"Punisher: The Platoon" first look
Credit: Goran Parlov (Marvel Comcis)
Credit: Goran Parlov (Marvel Comcis)

Frank Castle first became the Punisher during his final tour of Vietnam, but what about his first tour of duty? A new Marvel miniseries launching this October will answer that.

Punisher: The Platoon by Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov is a prequel to 2003's Born, showing that even before there was a Punisher there was a darkness inside Frank Castle. Previously hinted at in convention appearances, The Platoon will detail Frank Castle's first military command as well as his first kill.

Ennis and Parlov talked with Newarama about this upcoming six-issue series, and explored their own past with the gun-toting antihero - as well as their own past working together.

Credit: Goran Parlov (Marvel Comcis)

Newsarama: Punisher: The Platoon is about of Frank's years in service, with his first leadership role and first kill. Garth, is this story - or a glimmer of it - been something you've thought about in the past during your other works on the character?

Garth Ennis: Given that Born was set during Frank's third tour of duty in Vietnam, I knew that I'd eventually want to go back and examine his first and second, just to give us a better impression of the road that took him to Firebase Valley Forge. In this one we'll see how he manages to impress a number of, shall we say, talent-spotters - who are constantly keeping an eye on things from behind the scenes. For what happens next, on his second tour - well, watch this space.

As for first kills and so on, the story has something to say about that- about what we want to know, or perhaps what we think we have a right to know.

Nrama: Have you two already figured out what Castle's first kill is, and have you put any specific thought in how you'll portray it?

Goran Parlov: We didn’t put any special attention to it. Or at least I didn’t. I probably didn’t even realized that "OMG, This is the Frank’s first kill!”

But, on the other side, I put a lot of thoughts on "OMG, this is the youngest version of Frank Castle that we’ve ever seen.” I loved that a lot.

And I put my special attention on how to portray him this young, but preserving all the features from the old MAX version. In order that a reader can recognize him right away, right on the very first panel.

Credit: Goran Parlov (Marvel Comcis)

Nrama: Goran, how would you describe this series as a whole?

Parlov: As very human. This if you want me to describe it with just a few words. All the aspects are there. Sometimes it gets emotional, sometimes harsh, sometimes it’s funny, sometimes will make your eyes all teary.

A story about the friendship, about what a one is ready to do for a friend to survive. About the relations between them.

It is definitely not a black and white story. The enemy is not portrayed as the pure evil waiting on the other side. They are real humans with lots of layers, with their real problems and everyday issues – issues that we all can relate with.

They are just people on the other side of the battlefield. And I myself wanted to depict them (whenever I had the opportunity) as mostly young kids, often confused, not really aware of what they are supposed to do here, what they are asked to do, collected from different parts of the country, never been in a war before... hell, never been in a jungle before. My point is, they are not some grinning evil waiting behind bushes with the only intent to kill the white devil. Not something you should hate. Most of them would probably prefer to be at their homes hundreds of miles away than setting traps throughout the jungle.

We will be able to see a lot of things that we don’t usually see in movies or comics. Things like troubles with M16s that got stuck due to overheating, changing barrels on M60s, battery problems on a field radio sets etc. The story is very insightful from that point of view. I am sure the readers will have their own description after reading the story. And I am really curious to hear all of them.

Credit: Goran Parlov (Marvel Comcis)

Nrama: Garth, how would you describe your relationship with the Punisher character and getting to know him - and developing his backstory - the way you have over the years?

Ennis: I've said before that Frank and I were bound to run into each other sooner or later. Initially I stayed clear of Punisher comics due to the unfortunate appearance of superhero characters every few issues, but eventually I began to see the possibilities. When Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti asked Steve Dillon and I to have a go, back in 1998 or whenever, we were able to have quite a lot of fun - and the stories made a big enough impact that both our careers benefited hugely.

That said, I don't think I really hit my stride with the Punisher until the MAX series. In a nutshell, after 9/11 I found myself looking at the title in a different way: I suddenly saw in it a means of examining the kind of corruption, violence, and evil in the world that led to that dreadful day. That doesn't mean the specifics of the attacks, but the kind of world that ours had turned out to be. And that's something that's influenced most of my Punisher work since, from Born through to Valley Forge, Valley Forge and on to Frank's appearance in My War Gone By. And now The Platoon.

For someone like myself, with no interest in costumed superheroes, Frank is something of a godsend: a mainstream character that you can write in (more or less) the real world. The only others I can think of are Nick Fury and John Constantine, and even with them you have to be careful of what you include or ignore.

Nrama: How are you aiming to portray Frank Castle here, and his early Vietnam time?

Parlov: To me he is the same ole guy we know from the Punisher MAX books. Only younger and in different environment. I am sure readers will recognize our Frank right away under that helmet.

Credit: Hemdale Film Corporation

Nrama: The title of this, "The Platoon," harkens back to the popular 1980s movie. I know you're a war story aficionado, so can you set people straight from the outside if - or if not- this is connected to the Oliver Stone film?

Ennis: Good question. There's no connection whatsoever beyond the setting. I actually haven't seen Platoon since its release in 1986, I'm really not that big a fan of it. Even as a kid it felt like just another war movie to me, and thinking about it now I can't remember anything in Oliver Stone's fathers & sons narrative that has much to say specifically about America's time in Vietnam. There's no denying the incredible authenticity of its look and feel, obviously born of Stone's own service in the war, but the message didn't seem to go much further than- well, 'Nam was a bit of a fucker but it's over now, and while we can't forget it we should try to be better people as a result.’ My own favorite Vietnam film remains Full Metal Jacket, because in this context it acknowledges that something went dreadfully wrong during the war, and that America was left badly scarred as a result. To say nothing of the effect on Vietnam.

Nrama: You've two have worked on and off since 2004. This story is about Punisher's early days - what would you say were you two’s early days working together like?

Credit: Goran Parlov (Marvel Comcis)

Ennis: Much like my experience of working with most of my favorite artists, like Steve Dillon, Russ Braun, Peter Snejbjerg, Raulo Caceres, Craig Cermak, Jacen Burrowes, et al - I wrote and Goran drew, and we meshed very nicely because we knew almost immediately that we could trust each other. I felt he had a little touch of Joe Kubert about him in the beginning, but within just a couple of episodes he very much became his own man. To me he's almost the definitive Punisher artist, because of the understated grace and repressed violence he brings to Frank's body language - the sense of a man with very little drama about him, just getting on with the job.

Parlov: When I got the first script from Axel Alonso, I didn’t even realize it was written by Garth. I only noticed that it has been very well-written. Only later realized it was the ‘the Preacher guy.’ Which I loved very much. I connected with the script right away. The images were just popping into my mind as I was reading the script. It was like I knew exactly what Garth wanted from me. The same happened with all the following scripts. Garth is an excellent writer, able to explain himself with just few words. Which is my favorite kind of writer. I hate long explanations and big chunky descriptions.

From my point-of-view, I would describe our collaboration as easy-going.

And I look forward to work with him again and again.

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