STREETS OF DEATH

by KEVIN LOVE

The grim conflicts of the past have haunted dozens of soldiers. Young and old, still enlisted and long retired, American and foreign, all see the ghosts of those they have confronted. Men stand in opposition to one another without any personal grievances, brandishing the most powerful and most feared weapons of their times. In the trenches of Europe, soldiers from the whole gamut of nations hid while their new friends, aligned only by those they carried guns against, were shot down and left to die in the stark sadness of no man's land. On the shores of Normandy, the Germans battered American, English, and Canadian forces as they swarmed the beaches against the furher.

These battles, while great and ominous for their time, held nothing against the fearsome combat that was to be seen during America's conflict in Vietnam. John Kennedy began by sending advisors to the small nation within southeast Asia. Kennedy was known for his willingness to battle the communists, while the Soviet Union was known to support many satellite nations' bids to free their non-communist neighbors from what they saw as the oppression of market forces that only held failure and loss for the common man. By the time the conflict ended, almost sixty-thousand Americans and one-million residents of Vietnam had died. The deaths came in the thick fog of the jungle, and were dealt by both small arms, artillery, and air attacks. Many still remember the look and smell of napalm as it was dropped miles away to deal with nearly invisible fringe forces.

Most soldiers considered themselves extremely lucky to be free of the conflict once they had served their tours of duty. One such combatant was Frank Castle, a Captain in the Marines who had served three tours; one as infantry, one as a black-ops unit, and the final as an officer at a base camp. When that base-camp was over-run by hundreds of angry VCs, he was the sole survivor. As best as he recalls, he was offered the chance by something dark within himself to survive at the expense of his humanity. While this entity may have been real or imagined, the very core of his humanity was struck within a year: his wife and two children were killed by mobsters in Central Park during a picnic, gunned down by a Thompson .45 sub-machinegun.

The power struggle within a criminal organization resulted in the creation of a man who had lost everything and was furious with the world. Castle had the weapons training and black-ops specializations necessary to wage war as his own combat unit, and the mafia had provided him with a target that he couldn't pass for all the money in the world. In an attempt to silence Castle about his family's murders, hitman Billy Russo attempted to bomb the Castle family home with Frank inside. Unluckily for Russo, Frank escaped and survived. After throwing Russo through a second story window, Castle had ensured Russo a brutally scarred and ruined face, for which he would be known as Jigsaw forever on.

Frank continued his rampage; he didn't even start with the criminals that killed his family. No, for he and his family and neighbors in New York during the 1960s had faced the oppression of the Mafia before. He took the first opportunity he had to kill a group of capos and their consiglieris all at once. One cold night in December, through the bright snow and the joy that the holidays had recently brought so many others, he brandished a scoped rifle high on a rooftop over a busy city street and began unleashing his power on organized crime. There were no survivors, and people began to talk: was it a mob hit, or a vigilante killing? When the evidence had been pieced together, the police reached a conclusion: Frank Castle was missing, and a rifle he had purchased was involved in the vigilante murders of ten men all in a single night. Castle would be known as "The Punisher" from that time onwards. More of a title than a nickname, the unstoppable Punisher struck fear in to the hearts of evildoers with his fatal methods and fierce legend.

For years, he took on the killers and thieves that law enforcement was slow to stop, or failed to pursue entirely. He has also confronted Jigsaw on several additional occasions; the two seek to absolve themselves of the pains that the other inflicted upon them, but the stalemate has not been conclusively broken. Russo himself recently escaped imprisonment and is presumed to be in hiding.