The Punisher #1
“World War Frank, Part One”
Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Artist: Szymon Kudranski
Colors: Antonio Fabela
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Cory Petit
Cover artists: Greg Smallwood (regular)/Clayton Crain, Frank Cho, Mike Zeck & Salvador Larroca (variants)
Editor: Jake Thomas
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $4.99 US
I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter online about how entertaining this latest relaunch of The Punisher is, so I decided to have a look despite a general disinterest in the character. While there’s a novel idea at the heart of the plot, with two super-villains trying to advance their agendas through a facade of legitimacy by way of international politics, writer Matthew Rosenberg’s take on the title character is much like those before it: the implausible single-mindedness of a vigilante who’s impossibly impervious to harm.
Baron Zemo and the Mandarin have hatched a plan to make their plans for the world come to fruition, but this time, they’re doing so through international diplomacy. Of course, they haven’t left their usual violent and terrorist tendencies behind completely, and that’s attracted the attention of someone who feels those who trade in the deaths of innocents ought to be eradicated permanently. The Punisher is after them, and it leads him to Roxxon facilities and staffers that are about to find themselves a lot worse for wear…
Spawn artist Szymon Kudranski boasts a dark, intense style that would seem to be well suited to the Punisher. There are several moments in which his linework here reminds me of the styles of such artists as Jae (Inhumans) Lee, Lee (Joker) Bermejo and Joe (Daredevil) Quesada. Despite the inkiness of his art, there’s also a more realistic bent to it as well, but it doesn’t quite get all the way there. His characters’ faces are often a bit distorted, running contrary to the sense of realism for which he strives. Of course, that quality makes his depiction of Zemo work quite well; it’s striking because of his inhuman visage, thanks to his mask. The action sequences are fairly well done, as Kudranski achieves the over-the-top, cinematic look for which he’s clearly striving. Of course, without the clear movement of film, the chaos of those scenes would be next to impossible to follow if not for the dialogue describing the action.
Another issue with the art is that it pales in comparison with the cover images provided for this project. Greg Smallwood’s cover is more realistic and quietly intense, though it doesn’t convey the larger scope of the plot in any way. And seeing variant covers by the likes of Frank Cho and Mike Zeck runs the risk of making the audience long for the more accomplished and attractive linework of those artists.
Matthew Rosenberg’s approach here is to examine the Punisher’s place in the larger Marvel Universe and how organized crime in New York would essentially be too small scale for his unending mission against murder in a world in which Hydra and megalomaniacal super-villains exist. Given that I’ve been following writer Jason Aaron’s Thor comics for some time now, I also enjoyed the incorporation of Roxxon boss Dario Agger into this story, but Rosenberg doesn’t provide any exposition about the character for who aren’t well versed in recent Asgardian exploits.
There have been past Punisher comics that worked for me, even when the character is portrayed as impossibly effective and brutal in his determination to wipe anyone remotely sinful from the face of the Earth, such as Garth Ennis’s and Becky Cloonan’s stints on past volumes of the comic, and the main reason those clicked were the humor and the characterization explored in supporting characters. There’s none of those elements to be found in this issue. I’m not saying Rosenberg needs to emulate past writers in his effort to craft a Punisher story; I’m just saying he needs to give his audience something human or something fun with which it can connect here. Explosions and car chases just don’t bring the same level of excitement in comics as they do in a live-action storytelling medium.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Punisher show by Marvel Studios released on Netflix last year, and the main reason was Jon Bernthal’s performance and the strong character-driven material provided by the show’s writers. They managed to convey Frank Castle’s determination and anger incredibly well, but it was tempered with humanity, with empathy for others. And he could be hurt, and he was — a lot — in the show (albeit his remarkable recoveries were necessary to keep the story moving). In so many Punisher comics, those qualities are lacking, and that’s the case this time around as well. 5/10