I’ve just realized how far behind I am on my comic reading so I’m trying really hard to squeeze some reading in here and there. I remember when the Punisher was shiny and new. Even though he originally appeared in an issue of Amazing Spider-Man back in 1974, he really didn’t come to prominence until his first mini-series in 1986, which is where most people became familiar with Frank Castle. He’s gone through some ups and downs over the years, some really good runs and some not-so-good runs and while I’ve always liked the concept of the character, a lot of the time I haven’t liked the way he’s been portrayed. Now, in 2014, he returns with his own solo book which I’m going to take a look at the first nine issues. Here we go.
When a new weapon shows up amongst the criminal gang Dos Soles, the police are outclassed and it’s up to Frank Castle to find out what this weapon is and where it came from but he’s not going to like the answer and old foes come to call in his new hometown.
Like most Marvel “heroes”, Punisher has traditionally been based in New York, but also like a lot of them, he’s moved west of late and is now based, at least for the moment, in Los Angeles. Of course, he doesn’t spend all of these issues in LA, he ends up in Central and South America, searching for the people who supplied Dos Soles with the weapon, before getting captured and almost sold off by Crossbones. It was actually pretty hard to know where to stop reading because there was no clear breaking point in the story. In the end, he was dropped off in a prison by Black Widow and I decided that had to be the end of my review.
There are a couple of things that I don’t particularly like about this particular series. First off, the art. It’s not bad but it’s a little too cartoony for me. I think there’s a range of art that’s appropriate for a serious character like Punisher and this is a little too stylized for my tastes. It’s not bad, I don’t want to blame artist Mitch Gerads for being bad at his job, as I said, I’d just prefer something a bit more traditional. Secondly, and I know this isn’t just an issue with this particular series, but everyone knows who the Punisher is. Everyone. And he’s none too secretive about his “real identity” either. I know the cat has been out of the bag for a very long time, but it just bugs me. Why keep calling yourself Punisher if everyone knows you’re Frank Castle? He isn’t shy about telling people either, I can’t think of anyone in these issues who either didn’t know his real name to start, or who he didn’t tell. Just call it a personal pet peeve.
One issue I’ve had throughout Punisher’s history is the inconsistency of his portrayal. I’m not the biggest fan of vigilantes, but so long as Frank was going after murderers and gangs and rapists and the like, I didn’t shed a tear when he took them down. It was when he started gunning down jaywalkers that I really started to dislike him. He went from being an antihero to being a villain and I walked away from his books for a long time because of it. Here, however, he’s quite centered. He kills the bad guys without any remorse but he still protects the good guys and knows, at least vaguely, where the line is. You don’t have goody goody cops but you don’t have mad dog killers either. I think this is a pretty realistic take on things.
The story, penned by Nathan Edmondson, is actually pretty good, quite complex with a lot of layers. It isn’t just a straight “Punisher kills people” story, every time he thinks he gets to the core of the problem, he just peels back yet another level of the mystery and it’s all very logically done, at least as logically as you get in a superhero comic. It’s also not as dark as some of the previous series have been, which actually is a welcome relief. Frank can be funny from time to time and it doesn’t seem out of place for him to be letting some unintentional quips go.
I’m not sure what I expected from this run of Punisher but I’m far from disappointed by it and, I will admit, that as time went on, the art actually started to grow on me and I had few complaints by the end. Maybe Gerads just adapted to the Punisher or I just got used to it. I have very little time to actually read comics these days but I think this is one I’ll try to keep up on.