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This war has bred a saying, oft-repeated: "Payback is a motherfucker". At Valley Forge we have another. "If you think payback's bad — You haven't met Frank Castle."
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Born is a four-issue miniseries from the year 2003, which was released through Marvel's MAX imprint.

The story, set in October 1971, depicts Frank Castle's last days in The Vietnam War, where he leads a platoon of soldiers that operate from Firebase Valley Forge. While everyone else waits for US troops to be pulled out from the unpopular conflict, Castle clings to the war, willing to do anything to keep on fighting.

Originally the comic was written to be in canon with the regular Marvel books, but it later became the starting point for The Punisher's alternate MAX continuity.

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This comic has examples of:

  • Anyone Can Die: Like most works of military fiction, anyone not named Frank Castle is more or less fair game. The initial platoon gets smaller and smaller with each passing issue.
  • Artistic License – Military: Frank Castle's military rank is a curious example. He is identified as a "21-year-old Captain". The idea of someone so young holding an officer rank of that caliber is quite hard to believe. It turns out that Nick Fury recommended he be promoted to Captain early after Frank proved himself on a mission to kill Letrong Giap, a North Vietnamese general.
  • Band of Brothers: Averted; they may be squad mates in a tight situation, but it is made abundantly clear that the Marines of Valley Forge are far from friends. Let alone "brothers in arms".
  • Battle in the Rain: The final battle of Valley Forge in Issue #4. The rain prevents air support from coming to assist the defenders of the base, which is exactly why the NVA launch their all-out assault.
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  • Blood Knight: Virtually every Marine not named Stevie Goodwin is presumed to be one. With Frank Castle being the most extreme example. Although he doesn't show it on the surface.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: In the second issue, Goodwin theorizes that one of the Marines, McDonald, may have pissed his pants during the surprise Viet Cong attack. Given McDonald's pissed-off demeanor after the attack, he may be right.
  • Camping a Crapper: Averted. Castle intends to frag the apathetic commander of the base while the guy is in the crapper, but changes his mind at the last moment.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: Backup for Valley Forge arrives just after the entire place is wiped out. Only Castle is still standing, and the soldiers who recover him are sufficiently freaked out by his survival.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: The Marines of Firebase Valley Forge swear exactly as you'd expect.
  • Cold Sniper: We don't really get to see it on-panel, but Frank is a highly-skilled sniper with dozens of kills to his name. In the miniseries Fury: My War Gone By we are told that Frank killed dozens of Viet Cong over the course of a single month (we're later shown him killing numerous NVA soldiers with a sniper rifle). This skill of his is hinted at when Goodwin describes Castle's past, referencing "an NVA general sniped just outside Hanoi."
  • Colonel Kilgore: Captain Frank Castle is really dedicated to warfare, and is both feared and respected by the Marines of Valley Forge.
  • Comicbook Fantasy Casting: The appearance of Valley Forge's commander Col. Ottman is based on William H. Macy. Frank Castle bears a heavily strong resemblance to Marlon Brando.
  • Cool Guns: One of Frank's squadmates can be seen using a M79 break action Grenade Launcher to obliterate an unfortunate cow and a few VC/NVA soldiers.
  • Cover Drop: The fourth issue gets one on the very first page with a Marine who is clutching his face, as he has just lost his eyes.
  • Darkest Hour: In the final issue, the NVA makes a daring all-out assault on the base, killing just about every Marine stationed there, save for Captain Castle and Private Goodwin. The US air strike isn't coming anytime soon and The Cavalry is nowhere in sight. Then Castle starts hearing that mysterious voice in his head again...
  • Deal with the Devil: One of the possible explanations for the mysterious voice that Frank hears in his head throughout the series. Frank refuses to accept that the US is withdrawing from Vietnam and does everything he can to postpone shutting down his camp. The NVA finally assaults the base during a storm while the US army air support is cut off, killing everyone. Frank is the last American alive, and the voice makes him an offer. Eternal war, in exchange for something. Frank accepts and survives when the US air strike finally arrives. Frank comes back home and meets his family at the airport, and the voice returns to claim the price for his eternal war: Frank's family.
  • Death Glare: After having a look of Castle's eyes, Goodwin gets a feeling that he'd rather face the enraged drug-pusher Coltrane and his razor instead.
  • Deuteragonist: While the series revolve around Frank Castle, much focus is also given to one Private Stevie Goodwin, who acts as the narrator.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: We get a decent amount of characterization for Castle's squad mates, even though they're all going to die before the series is over. Goodwin and Angel arguably gets the most, since they're at least referenced in Valley Forge, Valley Forge.
  • Doomed by Canon: Given that this is a story from Frank Castle's days in Vietnam, his survival is guaranteed. But all bets are off on pretty much everyone else, particularly Goodwin and Angel, who were referenced in the above story.
  • Dramatic Drop: When he and Stevie hear the warning about the approaching Viet Cong and NVA, Angel drops his cigarette from his mouth in shock.
  • Driven to Suicide: When the NVA start rushing the Valley Forge base, they are shown discovering Col. Ottman after he has shot himself.
  • Dying Dream: When Stevie dies, it is depicted with a fantasy sequence where the "big freedom bird" swoops down, and takes him away while he is reassured that he made it safe.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: Zig-zagged. Frank has served in special operations (Force Recon to be specific), carried out black ops and has even worked alongside the CIA. As a result, he has extensive combat experience and is far more lethal than any of the Marines under his command. However, his experience doesn't make him so much respected as he is feared by his men.
  • Famous Last Words: Angel's final words just before getting his head blown off are "There ain't no God, fool! Look around you! There ain't no muthafuckin' God!!"
  • A Father to His Men: Averted; it's made explicitly clear by Stevie Goodwin's narration that Captain Castle's dedication to his men comes not from love (with Goodwin even implying that Castle may not even be capable of expressing or understanding basic human emotions), but from his determination to do his job correctly.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The reader already knows that Frank was the only survivor of Valley Forge.
  • The Grim Reaper: The mysterious voice that Frank keeps hearing is strongly hinted (and later confirmed in the liner notes) to be Death himself.
  • Hope Spot: At the end of the story, the NVA has completely overwhelmed the defenses of the Valley Forge Fire Base and only Castle and Goodwin are still standing. When all seems lost, an F-4 Phantom suddenly roars over Goodwin, releasing napalm on the attackers. Other American planes follow the first one and, for a brief moment, Goodwin thinks that they have been saved as nothing could have survived the air attack. Then, a North Vietnamese infantryman charges towards him through the flames, with a bayonet nested on the rifle.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Col. Ottman, the commander of the Valley Forge base may be an incompetent drunkard and a Dirty Coward, but he is right on one thing. Had the marines simply stayed put and given up on interfering with the NVA’s lines of communication, the enemy might have decided that taking the base out was not worth the trouble (and the predictable heavy losses).
    • The general who carries on an inspection on Valley Forge is shown as an arrogant martinet and it is implied that he decided to recommend giving a dishonorable discharge to all the personnel of the base out of spite for not having been properly given a salute from the marines. However, closing down a dangerously isolated and ineffective outpost in a remote border area infested with enemy forces is the only sensible action to take, especially considering that the Americans are drastically scaling down their involvement in the Vietnam War, and getting ready to pull out entirely.
  • Kill 'Em All: Aside from Frank, there were no survivors at Valley Forge, ally OR enemy.
  • The Last Title: The final issue, which depicts the fall of Valley Forge, is appropriately named "The Last Day".
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Writer Garth Ennis states that there is a possibility that the the mysterious voice in Frank's head never existed. And that his so called Deal with the Devil was a manifestation of Frank's delusions. He even leaves it open for interpretation.
    Garth Ennis: "To me, that whole sequence was about – it's written in that classic way where maybe it's there, maybe it's all in his head. It's more a man coming to terms with his own fate, his own destiny, and the path he'll walk through the world. A man being honest with himself about who he is. At home he has the wife, the kid, the other kid on the way, meanwhile he's up to his neck in horror. He likes it, and he's coming to terms with that and admitting it. Ultimately, it's his ability to embrace this that allows him to survive and come home to his wife and kids. He's made a kind of deal with the attraction to the violence in himself that will, in a way, draw his family into that world too. Again, you can read it anyway you want, but that's my own personal take!"
  • Mercy Kill: Frank's platoon captures a Viet Cong sniper who turns out to be a woman. They then have the idea to take turns raping her, only to be stopped by Frank, who shoots the woman in the head as the first one is in the middle of it. We later learn that Frank executed the woman not out of cruelty, but because giving her a quick death was his idea of "helping her out" - after sneaking up on McDonald, the Sociopathic Soldier who had the idea, and drowning him with his boot, Frank explains to Goodwin, who witnessed both of these things, that if he'd kept the girl alive, she'd have been put on a helicopter and interrogated by intelligence, who'd rape and kill her anyway, not to mention losing him the trust of the rest of the squad.
    Frank: No rape. We're here to kill the enemy. That is all.
  • Moe Greene Special: One Viet Cong member is shown being shot in the eye during the Marines ambush on their supply run.
  • Morality Chain: Frank tells Goodwin that his family might be his "last chance" to be something other than a Blood Knight.
  • More Dakka: When the Marines of Valley Forge see just how many NVA soldiers are attacking at the end of Issue 3, Castle's reaction is a simple one.
    Capt. Castle: Give me the Sixty.
  • Mysterious Past: Captain Frank Castle's past two tours are treated as such. All that is known about his previous tours is whatever rumors are currently circulating among the Marines at Firebase Valley Forge.
  • Near-Death Experience: At the end, during the big battle, Frank Castle makes a deal with the entity that has been talking to him throughout the series. He is given the option of dying there in Nam or having supernatural protection and thusly, a guarantee to see his family again. But the latter option will have a price...
  • Normally, I Would Be Dead Now: Captain Frank Castle survives the obliteration of Firebase Valley Forge by attacking Viet Cong and NVA, surviving being shot seven times. It freaks the hell out of the reinforcements that come to see who survived.
  • Obligatory War-Crime Scene: Marines execute incapacitated enemy combatants, using overtly cruel attack methods, and one of the Marines, McDonald actually has a bag full of human scalps that he keeps as "souvenirs". And that's not even getting in to the part where they try to gang rape a female enemy... And this is still mild by Vietnam fiction standards, had Valley Forge been anywhere near a civilian settlement it would have been far worse.
  • Off with His Head!: Angel gets his head blown clean off by the enemy just after he yells at Goodwin about how "there ain't no muthafuckin' god".
  • Overranked Soldier: Frank Castle is a Captain in the United States Marine Corps at 21. It wasn't impossible to find an officer that young in the U.S. military, but a Captain? It's later revealed in the miniseries Fury: My War Gone By that Colonel Nick Fury recommended Castle for an early promotion to Captain after tagging along with him on a mission to assassinate NVA general Letrong Giap and proving his talent as a soldier. Still, though, one has to wonder how Frank became an officer in his late teens (as he is shown to be commanding a platoon as a lieutenant at Khe Sanh in 1968 in Punisher: The Platoon... when he's 18).
  • Pistol-Whipping: After seeing his friend Angel going to the bunker that's a hotspot for drug use, Stevie hits its boss Coltrane in the face with a butt of a rifle, and drags Angel away from the place.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Valley Forge is a place where all kinds of screwups are sent to.
  • Semper Fi: Subverted. The story takes place in a remote base filled with Marines who are amoral washouts, depicted as either apathetic or cruel, run by incompetent commanding officers who are powerless to prevent the rampant drug trade going on within the base. As a Marine Frank Castle is shown to be addicted to combat, willing to indirectly kill a General in order to keep his firebase (and therefore his war) going. Overall this depiction certainly doesn't sit well with the brave, heroic image the USMC typically has.
  • Serial Killer: This is arguably the story that goes the farthest in showing the Punisher as nothing more than a brutal murderer. Not only it depicts Castle as a Sociopathic Soldier in love with war to the point of not being able to cope with the fact that the American involvement in The Vietnam War is coming to an end (on March 10,1972, five months after the events of Born, the last US ground combat division, the 101st Airborne Division, left South Vietnam). It also reveals that Castle was committing (more or less) random murders way before his family's massacre. Oh, and if the voices Frank hears in his head are just his own Inner Monologue, he is also borderline psychotic.
  • Shovel Strike:
    • Just as Coltrane is trying to get payback on Stevie for disrupting his drug business (in the middle of the base being overrun by the NVA, no less), Castle brains him with a shovel.
    • When Castle runs out of ammo during the final battle, this is how he starts defending himself. With lethal effect.
  • Shown Their Work: In order to ensure maximum authenticity for the miniseries, Garth Ennis and artist Darick Robertson, looked through countless photographs of GI's that were provided to them by friends and family members of theirs who had served in Vietnam. Watched dozens of documentaries about the war, all in order to represent the conflict in the most accurate way possible.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Valley Forge is rife with these. The vast majority of the Marines are depicted as either clear-cut psychopaths, amoral conscripts, or jingoistic sociopaths— half of whom are implied to be addicted to heroin— with a commanding officer who is alcoholic, broken, and knows full well that the war is a lost cause. With the young narrator of the story, Stevie Goodwin, explicitly stated as an unwilling conscript who wanted nothing to do with the war and whose only desire is to return home safely, but at the same time realizes that sticking with Frank Castle and his platoon is his best bet at getting home in one piece... even as he dreads the possibility of ending up like Castle, an adrenaline junkie addicted to war.
  • Sole Survivor: In the end, everyone on both sides perishes, except for Frank Castle.
  • Straw Nihilist: Pretty much everyone at Valley Forge aside from Goodwin. Angel gets the most development; he constantly uses heroin and is extremely bitter about having been drafted into a meatgrinder of a war, and he knows that even if he does survive, all he has waiting for him is an urban ghetto full of crime and death. Vietnam or America, his life would be hell either way.
  • Unfriendly Fire: When a General threatens to close down Firebase Valley Forge and have Frank sent back home (and thus deprive him of his war). Frank conjures up an elaborate way of eliminating the General in question by recommending the view from a hilltop while standing in front of a sniper warning sign. In the next issue, he directly punishes McDonald, the most sociopathic of his platoon, for his rape of a female VC sniper by drowning him in the river with his boot.
  • Wham Line: "Yes", which marks Castle giving in to the voice he has been hearing throughout the series, and accepting its offer to give him the war unending.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: The young Marine Stevie Goodwin. The Naïve Newcomer of Frank's platoon who had the misfortune of being stationed at the Valley Forge firebase for his first tour of duty in 'Nam. Throughout the mini series the young Marine desperately tries to hold on to his moral fiber, believing that as long as he keeps a positive outlook, he will eventually return home to the "true America" that he holds so dear to his heart. Tragically, he doesn't live long enough to get the chance, being the last of Castle's platoon (and the last American at Valley Forge) to die.
  • Young and in Charge: Captain Frank Castle is only 21 years old and already effectively in charge of an entire Marine Firebase. Justified in that the rest of the officers in the base are either incompetent morons or apathetic idiots, not fit to run a base of this size.
  • Younger Than They Look: Given his stature, rank and world-weary attitude you could easily mistake Captain Frank Castle for a man in his thirties/forties, and probably never guess that he is only 21 years old. To put things in perspective, Born takes place only eleven years after Punisher: The Tyger, where Frank is a ten-year-old schoolboy living in Brooklyn, New York.


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