A figure of both in-universe and real world controversy, Frank Castle is a bit of a pariah within Marvel’s publishing line. Punisher #1 by Jason Aaron, Jesús Saiz, Paul Azaceta, Dave Stewart, and Cory Petit is being billed as a turning point for the character, complete with a new logo. But like many series debuts, Punisher #1 stumbles a bit out of the gate.
Punisher #1 opens with a brief flashback to that horrific day in the park that sent Frank Castle along the path of violence and tragedy. The artwork by Paul Azaceta is harrowing, beginning as EMTs and medical staff arrive on the scene. While Frank Castle’s “origin story” is perhaps the most predictable way to begin a book on the character, Azaceta’s artwork is effective in communicating the chaos of the scene.
While advertising for the series has emphasized the billing of both Jesús Saiz and Paul Azaceta, the bulk of Punisher #1 is handled by Saiz, with Azaceta’s work limited to this opening scene. When this limited series is eventually collected into one volume this will be a non-issue, but in the immediate sense, it’s a bit of a strange read to have the opening three pages done by one artist, and the remaining pages done by another.
Structural peculiarities aside, the artwork throughout Punisher #1 is outstanding, with Saiz and color artist Dave Stewart delivering some memorably moody and violent images. Unfortunately, the visual splendor of the issue fails to mask Punisher #1’s lack of substance. Despite having 40 pages to tell its story, there isn’t much to say beyond the premise. Frank Castle is murdering bad people with the ninja clan the Hand at his side. Why? Here’s why. The end. Any hints of character exploration are tied up in the reveal at the end of the issue. This may very well turn out to be a series with depth, but Punisher #1 is little more than setting a (admittedly very nice looking) table.
As an example, about halfway through the issue, within a span of six pages, readers are treated to two double-page spreads of the Punisher — the first after he has slit the throat of a criminal, and the second after the ninjas of The Hand emerge from their hiding places. The two images are well done, the second is impressive for the number of ninjas Saiz brings to life without them all feeling the same. But narratively, neither moment feels worthy of the emphasis they are given on the page.
Equally disconcerting is that we get nothing out of Frank Castle here. Writer Jason Aaron utilizes a member of The Hand to tell the narrative here, but this means Castle’s inner thoughts about his newfound role are kept away from readers. While this helps establish Castle as a force of nature in the story, the lack of character only emphasizes the fact that the plot is barebones.
The reveal at the end of the issue is equally a bit of a mixed bag. It is is probably meant to be shocking, but with the way Aaron and Saiz build to it, I came away more intrigued than astonished. It did effectively pique my interest for Punisher #2, and I suspect most readers will feel the same, so in that respect, the issue serves its purpose. But it really feels like more could have been accomplished narratively.
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