As they’ve relaunched nearly all their titles over the past twelve months, outfitting them with new creative teams and new continuities, Marvel have had to look outside their usual stable for talent; putting a lot of previously independent writers and artists on work-for-hire IP’s. While its always great to see these guys get a paying gig it rarely results in their best work; superhero serials simply require a different skillset to that of an Image series and their styles don’t always translate. So it’s a sheer delight to see a match as perfect as the one Marvel editors made for the new Punisher series.
Nathan Edmondson is a writer with a clear creative voice; he writes a certain type of comic and he writes it in a certain way, a way which I for one am a huge fan of. With Jake Ellis, Dancer and The Activity he has established himself as the current generation’s Greg Rucka, a man who understands the real life military mindset and manages to merge it with the heightened stakes and genre science of a good action story. So when it came time to try and follow up Rucka’s criminally underselling run I can see why his name floated to the top.
Opening with an exfil (a word learnt reading Nathan’s other works) seemingly straight out of The Activity The Punisher puts us right in the thick of Frank Castle’s campaign against crime, not bothering to catch us up with his well established backstory. What it does set up though is the scale of this new story; this Punisher isn’t happy to settle for solving petty crimes, nor punching out purely local criminals, but he’s not dealing with supervillains either. No, he slots in the middle by heading for the source, shooting a path through to South America along the way. ‘Shooting’ being the key word. While Castle lacks super-serum or special armor he has enough of an armory to compensate.
The biggest change from previous Punisher comics, especially Rucka’s near-mute take on the main character, is where that armory comes from, Edmondson spends a lot of the issue establishing Frank’s friends, or at least those few willing to help him in his mission. These relationships show an unexpected but pleasantly unique side of the Castle character, without ever contradicting the cruel utilitarianism of his actions. Here he seems less like Travis Bickle and more Dirty Harry; it’s still difficult to condone his actions, but he seems far more empathetic a vigilante and more human as a result. Adding internal narration on top of the biting banter was a little too much for me, though it only appears on a few pages so it barely constitutes a flaw.
Edmondson has brought The Activity artist Mitch Gerads along with him and the resulting pages are as good as any the pair have produced elsewhere. Gerads’ style seems somewhat looser here, his linework less rigid and the characters slightly more cartoonish in feature; a change that suits the less serious story and lighter tone of the book. His take on Castle as slightly older and fuller of face than I’m familiar with does a lot to convey the change towards maturity and humanity in this take on the character.
Of course Gerads also slays in the book’s action sequences, doing a lot with an unassuming number of panels. Scenes flow through a number dynamic states over the course of a single page and it always coheres crystal clear in our mind because of the clever way that he employs motion, colour and in one memorable moment CCTV trappings to convey the chaos. His images have a way of both imprinting on the mind instantly as you first view them and opening up in complexity when you come back out of the stories context. I really hope that he’s able to handle the pace that Marvel are planning to push out this book because it’s hard to imagine anyone else working as well on it.
Ultimately what makes this book work where some other other highly anticipated debuts haven’t is in the way that its creators have refused to compromise and instead forced the character to come to them. With only a slight tweak this issue could unite convincingly have been the debut of a brand new creator owned series, it sits so well alongside the other stories that this pair have told. It never once sells out the character of Frank Castle, it simply suits him up in more modern equipment, making him a more modern character. As much as I revered Rucka’s run For what it was I had a lot more fun with this issue and only hope that translates to sales since I want to be reading this series long into the future.