesday, March 14, 2007

What If The Punisher had become Captain America (Marvel comics)
What if...? #51 When: July 1993
Why: Simon Furman How: Paris Cullins

The story so far...
In our world, blinded, Captain America was able to survive a brutal encounter with the Red Skull through luck and determination, but throughout the omniverse there are other worlds where he was not so fortunate.

Alive but mortally wounded, Steve Rogers demands there be a replacement in the Cap costume during the period of his recuperation. Thus, the search for a suitable substitute begins. Many men try and fail!

Astronaut John Jameson succumbs to a spell whilst in space, becoming a Man-Wolf; Robert Diamond dies at the hands of Count Nefaria; the gamma-irradiated Leonard Samson loses his mind in battle, and kills innocent civilians; and Kyle Richmond falls victim to the vampiric Baron Blood.

With his family caught in a gang-land crossfire, Frank Castle, having initial turned down the offer, now turns to the flag. As Captain America he will battle evil, but will this symbol for justice be enough for the unhinged ex-soldier?

Previous Form:
Captain America (#9): Cap has victories over Wolverine, Baron Zemo, MODOK and Bane.
The Punisher (#57): Punisher was recently defeated by Wolverine, but has a victory over the Rhino.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Captain America 3 (Trained Athlete)
Intelligence: Draw 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Captain America 3 (???)
Stamina: Captain America 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Captain America 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Captain America 6 (Warrior)
Energy Powers: The Punisher 4 (Arsenal)

To the shock of noone, sometimes Punisher likes to parade around behind closed doors in brightly coloured costumes. In this respect, he has much in common with Garth Ennis.With the rare exception, we've been having quite a few statistically one-sided fights, it seems. This one definitely has a margin of measure, but ultimately I think even the most staunch Punisher supporter has to acknowledge that Cap pretty much dresses him up in frilly reds, and takes him to school.

Cap's got Castle covered on hand-to-hand combat, speed, strength and agility.
Standard weapons are moot for the shield, not to mention Cap's evasive talents, seen in many-a bullet dodging splash page.

Punisher's key to success is his moral pendulum, which swings quite a bit wider than Cap's. If there were a way Castle could endanger someone, presumably a criminal because he isn't a bad guy, then Cap may be compelled to abandon an attack/defense in the interest of preserving life.

Punisher wouldn't kill Captain America, we know that much.
Recent interpretations in Punisher War Journal even take it much farther, indicating a degree of hero worship, or at the very least, recognition for the super-patriot.

This one's Cap's, but Punny can surprise.
Like Tombstone, he plays above his weight, kids!

The Math: Captain America (Meta Class)
The Pick: Captain America

What went down...
Frank Castle keeps his distance as a member of the Avengers, and the second his back is turned, they run to Nick Fury to tell them how wrong he feels.
How when the cameras are on he seems to present a facade acceptable to the world, but behind closed doors a glimpse of the real man emerges.
When The Scarlet Witch is disturbed by the presence of another member, then you know he's probably pretty unhinged, but Fury dismisses it as little more than the stoic drive of a military man who lost everything.

While this occurs, Castle dons the garb of a new symbol he's created. Garb baring the mark of the death's head -- a warning to criminals everywhere. On this night he is not a sentinel of liberty. He is a Punisher.

This night is very different to the others, though. Deciding to abandon the limitations of Captain America, Frank Castle goes out for the hunt, leaving behind the ideals of the red, white and blue.

"There is no Captain America. Not anymore. That name carries with it too many limitations. There is only The Punisher!"

What the hell, bro?! Did you just throw a vibranium shield out your window?!This night is very different. This night Frank Castle has excised Captain America from his soul. And now Captain America has come to get him!

The shield comes from nowhere, and the red boot that cracks across his face seems to do the same. Castle knows the silence means this man is good -- and very dangerous.

A hand chops down on the back of his neck, and on his hands and knees he finally gets a good look at his attacker. He finally gets a good look at Captain America!

Cap warns Castle that he must be stopped, and the paranoid expatriate starts to piece the puzzle together, and sees Cap is their clean-up, and he's the mess.
Rather than listen any longer Castle does the only thing he can -- he attacks.

Cap's back smashes into the scenery of the druglab, and Castle follows his body down to the ground, wrapping his hands tight around Cap's throat. He's playing for keeps. He's playing to punish America. But sometimes America isn't afraid to fight dirty!

"Uuugh! Didn't... want to resort to... his... but..."
Cap throws his right fist at the Punisher's exposed ribs, and sends him flying into the air. Castle hits the wall and staggers to his feet, grabbing his stomach. He wants to know what he's been hit with, but he'll have to hear the cermon first.

Cap unleashes his greatest weapon -- the inspiration power of a stern talking to!
And he gives Castle no choice but to listen. He comes to empathise with Castle's frustrations with the system, and even acknowledges some of the problems of the United States, but for Steve Rogers that's what being Captain America is all about. It's about being one human man who will rise above that, and be better.

Castle asks why he can't just do all that, and Cap pulls up his right sleeve with a look of distain to reveal an entirely cybernetic arm.

Just as reason seems to be breaking through to castle, machine gun fire interrupts the moment from a balcon above them.

Cap pushes Castle down and tosses his mighty shield up to the mobster.
The shield misses, but Cap follows right behind and knocks the gunman down with a thundering two-booted kick. He retrieves his shield, and calls to Castle, "You see, Castle? Subdued... but alive!"

But as he says it, he realises Castle has already disappeared.
The shattering glass makes it none too subtle where Punisher has gone. He's gone to get the scum he was there for, but when he puts the gun to the drug runner's head, his conscience tackles him. The memory of his family tackles him.
And Castle wonders if maybe there is another way.

Cap, though present, never has to intervene.

The hammer...
Well, the resolution may have gotten a little off track, but I think it's fair to say Captain America not only successfully subdued Punisher, but also picked up a moral victory!

No prizes for guessing the motivation behind this What If Wednesday! But just in case you've been living in a cave on the darkside of the moon, this is of course in response to not only Captain America's untimely death in Captain America #25, but also popular speculation that The Punisher may assume the mantle, as hinted at in the conclusion of Civil War #7.

Solicitations for War Journal playfully hint at a costume change for Frank Castle. If it isn't the red, white and blue, let's hope it's a shift to black and a trenchcoat.
Fair enough to bring him back to the superhero world, but does that really require white boots? C'mon...

Mind you, the cover to #5 suggests Castle may find himself busted by the feds, so maybe the costume change is back to prison garb. Maybe this time he could focus on doing some intelligence gathering and criminal killing, without having to worry about Matt Murdock and his blind-man routine.

Y'know, I don't really think I mind either way, but Captain Punisher is a pretty tantalizing prospect! This issue looks at the situation through the eyes of a Frank Castle who hasn't lept into his war on crime, so the heroes are relatively unfamiliar with him. What kind of animosity is he going to have to deal with mere months after being recruited to the Anti-Reg gang, only to be unceremoniously kicked out after he gunned down two allied villains at point blank?

With that in mind, how many people are going to be angry at Castle for disrespecting the deceased? For all the respect and worship Castle has, surely even he could recognise the Captain can't condone his lifestyle and methodology.

Which I guess brings us to other popular theories, like Rick Jones or Bucky Barnes taking the mantle. Which, although there's strong opposing logic to Castle, sits with me even less well than the Punisher.

Barnes, currently the Winter Soldier [appearing Monday!], has spent the last few decades as a cyborg Russian killing machine, dedicated to everything Captain America opposes. So, having him to a complete backflip feels somewhat wasted.
Then again, apparently Ed Brubaker's entire run on Captain America has been building toward this moment, and despite the title character's assassination, we can be pleased to know the book will continue. Maybe it has all been about breeding Bucky for a switcheroo back to heroism.

Then again, perhaps a delicious irony is that Bucky has cybernetic enhancements to compensate for the injuries he sustained during the event that posed as his apparent death. Which is exactly what Cap declares Captain America shouldn't be, in this very issue of What If.
Duelling characterizations aren't really new, but it's food for thought!

I suppose I've been side tracked from the point -- Captain America is dead!
My initial reaction was really just bemusement, and wonder as to why so many people were buying into it. Then the press started to sink in, and sink in, and sink in, until it dawned on me that regardless of the inevitable reversal, this one's probably going to stick for a good while now.

Originally I was thinking maybe a storyarc, between four and eight issues, but with that much press, I can't imagine Marvel would make it known without sticking to it for a while. And even on the off chance that the story spread farther than was intended, Cap's death is going to stick as a result of that.

How do I feel about it? A few people have asked me over the week.
I'm kind of somewhere in the middle about it. I like to think I'm an advocate of moving the comics forward, but I do tend to wonder if Captain America is the guy to do it with. On the one hand he's been around the longest, so you probably knock him off before you take out your Spidey... But at the same time, he's their oldest, and unlike a Sub-Mariner or Human Torch, he's managed to endure since his come-back in the sixties!

It seems like a grosse misstep to kill-off this one.
The one everyone feels, canonically and as readers, is the embodiment of everything the heroes should be striving for. This is even the guy most readers felt was right in the argument of hero registration, even though he probably wasn't really the logical choice.

I think he'll be back... and if it isn't something spectacular, this will probably be remembered in infamy in much the same way the death of Superman is.
Otherwise, it will be another thorough disappointment for death in superhero comics. Something that manages to generate sales, even if it isn't a threat anymore.

Mixed feelings!...

The Fight: 3 The Issue: 5

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