The Punisher #1

Punisher Max has long been a favourite of both Jon and James, and the recent Franken castle book delighted equally, but it’s been some time since the “real” Frank Castle last applied his unique brand of vigilante justice within the Marvel U. With his stellar run on Detective Comic fast become a warm but fading memory the monkeys of MOMB have been chattering excitedly about Rucka taking up the challenge of bringing something new to the grizzled avenger (not an AVENGER, just an avenger). We bring you here a small sampling of the frothy aftermath of our two correspondents first read of this new Marvel book.

James: Oh my god. Well that was something, two weeks ago Daredevil, this week Punisher. Marvel are having a decent run of number ones (that sounds ruder than it ought to) so Jon, how was it for you?

Jon: Quite special. Frank Castle has always been one of the more psychologically complex characters in the Marvel universe, but at the same time he’s also been one of the more misunderstood (hence why he’s had 3 goes at being a movie star & been grossly misrepresented in all of them). In this first issue though Rucka seems to have taken the approach of showing us how other people see The Punisher. Out goes the intensive monologuing about war & in comes the Frank Castle of legend. A Bogey Man that mobsters children tell each other about at night. “Brush your teeth & go to sleep or The Punisher will get you”. What did you make of it?

James: Loved it, despite the hyperbole at the front of this piece, I did have a few tiny reservations. I trust Rucka implicitly as a writer, but in all honesty when it was first announced I wasn’t sure what he would be able to bring to the table that would make his take on the character stand out and be unique. His interview a few months ago about dropping the War Journal style inner monologue had me excited and intrigued, but on reading the finished article it’s blow my brains out. He’s managed to make Frank such a brooding presence and as you say in only one issue, far more terrifying than in recent previous incarnations. I think bogey man is right, and what makes the bogey man scary is we don’t hear his innermost thoughts. He just is. That’s exactly what Frank is so far in this book, he’s a presence that you know means either salvation or certain death. the art works superbly too with the scripting, the shimmering Punisher logo coming out of the gloom towards its victim is chilling, and such an effective moment, and tells us more about Rucka’s Punisher than I think a thousand words ever could.

Jon: Marco Checcetto’s artwork in particular helps immensely with setting the mood of the piece. There’s a really fluid sense of motion that challenges the reader to keep up (The dead drop in the Subway was a standout scene in particular). Frank Castle himself always feels like he’s being viewed out of the corner of your eye but when you turn your head he’s gone (If he was ever there at all). Add that to Rucka’s minimalist scripting (6 pages – zero dialogue!) & you get a real sense of how futile it must be for the Police in this New York trying to capture a mythical vigilante who always happens to be 2 steps ahead of them. I hope that the police angle is something the story is going to run with. It worked a treat for Rucka in Gotham Central, but with The Punisher I think it could be explored in even more interesting ways.

James: Couldn’t agree more. Having the Police as the expositional device is a great idea, and the relationship between Frank and Detective Bolt is set up very nicely in the back up story which fills the final pages of the book. I’ll be interested to see how long he can keep it up before actually putting some words into Frank’s mouth but I’m enjoying the “man with no name” style, it adds a layer of mystery that suits the character perfectly. In fact there is also a fair amount of black humour in that final section which introduces Clemons character nicely, or at the very least gives an idea of the sort of guy he’s likely to be. In terms of the story itself, it was pretty much what you would expect. Bad guys are doing bad things, Frank turns up, kills everyone, bad guys are no longer able to do the bad things anymore. It’s the execution that was so outstanding.

Its early to call here, but I’ve gone on record saying that I think Aaron’s run on the Max version of The Punisher is a classic in the making, but that it took me a while to dial in to the way he was handling the character (despite the fact that in comparison to this it now seems very similar to previous iterations) but this feels from the get go like its something that could be very special indeed. But you touch on an important point, it DOES feel a little like Gotham Central, in fact he feels like a certain shadowy character that appeared in that book from time to time. Is there a danger that Frank is going to feel a little bit too much like Batman? Sure the characters are two sides of a similar coin, but did you feel it strayed into that territory?

Jon: While I thought the book had a similar feel to Gotham Central it didn’t feel like Rucka was just repeating the story & swapping his Bat symbol shirt for a skull symbol one. Yes, Bats & Frank are 2 sides of a similar coin but Frank’s moral compass points to a very different north to that of Bats & that’s going to make for a very different story in the long run.  I will also admit that I was apprehensive at how Rucka would approach The Punisher, given that all I’ve read of his stuff is usually about cops catching the bad guys (admittedly I haven’t read that much). So how was he going to deal with a character that, even though he caught the bad guys, dealt with them in a way that made him one? With this issue that apprehension was wiped out as quickly as a mobster’s face under Frank Castle’s boot.

I think it could be quite interesting if the story is based mostly around Detective Bolt & how dealing with Frank affects his life. Bolt  clearly has potential to be a very well nuanced & fleshed out character. Seeing this story through his eyes allows us to view Frank from a perspective that’s more identifiable – which is something that I think can get forgotten in comics from time to time. As readers we often spend so much time in Frank’s head that I think we can forget that, when viewed from the outside, he can come across as someone else entirely & that’s what’s given this creative team the opportunity to provide such a fresh take on the “same old story”.

James: Its funny I agree that Frank is a few mile north of Bruce Wayne, as far as the moral compass goes, but have always wondered what a few tours of duty in Vietnam might have done to a younger Wayne….

As with all series the proof of the pudding will be in the eating and as exciting as this first issue was its how the ongoing arc pans out that will make or break the title. However once I separate myself from the sense of excitement with regards the execution of the story telling, its my trust and faith in the writer that leaves me truly excited for what’s to come.

Jon: I’m not sure what a tour of NAM would have done to Wayne. But to be honest I’m not even sure if NAM happened in the DCU to start with…

I am excited to see where this book goes however as much as I enjoy the writing it’s the art & colouring that actually have me most excited for once. I think Marco Checcetto’s art and Matt Hollingsworth’s colours are a perfect foil for Rucka’s story & I’m interested to see how the whole thing will fit together a few months down the line since what is on show here from the get go is a display of cohesion that usually takes most creative teams a while to build up. This book is a really complete package. I’m definitely going to be in the queue for issue 2 & the best part is it’s only a fortnight away!!!