The Punisher is embarking on a brand new direction as the leader of The Hand. It’s a bold choice kicked off in Jason Aaron, Paul Azaceta, and Jesus Saiz’s new maxiseries that gets its third issue this week. While it feels entirely off-brand to see Punisher with a katana, super Punisher fans will need to read Punisher #3 to truly know the character. We’re talking revelations of his past kind of stuff.
Punisher’s new role has made him an expert in killing but instead of being a one-man army, he has hundreds if not thousands of ninjas at his back. That is something we see in the opening of Punisher #3 as the Hand takes on Hydra and cuts through them like a hot knife through butter. Through Aaron’s captions, we get a message about religion, but also humankind being the greatest threat to humankind itself. It’s true of Punisher and is a truism that’s easy to believe given the state of the world.
From those captions, Aaron sets up an issue that feels layered with meaning. Punisher so far seems to have accepted his fate as the leader of a group that kills killers. We know now his wife is alive and that is a motivator, but this issue reveals the darker side of the Hand and how it has affected him. That power seems to be getting to Punisher’s head a bit, though, and by the end of the issue, it’s obvious he is not quite as in control as he may think.
That’s aided by Jesus Saiz’s art, showing Frank Castle a bit outside himself when he ritually murders. Another way is through the Archpriestess who is clearly manipulating him. It’s unlike Frank Castle to be tricked, but this series has done well to explain how his mind could be clouded. It helps that Saiz’s art is super pretty and well colored by Dave Stewart.
Everyone will be talking about a key flashback in this issue. Paul Azaceta draws this sequence that details Punisher’s first murder. I’ll say no more to avoid spoilers, but this chunk of the story reminded me of Godfather Part II when Robert DeNiro’s Don Vito tracks down an enemy and takes him out. There are mobster elements to this part of the story, but it’s also in how Azaceta draws a young Frank and how the colors convey a warm summer day. The story feels alive, as if anything could happen.
It’s obvious after Punisher #3 that this is a story that’s rewriting Frank Castle as a destined angel of death. He’s certainly being manipulated in the current timeline, but his proclivity to be the head of the Hand makes more sense given the new context of his past and the personality of the character over his decades-long existence. It’s also becoming obvious this is going to be a fantastic read when collected, but the monthly installments are a bit too slow at giving us context to thoroughly understand what is going on.
Punisher is slowly becoming the most compelling character study in superhero comics today. After three issues, we’re getting new insights into Frank Castle with a unique angle on his relationship with death.
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