By Becky Cloonan, Steve Dillon, Frank Martin and Declan Shalvey.
The Punisher #1 was met with mixed reader reaction, most of which thought it was too predictable and too basic even for The Punisher. That didn’t necessarily change in issue #2, but Frank Castle did finally get some dialogue. The second issue also allowed the story to progress smoothly, proving writer Becky Cloonan (Gotham Academy), like it or not, knows what she’s doing. Perhaps the lesson here is that it may be more valuable to have a really solid Punisher story rather than a new Punisher epic. Either way, expectations for issue #3 were high, as fans sat poised to see if things would continue according to the standard or if Cloonan would take things in an unexpected, riskier direction. What we ended up with is consistency, and well done at that. The story is building as much as it is progressing and the results are pure carnage. No one on this creative team is playing it safe and they’re giving us exactly what we’ve come to love about these comics.
Fans of Punisher comics and fans of Becky Cloonan have something good here. The covers are remarkable and haunting. Frank Castle is one messed up individual and a cypher for his own brand of vigilante justice. Cover artist Declan Shalvey’s art style has a charming quality to it that is both moody and emotional, which somehow works for The Punisher in ways it maybe shouldn’t. In contrast with fan-favorite Steve Dillon’s interior art, Shalvey (Thunderbolts) provides us with visual insight to Becky Cloonan’s take on the character while Dillon (Preacher) brings it home for the loyal long-term readership. Although, no matter how reliable Dillon’s artwork is for The Punisher, he does seem to be doing something new here. His panel arrangements and shifting perspectives feel fresh somehow, which could possibly be the signs of a successful collaboration between writer and artist. Or perhaps Dillon is feeling at home and effortlessly achieving a new plateau. Either way, we are treated to some good, solid storytelling from renowned creators. Frank Martin (Avengers) adds a level of normality with his colors that makes it feel almost too real, which is a good thing. A sense of realness in color makes for creepier imagery in some cases, depending on the scene. Think about it; if Frank Castle were a real person in the world, it would be a highly disturbing thing to see him in person. It might feel like everything outside of the value of your own life was suddenly unimportant as long as he was around? He’s that scary, unless you didn’t know better. Ultimately, this is a comic book, but considering the way in which Castle reminds the other characters of their mortality leads us to believe the bloodshed has only just begun. Avoiding stylistic choices in colors enhances that aspect of the story and demonstrates just how good Shalvey is at what he does.
There are moments, one page transition in particular, that shout out, “Punisher!” There are other scenes that literally harken back to the franchise’s legacy, intentional or not. It’s great stuff, but the story is not without it’s flaws. One thing that could be considered the book’s greatest offense is its inability to live up to the tone. In other words what the @#$%&! is up with all of the @#$%&! swear symbols? The excessive use of “@#$%&!” – symbols known in the industry as grawlixes – are downright silly. There’s a Parental Advisory on the cover of the books that says it is “not for kids” so it’s hard to figure out why there isn’t free reign to use actual swear words. But that’s not what’s offensive. A writer’s inability to creatively work around such limitations shouldn’t make it acceptable to employ a cop-out, especially not with such high frequency. Even if it’s meant to be tongue in cheek, trying to fill in the gaps while reading a sentence is distracting and takes you out of the story. Basically, it’s the fact that everyone reading will take it upon themselves to fill in the symbols with real words anyway, which cancels out the need for censorship entirely. Besides, with violence like this book offers, how could words be more offensive? Even still, the excessive use of profanity, actual or not, can be equally distracting. When used by multiple characters in a single comic, it comes off more like a stereotype and detracts from their individuality. Give us more guys pissing themselves out of fear and less phony swearing.
For everything it’s not, and for everything it could be, this is shaping up to be a really well done Punisher story that should genuinely satisfy fans of the grim and gritty corner of the Marvel Universe. Ruthless and unapologetic as ever, this new series does the character’s core essence pure justice. If issue #3 is any indication of what’s to come, then The Punisher, no matter how twisted he is, might end up closer to anti-hero rather than savage killer for a change. As impressive as that would be, you have to admit, either outcome would suffice when it comes to Frank Castle.