This whole series manages to sum itself up fairly well here in this issue when Captain America kicks The Punisher out of his super secret team of Avengers for killing a couple of criminals. The sentinel of liberty is discussing his team’s need for numbers and heavy hitters as they prepare to storm their opposition’s prison facility when two supervillains are ushered in by Diamondback (a reformed member of the Serpent Society and prior love interest of Captain America). These villains, their names don’t matter, come in to offer their support as well as the support of the free supervillain community because they see Registration as a direct threat to their way of life.
Captain America finds himself presented with a group of known murderers, thieves, and presumably worse offering their free and willing support of his cause. The moment has come for Captain America to be faced with the reality of his situation; by defying the law and forming an open rebellion against the government, he has unwittingly thrown in his lot with the worst of the worst. Heroes or villains, whatever crimes they were guilty of before, they now also stand guilty of treason. Is Cap to turn them away? He could easily make the choice to deny their aid as he and his team are fighting not for a responsibility-free lifestyle but the freedom from control by a fallible, corruptible institution. Or is the enemy of his enemy simply his friend? Can these supervillains prove useful and then be dealt with later in some manner? The answer seems to be yes; after all, Captain America let The Punisher on his team.
These questions aren’t posed, asked, or answered. Why? Because The Punisher is there and he is a character that knows what he’s all about. He shoots those supervillains dead right where they stand and proceeds to ask “what?” when everyone shoots him a look. Surely this is the turning point for Captain America. He’s allied with The Punisher and now seen firsthand the brutality exercised by men who see their morality as absolute and stand in opposition to the law they claim to enforce. Why shouldn’t The Punisher’s actions be condoned? What reason does he have to believe that they won’t be?
The years long relationship between The Punisher and vigilantes such as Spider-Man and Daredevil (the latter recently exhibited quite well in the good first four episodes of the otherwise lackluster Daredevil season two) has demonstrated him to be a character who is aware of what it means to put on a costume, don a codename, and take it upon himself to enforce order. He’s a criminal. Spider-Man, Daredevil, and, now, even Captain America are criminals. Surely they know that there is nothing separating them from him and the charade of being “the good guys” is over.
Captain America snaps and brutally assaults The Punisher but the latter refuses to fight back even as the former declares him a “piece of trash” and a “coward.”
The Punisher doesn’t fight back, Spider-Man posits, because, “Cap’s probably the reason he went to Vietnam. Same guy, different war.” There, that similarity between these two is now emphasized directly in the text, with Captain America’s influence as a public figure/superhero encouraging a kid to enter into a war that traumatized himself and the nation as a whole; a war where America doesn’t get to say it was on the right side like Captain America’s generation did. Maybe superheroes are dangerous outside of accidentally blowing up a school full of kids. Maybe they’ve influenced a bunch of kids to grow up and go to war without knowing what they were doing.
This isn’t given much room for consideration. Captain America is quick to reply that he’s nothing like that “insane” killer. Theoretically, that works as a Greatest Generation response to the horrors that occurred in Vietnam, unwilling to accept that the people who were thrown into that conflict were in much the same position they were without the benefit of fighting a very real world example of evil. In practice, that’s less fulfilling as it paints Captain America as more of a caricature than a character without letting a moment of doubt to sneak in. If he hadn’t responded at all then his sudden realization at the end of the next issue probably wouldn’t feel so sudden and underwritten. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.
The Punisher gets the best scene in this comic but the writing does not seem interested in exploring any of the questions that his presence should raise. And I don’t think that’s an unfair criticism because every other aspect of this book is handled with the subtlety of a brick to the face. With The Ultimates being as smart as it was, I have to believe that Millar knew what he was doing and what he was bringing up but did not actually feel like doing anything with any of it.
It is simply frustrating.
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