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‘Punisher: Return to Big Nothing’ review: brutal and uncompromising

Brutal, violent, and uncompromising Punisher.

When you’re a thirty-something comic book reader, there tends to be a bit of nostalgia when you visit your local comic book store. A cover, or even flipping through a random collection and spying a page that meant a lot to you when you were a child can bring pure joy. 

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Case in point: The Punisher: Return to Big Nothing, which collects the stories that introduced me to the character. I must have been 9 or 10 years old, way too young to read this graphically violent book, but the images stuck with me. Hell, the cover is exactly the same too! Marvel Comics is releasing this collection that features three stories that first appeared between 1988 and 1990 and inner 10 year-old couldn’t be happier.

So what’s it about?

The official summary reads:

Frank Castle’s relentless war continues in a trio of hard-hitting graphic novels! First, in a modern classic reuniting the creative team behind the Punisher’s first solo series, Frank has a run-in with an old sergeant that takes him back to his days in Vietnam – but this time they’re on opposite sides! Then, a car accident leads to a killing spree, with the Punisher right at the center of it – but will a Japanese assassin’s guild become his allies, or are they out for Frank’s blood? And a secret society is using murder to further their political ends -but when they slaughter an innocent family, that puts them in the Punisher’s sights! From brutal hand-to-hand combat to aerial dogfights, these extra-length epics have it all!

Why does this matter?

This is a version of the Punisher that’s even more adult than we’ve seen over the last few decades. Frank wakes up in the bed of mysterious but alluring women. He blows people away with a psychotic gleam in his eyes. He’s properly messed up and killing because he must. It’s the kind of Punisher that’s way less of a hero than he is today and it’s the Punisher many of us grew up with.

Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?

This is the Punisher I grew up with.
Credit: Marvel Comics

This collection has three stories and runs just over 200 pages long. The first story is the title story “Return to Big Nothing” by Steven Grant, Mike Zeck, and John Beatty. Punisher has an old army colleague from Vietnam who is a very bad man and needs to be put down. On his mission to take out this buddy, Punisher must fight off men in the desert, kill goons by infiltrating a whore house, scope out a casino, and even break into a prison. The violence is detailed and the imagery graphic at times (one of the goons is seen riding a naked prostitute like a horse). At one point a guy gets his legs blown off by a bazooka. It’s uncompromising and for an older audience, but it captures the bloody violence that should be part of a series like this.

The second story, entitled “Assassin’s Guild,” is by Jo Duffy with art by Jorge Zaffino (colors by Julie Michel and letters by Jim Novak). This story, originally published in 1988, has Punisher come into contact with, you guessed it, an assassin’s guild that runs out of a Chinese restaurant. It’s an interesting story since it touches on how others may do exactly what Punisher does, but not for the same reasons. The art is downright haunting, too — Frank’s blue eyes are cast in dark and deep shadow, making him some kind of hellish monster when he’s killing. Frightening stuff. 

The final story collected here is “Punisher: Intruder,” written by Mike Baron with art by Bill Reinhold (colors by Linda Lessmann and letters by Willie Schubert). The story opens with Punisher walking in on an entire family being blown away save for a little girl. It’s a revenge story which leads Frank to a secret military base where drugs, a Korean torturer, and the assassination of government officials is uncovered. Things get really crazy when the torturer places a bag over Punisher’s head and fills it with urine. Gross to the max. The story shows what Punisher is capable of to get out of a situation, that’s for sure.

The second story is super dark.
Credit: Marvel Comics

It can’t be perfect, can it?

Of the three stories, the second “Assassin’s Guild” story seems the most off for the character. Punisher basically gives this guild a pass because they are killing bad men, even though they collect money for it. Last I checked Punisher killed anyone who committed a crime, and taking money to assassinate people certainly seems like a big no-no.

Is it good?

A great collection of three stories featuring a brutal, violent, and totally uncompromising version of Punisher.

Is it good?
A great collection of three stories featuring a brutal, violent, and totally uncompromising version of Punisher.
Three very adult and brutal Punisher stories feel right at home for the character
The art throughout is gritty and true to life
The second story seems to break a major rule for the Punisher
The second story features close up shots of Punisher's head in a bag of urine...

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