Punisher is a character that requires special attention. Ralph Macchio makes that very clear in his afterword when he discusses how tricky it was to pitch a Punisher Annual due to his inability to fight a lot of supervillains. This collection proves that great stories come in droves for the character, but there are also specific reasons as to why this book is a fun read.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Delivering justice from New York to Japan! Gary Saunders is on death row – but the law doesn’t move quick enough for the Punisher! The kids at Malcolm Shabazz High School had better behave for their new substitute teacher – Mr. Castle! But how does that lead to Frank trying to topple the Kingpin? He’s determined to take Wilson Fisk down once and for all – and it’s all building to a brutal faceoff ! Then, Frank heads to Las Vegas in search of an assassin! A knockout round in the boxing ring leads to an encounter with the ninja Shadowmasters, and when Atlantis Attacks he’ll team up with Moon Knight – but what is the Punisher’s part in the Evolutionary War? Plus, Frank takes on a war journal’s worth of drug dealers, mobsters and criminals!
Can I jump in easily?
It’s pretty easy to dive into these stories since most of the issues contained here are done in one adventures. This collection houses Punisher (1987) #11 to 25 as well as Punisher Annual 1 and 2. The longest story arc involves Kingpin running just four issues in length. The late 80s were a different time for comics when stories were quick, to the point, and captured what you wanted in the title character.
Reason 1: Easy to drop in and enjoy the gun show.
At a glance, readers can say Punisher is a one-note character. Shoots his guns, intense origin, and grit like no other. To be honest, many of the stories here capture that and focus on that, but there are so many other aspects of the character to explore too. In this collection, we witness Frank team up with Moon Knight, attempt to fight off robotic enemies, and take down high school kids as a substitute teacher! There’s an eclectic mix of stories here that have Punisher going on spiritual journey’s in Mexico or fighting off ninja warriors. Hell, he even goes into the boxing ring at one point! Since most of the stories collected here were one-shot tales there’s a lot of creative ideas and clever villains for Punisher to take on. He might fight with guns and bullets, but in a lot of ways, it’s about how he gets out of tight situations that make this a lot of fun to read. There are also excellent snapshots of Punisher’s headquarters and battle van that should not be missed.
Reason 2: Excellent Kingpin showdown.
There’s a reason this Epic Collection is titled “Kingpin Rules”. This four-part story drops at about the halfway mark of this collection and features the brutal strength and ruthlessness of Kingpin very well. Punisher is no match with Kingpin in a fist fight, we see that later in the story arc, but it’s clever ideas that put Kingpin in a corner. Punisher has friends who can hack and mess with Kingpin’s purse and yet Kingpin matches Punisher’s strikes with his own hacker (aptly named “The Board”…get it?). It’s almost exhilarating to see how Wilce Portacio and Scott Williams render the hulking Kingpin who is 300 pounds of muscle and formidable in so many ways. He’s not just a crime boss, but a foe who can literally (in this arc even!) crush a man with a rock. This story even ends in a logical way that should make many hope for more Punisher vs. Kingpin stories.
Reason 3: Erik Larsen delivers.
Larsen finishes off this collection with issue #21 through #25 and has Punisher facing off against ninja camps and the Shadowmasters. Written by Mike Baron these stories contain quite a few twists and turns. It’s interesting to see how Larsen’s work has changed, but also remained the same when reading these stories. His edgy style captures the age and stress Punisher has endured while also maintaining his strength and unbridled fearlessness. There are fist fights, shooting, and excellent use of perspective. If you’re a lover of comic artistry it’s worth a look simply to see Larsen in his early days.
Reasons to be wary?
The first half of this collection focuses heavily on Punisher taking out Latin enemies. It seems odd and gets repetitive. There is also a High Evolutionary tie-in early on that leads nowhere. It’s as if there was a plan to have Punisher take on the supervillain but it simply goes away. That reads awkwardly when you sit down and read this cover to cover.
Is there a rationale for the reasons?
I had a blast with this collection and I wasn’t expecting to. It’s a nostalgic delight to experience these late 80s stories and it’s well worth a look if you have even the slightest interest in the character.
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