To anyone who’s read my coverage of Matthew Rosenberg’s recent run on The Punisher, it should come as no surprise that I was immensely relieved to find out he would be staying on as writer for Frank Castle’s “fresh start.” Frank’s been relieved of the War Machine armor and is back prowling the streets with nothing but his two hands and whatever absurd firearms he can carry in them. This new volume of The Punisher launches with a tremendous opening issue that manages to blend familiar Punisher concepts with more modern ideas to create something entirely fresh.
Frank Castle’s tenure in the War Machine armor was undeniably awesome, spawning an incredibly entertaining and surprisingly thought-provoking Punisher story. That being said, Frank taking control of a Stark tech suit was pretty far from the character’s roots, so it’s great to see Rosenberg and artist Szymon Kudranski return Frank Castle to more familiar territory.
The change in visual aesthetic is quite noticeable, but in no way is that a bad thing. In fact, Kudranski does a tremendous job creating a more gritty, chaotic, and dark tone for this new series than what was seen in the Legacy run. The firefights aren’t as hyper-violent or bloody as Guiu Vilanova’s “War Machine” arc, but they’re nonetheless violent and possibly even more chaotic. Action sequences are littered with explosions, shell casings, agitated facial expressions and the occasional severed limb to really give a sense of intensity to the reader.
Perhaps what is most enjoyable, visually that is, is how Frank Castle is presented in this issue: he’s barely there. Much like how Becky Cloonan’s recent run presented the Punisher, Rosenberg and Kudranski opt to only show glimpses of Frank as he hunts his prey. Frank feels less like a B-movie action star and more like a terrifying slasher-flick villain, slowly chopping down his victims as the reader watches in awe and horror. This re-cements Frank as a cold, tactical, and ruthless killer, instead of the action hero he may have become in the “War Machine” arc.
Kudranski especially does a fantastic job presenting Frank in a way that makes him feel less like a badass vigilante and more like a ruthless killer. There’s one moment where readers first get a glimpse of the Punisher, in the reflection of a passerby’s motorcycle visor, as he emerges from burning wreckage like some sort of hell-spawn creature. Then there’s the first full look of Frank that is placed in the middle of the issue like some sort of large reveal or jump scare page you’d see in a typical horror book. My favorite scene, a classic nine-panel page, shows the claustrophobic and trapped nature of an encounter with the Punisher, as he slowly makes his way down a hallway wiping out every Hydra agent in sight. Each of these scenes does a fabulous job of making Frank feel more terrifying than cool, as if he is some unnatural force who can’t be stopped.
While this is a return to the grittier, less flashy side of the Punisher, Rosenberg manages to inject a fresh angle into this new volume through the story being established in this first issue. Frank may have lost Rhodey’s armor, but that doesn’t mean his target has changed — he’s still waging a one-man war against Hydra (well, two-man, I guess, if you count Captian America).
Sure, readers are most used to seeing Frank take on gangs, street thugs, and organized crime syndicates, but it’s hard to deny that seeing Frank fry bigger fish in the “War Machine” arc was entertaining as hell. This narrative decision making allows for the art to establish a feeling of normalcy and nostalgia while still allowing this volume to feel fresh and new.
As always, Rosenberg nails the dialogue throughout this issue. He’s damn near perfect in how he presents Baron Zemo — commanding and menacing, yet diplomatic. Frank Castle only speaks when necessary, which is rarely, and that feels right at home for the character. Possibly the biggest surprise? Rosenberg absolutely kills it writing Tony Stark, perfectly capturing the ego-centric sense of humor from Marvel’s leading billionaire.
My only criticism of this issue is the pacing. The exciting and chaotic chase scenes are interrupted by less exciting moments of political squabbling that end up disrupting the flow of the action sequences. I understand the reasoning; this is an extra-sized issue after all, so breaking up the action makes sense, but I think it would’ve been better to let these scenes play out separately rather than splice them together.
Regardless, $5 is one helluva bargain for a book that truly feels like two issues packed into one. Once again, Marvel knocks it out of the park with their latest #1. The Punisher #1 is an exciting balance of old and new that fans of the character cannot afford to miss.