Punisher Annual (#1, 1989) – Mike Baron, Roger Salick

4 out of 5

In the late 80s / early 90s, annuals for Marvel books meant roping in every character into whatever the yearly event was.  In 1989 it was The Evolutionary War: the High Evolutionary’s big to ‘evolve’ mankind via mutation.  Sound right for The Punisher?  Sound especially right for Mike Baron’s ‘fuck-’em-all’ Punisher?

And yet, somehow, it manages to work: Pun is hunting down a coke dealer, and the High Ev has sent his Eliminators – meched up assassins – to do the same.  Alas, it seems like Frank Castle is also on their list of kills, so it’s not quite a team-up.  Except… Frank saves the life of an innocent in the fray, who turns out to be the daughter of the dealer, and strikes a temporary bargain to put a halt to the Eliminators, since they don’t seem too choosy as to who gets wasted in their wake.  Mark Texeira’s weighty pencils look pretty great under Scott Williams’ fine-inked line and Janet Jackson’s earthily grounded colors.  The story can’t help but feel a bit forced overall, but it’s still a fantastic way to back in to the crossover that doesn’t feel out of line for this era of Pun.

Also included: a Microchip tale from Roger Salick, which is an interesting counterpoint to Frank’s stuff.  ‘Chip essentially ends up doing the same thing – offing criminals officiously – but with a bit more of a head for questioning his own motives.

And: a short background tale on the High Evolutionary from Mark Gruenwald.  Not uninteresting – HE was an interesting character, actually – but only has a few pages to do its job and so somewhat reads like the space filler it kinda is.