After the Civil War tie-ins, Punisher: War Journal gets a sort of epilogue in the form of a funeral service for the deceased Stilt-Man. Stilt-Man was least seen getting his legs and head blown off at the Punisher's hands. D-List villain fans rejoice, this issue will have you breaking out those ol' Marvel Handbooks to find out who attends Stilt-Man's wake...Meanwhile, two figures make surprise visits to the service: both should be familiar to readers.
The issue begins with a brief treatise on death. The super-villain Armadillo walks into a bar. Stilt-Man's body is already prominently displayed for a funeral service. A Doombot is present to create the illusion for Stilt-Man's wife that he was a big-time player in the supervillain world. The villains that have assembled reminisce about the good old days. Among the easier to identify villains present are Prowler, Rhino, Dragon Man, the Eel, Will O' Wisp, the Gibbon and the Chameleon. Chameleon breaks down in discussing his depression. The narration presents them as ordinary human beings just struggling to survive.
Stilt-Man's wife puts in her appearance. Apparently she used to be the super-villainess, Princess Python. The villains, especially the Gibbon, continue to lament their lot in life. Princess Python dances with the Gibbon in sympathy.
The Prowler is quite fond of Stilt-Man for inspiring him to become a super-villain. He was a window-washer when he observed Stilt-Man in one of his numerous battles against Daredevil. Drunken stories of Stilt-Man's life continue to be told in earnest. The earlier times were more innocent and free-spirited. Unfortunately, the Armadillo spills his drink on the angered Rhino (who is still in a wheelchair from his "battle" with the Punisher in issue #3). The ensuing brawl inspires a bar-wide melee. The narration posits this as the super-villains trying to retain a sense of fun.
Eventually, Spider-Man enters the bar. He is shocked at the outpouring of support for Stilt-Man. He warns the villains to be careful and to realize that the world has changed. Events have made the world a darker place that the villains haven't seemed to put into perspective. A general sentiment emerges that the villains are weak for not standing up to Spider-Man's uninvited appearance. They want to be evil again.
Without warning, the villains gathered start to violently throw up. One villain recognizes that they have all been poisoned. The bartender has left a note for them and his fake mustache. The note depicts the familiar skull motif of the Punisher. The entire bar explodes and goes down in flames. As the issue ends, we see the Punisher walking away from the bar. He comments that most days he celebrates loss, but some days he celebrates loss with fireworks.
Let's first go into the parts that merited the two webs. I really liked how Fraction used the coterie of D-villains to contrast the Silver Age with this modern reality in the superhero genre. Most of the villains are painfully outdated. Lots of them are one trick ponies named after bizarre animals. Even the supervillains that have remained somewhat relevant have lost their motivation. They no longer feel wanted in this darker world of life and death. The symbolism of Stilt-Man's death is not lost on the reader. Perhaps the superhero genre has sacrificed the youthful adventurism and joie de vivre of the Silver Age for something far less satisfying. A whole cast of characters invented in the 1960s and 1970s no longer fit into a Marvel universe beset by Civil War.
The cast of C and D list villains is impressive. What is even more impressive is Fraction's ability to give them a voice and a subtle humanity. These guys are no longer world beaters. The scene with the Doombot is actually heartbreaking in its execution. I really felt bad for the plight of these guys.
Spider-Man's cameo appearance was also well done in this regard. He provides a link to these villains in that he is also a Silver Age creation. Moreover, he recognizes the changes undergone in the Marvel universe. The Punisher may be treated as a "hero" but he is everything that the Silver Age heroes were not.
This leads us into the bad parts of the issue. Fraction builds up the humanity in the villains and makes us care for them. However, what happens next? He kills them off in brutal fashion. The act of the Punisher's execution methods is cruel in context and feels entirely unsatisfying. I realize this is a Punisher comic book. Yet, when you spend that much time emphasizing the human frailties of your supporting cast and then kill them off, it just seems rushed and screams half-assed.
Furthermore, you can not expect me to believe Fraction or Marvel editorial has the guts to kill off some rather important Spider-Man villains such as the Rhino and Chameleon. Without a doubt, I know they will be back. In contrast, you are completely sure that Steve Rogers is dead in Captain America #25. That is how to do a death scene. If changes to the status quo are not strictly adhered to, than there is no point in killing off characters no matter how small a role they play in the Marvel Universe. I'd much rather have the Punisher kill some "deserving" supervillains, much like what he does in his MAX title. Again, do we really need another Punisher book, especially one that needs to conform to the rules of 616 continuity? Issue #4 of Punisher: War Journal did not prove that to me.
This issue would be solid except for the knowledge that you know none of what happens will actually stick. The plot idea screams of filler material in between arcs. There are a few amusing moments in here but nothing that saves the issue from tepid mediocrity. Its especially alarming that 4 issues in (and now no Civil War tie-in to hamper plot threads) that this title has not distinguished itself.