Confirmation in September that the legendary Battle Van will appear on Marvel’s The Punisher undoubtedly excited longtime fans of the vigilante, even if they realized the version that roared onto television was destined to be different from the comics. So, no mini-gun that deploys like a periscope from the roof or (as far as we know) spring-action hubcaps. But how does the vehicle on the Netflix drama compare to the Battle Vans depicted in comics and elsewhere?
Obviously, before we even discuss the specifics of The Punisher’s van, we have to look at the inspiration for The Punisher, period. In 1969, author Don Pendleton released Attack on the Mafia, the first novel to feature his character Mack Bolan, a Vietnam veteran home from the war and ready to use his combat skills to take down the mafia after they orchestrated the downfall of his family.
The book was a massive hit and soon spawned more novels starring Bolan, who became known as the Executioner. The whole “urban vigilante” approach inspired a number of other writers in novels, film, television and, of course, comic books. A young writer named Gerry Conway was inspired by Bolan to introduce a similar character in The Amazing Spider-Man #129.
Conway later recalled, “I liked the idea of The Punisher, a loner, operating on the outside of the law and society, in a war to destroy all crime. I thought it would be interesting to have him go after Spider-Man, because the Daily Bugle had been calling him a criminal. The Punisher was a tough, unpredictable character. My inspiration was The Executioner series … the paperback books by Don Pendldeton. They’re modern equivalent of the pulps. That’s what gave me the idea for the lone, slightly psychotic avenger. he’s a character lik the classic pulp heroes. There’s even a little of The Shadow in The Punisher.”
Now, as noted, lots of people were inspired by Pendleton’s Mack Bolan around this time. However, there was another unique aspect of The Executioner: He told hist stories through a series of journals, and he had a special van decked out as his “War Wagon.” The vehicle didn’t often appear on the covers of the novels, but here’s one on which it did …
In Giant-Size Spider-Man #4, Conway introduced a “War Journal” for The Punisher, as well as a special combat van.
Pendleton appeared to be at peace with the notion that the basic elements of The Executioner would be copied for other stories, as even his own publisher farmed out the broader concept to other writers. However, he was actively irritated at what he felt was Marvel Comics borrowing too many elements from the Bolan novels, once noting in response to a question about whether people were stealing his stories: “No, not exactly chapter and verse, but The Punisher took a lot of what I consider ‘signature pieces,’ including Bolan’s War Journal, the War Wagon and various situations which The Punisher incorporated. I created the high-tech War Wagon in 1973, after using a much simpler version in previous books. The new War Wagon was built around a gutted GMC motor home put together by Bolan with the help of engineers who were sympathetic to his cause. It was a fantastic vehicle with high-tech weapons on board.”
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