Zeb Larson reviews The Punisher #1…
FRANK CASTLE LOSES CONTROL! A by-the-numbers drug bust is about to take Frank Castle by surprise…and he HATES surprises. The horrible fallout threatens to send The Punisher into the heart of darkness, but Castle won’t make that journey alone: A DEA agent is on his trail and attempting to get into his head…but what horrors will she find there, and will she survive the experience? First-time Punisher writer Becky Cloonan and quintessential Punisher artist Steve Dillon are forcing Frank Castle out of his comfort zone and taking him to the edge of the world he thought he knew!
SEE ALSO: Check out a preview of The Punisher #1
I don’t normally read Marvel and DC titles. That sentence alone might be enough to turn off what few readers I have going into this. But I do have a weird affinity for The Punisher. If you accept the basic premises of a world in which vigilantes operate with impunity, it seems sort of inevitable that eventually you would get a person who wouldn’t bother trusting prisons to hold dangerous people. I think people can sometimes fail to chase the threads or emphasize how frightening the character can be, but he interests me nonetheless. That combined with the fact that I like Becky Cloonan’s writing is why I’m now reviewing Punisher #1. Warning: I will be discussing spoilers ahead, so consider yourself forewarned.
The DEA and the Punisher have simultaneously converged on an ex-mercenary group called Condor. They’re trafficking in a drug called EMC that acts as a combat drug and dangerously increases a user’s aggression. The Punisher manages to beat the DEA to the punch, but when he does he meets an old friend and commander, Olaf. Olaf’s role in this is mysterious, aiding the gangsters, but also giving Frank some needed information about Condor. Condor’s commander sends a man named Face to go after Frank, and Face is not known for his good looks.
The Punisher can be a difficult character to write well. True to form, he is as much a force of nature in this book as he is a person. He doesn’t speak, for one thing, so it’s hard to get close to Frank as a human being. Even his movements have a certain inhumanity to them. At two points in the book he’s standing still, once when he’s observing the DEA, and again when he runs into Olaf. The rest of the time, he’s in motion, and when Frank is moving, that means he’s killing people. Does he exist outside of death and his own peculiar ideas about justice? I think this is what Cloonan is hinting at when Olaf says that Frank Castle is dead.
This is why Olaf and his connection to Frank is so intriguing. The Punisher isn’t a character who operates with a great deal of emotion, passion, or connection to other people. He’s killed his sidekicks before when he’s needed to, so I don’t think anybody would describe him as a sentimental man. But Olaf was enough to get Frank to stay his hand, even though he is involved (albeit in a complicated way) with the gang Frank is determined to butcher. Frank stopped killing and stepped back from being the Punisher; in Cloonan’s words, Frank may have come back to life for just a moment. Of course, Frank’s judgment just may be compromised going forward as he’s torn between the demands of his own code and the demands of “Semper Fi,” and maybe it would be better if Frank stayed dead.
Matt Dillon’s art is strong for this book. Overall, Becky Cloonan has pulled off a considerable feat in giving an interesting angle for the Punisher, as well as dragging me back to Marvel. I’m looking forward to what comes next.