Marvel Madness

That Time the Punisher and Batman Stopped a Gang War

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Two weeks ago I discussed an absolutely insane comic, that I by and large didn’t think worked out that well. It was the story of Batman and Daredevil stopping a crime-spree by Two-Face and Mr. Hyde, and was the first time I’d ever dipped my toes into the weird and wild world of inter-company comic book cross overs. And it wasn’t great! The story was ludicrous, the art was incredibly indicative of Marvel’s late-nineties house style, and the whole thing was an insane example of the excess and bad decisions that make up the comic book industry in the nineties. Luckily though, there have been several other instances of Marvel and DC crossing over, and today I’m going to be sharing a much more enjoyable example of Batman interacting with the heroes of the Marvel Universe. And, I’ll readily admit, I’m stunned to find out that I enjoyed a story featuring Batman and the Punisher more than a story with Batman and Daredevil. When I first picked these two stories to feature this month I assumed it was going to be a slam dunk on the Daredevil story, and yet, this story ends up being everything I had hoped the previous story would be. Which I guess shouldn’t be too surprising, since this one-shot had an all-star creative team. And their talent managed to tell a story that took the Punisher, a character that I almost always have a problem connecting with, and somehow had him interact with Batman in a way that was both enjoyable, and made total sense with both of their characters. It’s a hell of a feat to pull off, so let’s get into it.

Much like Daredevil and Batman – Eye for an Eye, there’s no real explanation for how this story is happening. The Punisher has just shown up in Gotham City, which is apparently in the same world as his New York, and we just have to accept that. And, it’s not Frank’s first trip to Gotham. There was another crossover featuring Batman and the Punisher from the same year as this one, but that story took place in a time when Batman was still incapacitated after his fight with Bane, and John-Paul Valley took over the cowl. And, let me tell you, nothing makes me lose my interest in a comic faster than having Jean-Paul Valley star in it. That story really isn’t too important to this one, other than establishing that the Punisher has been in Gotham before, and that his chief villain, Jigsaw, has been interested in the city. Which is where this story begins. The Punisher has been looking for Jigsaw, and has tracked him to Gotham City. However, he doesn’t really know anything else other than that. So, he finds a group of Gotham City gangster hanging out in a paint factory, because Gotham, and just starts shooting them until they tell him where a gangster linked to Jigsaw named Luke Tango.

 

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It’s a very strange strategy, but it oddly ends up working out well for the Punisher. He corrals the gangsters into an isolated position, and then ends up shooting around wildly until he hits something flammable. And whatever it was, it was very flammable! The whole factory goes up in flames, as Commissioner Gordon and the GCPD just stand there watching, figuring that it would be best to watch this situation play out. They’re apparently just going to stand there watching the building burn down, waiting for either the fire department or Batman, whichever gets their first.

Inside the burning factory, the Punisher strides around, looking at all the burning mobster bodies until he comes across one that’s still alive. The guy is covered in yellow paint, but he hasn’t been burned to death, so the Punisher begins interrogating him, demanding that the man tell him the location of Luke Tango so that he can find his way to Jigsaw. Unfortunately, the guy has no idea where Luke Tango could possibly be, and after sputtering that information out to the Punisher, things don’t look like they’re going to go well. The Punisher prepares to execute the men, when he gets a surprise visitor. Batman! Which shouldn’t be too weird for the Punisher, since he’s already met a Batman. Just not this Batman.

 

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Batman and the Punisher obviously start beating the hell out of each other, since everything about the Punisher seems to describe the type of people that Batman usually spends his nights punching. The Punisher does seem to notice that this Batman has a completely different fighting style than the Batman he met earlier in the year, but he doesn’t really spend too much time thinking about that discrepancy, and instead spends the fight thinking about how impressed he is by Batman. Because apparently every time a character from the Marvel Universe encounters Batman they have to be absolutely gobsmacked by how awesome he is. Which is fair, I guess.

The two men stand there battling in a burning factory for a little while, until the foundation starts to fail and the roof begins caving in. Batman is obviously distracted by this, and in that distraction the Punisher is able to slip away and into the night, leaving Batman to deal with the factory full of burnt mobsters while the Punisher continues his hunt for Jigsaw.

And, where is Jigsaw hiding out? Well, he’s not exactly being subtle. He’s holed up in an abandoned comedy club along with his fledgling gang, getting ready to start his new criminal empire. He’s also nursing some recent plastic surgery to repair his trademark messed up face. And, as luck would have it, that gangster that the Punisher interrogated was lying actually knew where Jigsaw was, so he shows up to tell him that his nemesis is in town and on his trail. However, Jigsaw isn’t really thrilled with this news, especially because he can’t be convinced that the man didn’t tell the Punisher something about his whereabouts. The man is then executed by Jigsaw’s new partner in crime.

 

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Yep, Jigsaw is paling around with the Joker, using his connections to the Gotham City underworld to help get set up as a new Kingpin. And, as you might have guessed, that’s an awkward pairing, since the Joker isn’t exactly somehow you’d want to do business dealings with. But, he gets results. As demonstrated by the Joker kidnapping that Luke Tango guy, burying him in sand on the beach, and then getting him to tell Jigsaw and the Joker the location of a heavy-duty mobster named Jimmy Navarone, before letting the tide come in and drown the man. Jigsaw and the Joker then prepare an assault of Navarone so they can take over this gang.

But, while all of this is going on, the Punisher and Batman are doing their best to investigate things. The Punisher has set up shop in a storage shed with his friend Micro, and Batman is obviously in the Batcave with Alfred and Robin, putting everything together. They both realize that there’s a power vacuum in the criminal world of Gotham City after a recent gang-war, and the Jigsaw/Joker alliance is looking to fill that void. And the only person that’s standing in the way of that supremacy is this Jimmy Navarone. So, finding a way to keep tabs on Navarone, Batman switches into another of his famous disguises, and becomes Navarone’s new driver.

 

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That’s right everyone, it’s Matches Malone! Now, I write about Batman every week on this site, and have been for almost three years, and I’ve somehow never had the opportunity to talk about Matches Malone yet. He’s great! He’s an identity that Bruce Wayne has created in order to infiltrate the criminal underbelly of Gotham City, and he’s accomplished that by putting on a fake mustache, a cartoony accent, and very little else. And it works flawlessly. And this time he’s manages to get Matches Malone in the same vehicle as Navarone, giving Bruce the chance to get all the information he can from the man while Robin is back in the Cave, attempting to hack into Navarone’s computer system.

Meanwhile, the Punisher is driving directly behind Navarone’s limo, while Micro is at work also trying to hack into Navarone’s computer. Which becomes awkward when he realizes that someone else is already hacking into the system, leading to a hacker battle, and one of the most hilariously written exchanges I’ve ever seen. It never stops amazing me how people in the nineties described hacking, and I think that this whole interaction really takes the cake, which obviously means I’m going to use it as the stinger for this article. And, while this hack battle is going on, the Punisher has tracked Navarone to a popular nightclub, and heads inside right as Matches Malone slips off to an alley to get changed. Punisher just waltzes into the place, and is immediately stopped by some goons, and brought before Jigsaw, who is showing off his brand new face.

 

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Yeah, Frank’s not exactly a master of subtly. So, figuring there’s no use trying to play this the calm and sane way, he just whips off his coat and pulls out a bunch of guns, ready to start a huge gun-fight. This immediately causes the vast amount of gangsters under Jigsaw’s control to take out their guns, and point them at Frank, causing a massive standoff that obviously piques the interest of Navarone, who has just been inside the club the whole time. He has no idea what’s going on, so the Joker picks that moment to make his presence known. He then pretty frankly explains to Navarone that he and Jigsaw are here to kill him and his gang, and take over his territory, preparing a massive gang-war inside this nightclub.

Shit, understandably, hits the fan at this point. The two gangs begin shooting at each other, the Punisher starts shooting at Jigsaw specifically, and Batman comes crashing through a massive window, trying to take down everyone as quickly as possible. The room starts to fill with smoke from Batman’s grenades, and people are just firing pretty indiscriminately at each other, and the Punisher is able to get a modicum of vengeance on Jigsaw by tossing a grenade at the recently healed villain, causing a bunch of glass and shrapnel to cut his face up once more. And, with that taken care of, Punisher meets up with Batman briefly, and the two start yelling at each other, basically just like you’d think they would.

 

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At this point the comic does what most crossover comics does, and sends the two heroes out to fight each others villains. Batman assumes that he has the easier of the two option, since Jigsaw has just had his own face mutilated, but he ends up putting up a pretty strong defense. Which primarily takes the form of emptying a clip of hollow-points into Batman’s chest, point blank. Unfortunately for Jigsaw though, Batman’s armor took the brunt of that assault, and after playing dead long enough to draw Jigsaw directly above him Batman springs up and gets the gangster in a choke hold, taking care of the villain. He then chains him up and sets out to find where the Punisher has gotten off to.

And things have gotten pretty intense. The Punisher has no temper for the Joker’s shenanigans, and chases after the Clown Prince of Crime, ready to shoot him until he stops laughing. The Joker has some tricks up his sleeves though, and manages to pop around a corner and fire a gun directly into the Punisher’s face. But, not to kill him. Instead he just uses the muzzle flash and the retort to blind and deafen the Punisher, who then has to hobble out into an alley outside the club. The Joker tries several tricks to slow down the Punisher, putting several obstacles in his path, but the Punisher just charges through them like a bulldozer, until he finally corners the Joker in the alley, and prepares to execute him.

 

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Well, that’s getting a little dark. The Joker is pretty terrified to find that the Punisher doesn’t have the same kind of patience that Batman has had with him over the years,and realizes that he may be about to die in a dirty alley. Until Batman shows up at the last moment, and wrenches the gun out of the Punisher’s hands. Which really pisses Frank off. He starts ranting at Batman, telling him how many lives he’ll save by killing the Joker, and blaming Batman for all the lives that the monster has taken over the years. But Batman remains resolute, and tells Joker to run away with his life, which the Joker does with enthusiasm.

The Punisher is absolutely furious about this turn of events, and starts raving at Batman, complaining about his half-measures and non-lethal style of vigilantism. And, because Frank Castle is famously hot-headed, this turns into a fight. The Punisher lands one strong punch on Batman, but Batman then quickly deescalates the situation. The tells Frank that he let him take one punch, but only one, because he’s mad. Batman then tells Frank that he’s going to let him leave Gotham, on the promise that he never return, otherwise he’ll send him straight to Arkham Asylum. The Punisher then sullenly leaves Gotham City, returning to New York where things make sense.

 

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This story is much better than the Daredevil one I shared with you all earlier in the month. The whole concept of these intercompany crossovers are fascinating, and I love seeing the way that these characters mix together. At the beginning of the month I never would have guessed that the story featuring Batman and the Punisher would have worked better than the one featuring Batman and Daredevil. And, oddly enough, I think the reason for that is the fact that this story features a far more adversarial relationship. Batman and Daredevil argued a lot, but for the most part they got along and had a staggering amount of near sexual flirting, while this story featured Batman and the Punisher butting heads, showing how different these two characters are. It also doesn’t hurt that this comic features some truly wonderful John Romita, Jr art, which is always welcome. There’s some hilariously nineties things about this story, primarily the insane hacker talk, but otherwise we got to see some really solid action from both Batman and the Punisher. Especially that last scene. I love the idea of Batman having the opportunity to stand back and watch as the Punisher takes care of his biggest problem, before sticking with his principles and kicking the Punisher’s ass. As I’ve said before, I’m not the world’s biggest Punisher fan, and this story really doesn’t do much to ingratiate me with the character, but it really is a solid look at Batman. Which maybe isn’t the best thing to come from a Marvel Madness post, but whatever, it’s a really fun story.

 

Punisher and Batman: Deadly Knight was written by Chuck Dixon, penciled by John Romits, Jr, inked by Klaus Janson, colored by Christie Scheele, and lettered by Comicraft, 1994.

 

 

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*Chefs Kiss*

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