The Punisher returns to comic store shelves in a new series by writer Becky Cloonan (Gotham Academy) and veteran Punisher artist Steve Dillion. In this new series, a drug is making its way to the streets, and it’s turning regular people into invulnerable, violent psychopaths. Sounds like just the kind of thing Frank Castle needs to look into.
A shady organization named Condor has set up a drug lab in a warehouse in Brooklyn. A high-ranking member of the group, known only as The Face, has put an old military veteran, Olaf, in charge of making sure their product makes it to the streets. Unbeknownst to Condor, the DEA is on to them and have the warehouse under surveillance, but the Punisher may just beat them to punch when it comes to taking Condor down.
Fans of the Punisher: MAX series written by Garth Ennis, and continued by Jason Aaron, may see this first issue of The Punisher as a welcome return. It is difficult not to immediately make the connection when the book is being drawn by Steve “I drew most of Punisher: MAX” Dillion, but it is obvious that Becky Cloonan wanted to recapture the magic of MAX during her turn as writer. The first issue follows Ennis’s playbook to a T. “The Punisher is making life difficult for a law enforcement agency as he brutally kills his way up the chain of a street crime organization being run by a disturbingly unhinged individual.” This is the version of the Punisher that relaunched the character in the early 2000s, as well as the one that usually comes to mind when the character is mentioned. Sadly, the character has had a chance to evolve since then, and this series chooses to ignore that.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Punisher: MAX, and I know Jon Bernthal based a lot of his portrayal on Daredevil on Ennis comics. Bernthal, however, found a way to blend the “Frank the Tank” version of the Punisher seen throughout Punisher: MAX and the more realistic Marine operator that writers like Greg Rucka and Nathan Edmondson offered in their stories. At the moment, it looks like Cloonan plans to send Frank back into the more-bullets-than-brains territory.
A tough thing with comics is that judging a series based on one issue is similar to basing your feeling of an entire television show on one episode. Some shows have weak episodes, and some comics have weak issues. Sadly, a weak first issue does not bode well for a series. The first issue is meant to hook a reader in and make them want more, which I sadly did not feel with this issue. Steve Dillion has fallen right back into a comfortable paint-by-numbers style with the art, having done Punisher art for near a decade now, and Cloonan does her best Ennis impression in the writing. These factors cause the book to feel a lot more like a chance to capitalize on the success the Punisher saw on Netflix’s Daredevil, and less like a fresh start with a new series, which so many other titles were given after the Secret Wars event. Hopefully this opening is merely a stumble out of the gate for the series to come.
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Art images and art work belong to Marvel Comics