The problem with The Punisher #1 isn’t that it’s actually bad; in fact, given the six issue storyline formats Marvel tends to go with, this could be the start of something really good. The problem is, there almost isn’t enough here to base any such opinion on.
Given the character’s overwhelmingly successful debut and storyline in the second season of Netflix’s Daredevil, big bad Frank Castle just has to have a book in print right now. Any writer who tackles the character has one major hurdle to overcome, though; whatever they’ve got up their sleeve is, for better or worse, going to be critiqued in the shadow of Garth Ennis’s towering run from 2000 to 2008, the character’s peak in commercial and artistic success.
Writer Becky Cloonan brings in Ennis’s old Preacher and Punisher partner Steve Dillon to do the illustrating, and there’s even a Tim Bradstreet variant cover presenting an homage of the cover art from L.L. Cool J.’s Mama Said Knock You Out. Dillon and Bradstreet are names that’ll wake any 2000’s Punisher fan from a disaffected coma provided Daredevil wasn’t enough to do the job.
But does the story hold up? It’s far, far too soon to tell, and this opening issue is almost too generic to develop an opinion from.
Just before a cadre of D.E.A. agents can make a bust, good ol’ Frank shows up at the gang’s doorstep and proceeds to plow through them in that special way he’s known for. A high up in the gang turns out to have been a Marine who served with Castle at some point during his Marine stint and essentially offers to help provide information to keep his killing mission progressing without a hitch. The D.E.A. agents arrive to find the place wiped out, potentially leading Castle into a new conflict with the law.
While nowhere nearly as violent and gory as Ennis’s The Punisher MAX years, this new series has a parental advisory blurb for good reason as it’s plenty violent and intensely bloody. Dillon does that magic he does so well and his art’s as good as ever. The issue’s real problem as a single issue intro to a new series is that it has no particularly enticing hook to it. Ennis frequently narrated the action with Castle’s own grim thoughts and observations. There’s no such insight here – the character doesn’t even have a word of dialogue in the entire issue. This could, of course, be an intentional decision on Cloonan’s part – it probably is an intentional decision – but it limits the Punisher’s characterization to the violent shootout in the gang hideout and an aside from another character that Castle can’t be killed because he’s already dead.
In the final two pages of the issue Cloonan takes a page from the old Ennis Punisher playbook and delivers a dramatic scene revealing the sort of sadistic-as-hell bad guy readers of old school Punisher will love to watch ol’ Frank go one on one with eventually. This ends the issue on a surprising high that, combined with the serious, violent tone and the return of Steve Dillon, really lends a lot of goodwill that Cloonan is going to take this series into interesting territory. But any old school Punisher reader would tell you that, for an opening issue, this is a bit of a bewilderingly generic way to start things off.
To be continued…