The Punisher is probably not how you remember him. In his new maxiseries, Punisher is the head of the Hand, has a new logo on his chest, and has been changed fundamentally so that his motivations are completely different. If Punisher #2 had a mission, though, it might be to prove that’s not the case at all.
Punisher #2 opens with Frank as a small child. Through captions spoken by the Archpriestess, we learn Frank was a troubled boy. This context helps us understand Frank Castle wasn’t turned into a killer after his family was killed in front of him, but being the greatest killer ever was something he was practically born to do. Or at the very least, he was growing ready for the mantle at an early age.
That is an interesting concept that is explored in a few different ways in this issue. This issue serves to give readers context while also developing the Punisher’s role as the leader of the Hand. What does it mean to be a leader, do you get special abilities, and what is required of them? Those are questions that are answered and by the end of the issue, the complex position Punisher is in becomes far more clear.
Questions about whether Punisher is fundamentally evil are thrown out and instead we follow his exploits knowing he’s good at killing because it’s practically genetic. It’s never said as much literally, but if you were born to kill does that automatically make you immoral or evil? Possibly not, but given the path the Hand has put Punisher on, one can imagine he’ll lean towards evil if he doesn’t get himself out of this organization.
But maybe he doesn’t want to, as we see Punisher with his wife in bed. Jesús Saiz draws these scenes wonderfully, creating a dreamlike look and feel that put you in Punisher’s head. We learn she’s not quite mobile or ready to move from the bed itself, but she yearns for Punisher and wants to see their kids. The colors by Dave Stewart create realistic skin tones that are a bit cold and monotone. There are no ruby red cheeks here, but a life lived that’s not quite alive. In a way, even though Punisher is getting to make love to his wife, it’s like this room is a prison.
Paul Azaceta draws the flashback scenes with Punisher as a kid to perfection. The look and style is more police procedural, like something out of Gotham Central. The thicker line and attention to background details thoroughly ground it in normal everyday life.
Punisher being lost in a kind of dream makes sense given his new surroundings and the deal he made to get his family back. That said, he’s no milquetoast stand-in leader. Saiz gets to draw the majority of the issue and you get to see him brutally take out a threat and show his fighting style with a sword is a lot more direct.
This issue does a lot to assuage any fears over what this series will be about. Thankfully, Aaron points out how Punisher isn’t meant to be some master swordsman, and Archpriestess’ argument about why Punisher is their leader makes some sense. Given where we leave Punisher, it seems his abilities are only going to get stronger. It’s still hard to swallow that Frank would take a deal with the devil, but it’s still early in the series to cast judgments on that just yet.
This issue is good at explaining how Frank got here and shows how he might be thinking, but it also doesn’t seem to have a focus yet. What is the grander purpose, unless it is to slowly reveal Frank can or can’t be this great leader of the Hand? Why are we seeing these flashbacks as if this was his destiny? It’s early in the series, but it’s also tough to see what its main plot is at this point.
Punisher #2 is an entertaining issue thanks to offering explanations for why Frank Castle is in this position and why he deserves to be the leader of the Hand. What this issue, and by extension the series does, is explore who Frank is at a base level while throwing readers into the deep end of an incredible new situation for him to navigate. Punisher hasn’t felt this fresh in decades.
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