The Story: Two detectives begin their investigation of a mass shooting at a wedding, as does Frank, in his own unique way.
What’s Good: Writing a fresh, unique Punisher story is pretty difficult, all the moreso when it’s the Marvel Universe Frank Castle book. There seems to be set template, usually involving lots of narration by Frank and unending hordes of bland thugs and unrecognizable Z-list bad guys.
Leave it to Greg Rucka to break the mold, and to do so in a way that still feels true to the spirit of the Punisher.
Rucka makes an incredibly bold decision this month: Frank Castle does not speak one word, neither in dialogue nor in narration. This alone completely revitalizes the comic and makes for a really fresh take on the character. Indeed, Frank is no longer a character at all, nor is he really even the human “Frank Castle” any longer. Instead, he’s just a presence, a force of nature, and even a ghost. He constantly lingers around the corners of the comic, influencing its characters and its world. When he strikes, it’s brutal and swift, from the shadows, with Frank being silent and almost invisible, leaving a pile of bodies behind. More than anything, this is about “the Punisher,” as we see him from the eyes of others. This is a book about the Punisher myth, not Frank Castle the man. The result is possibly the scariest Frank Castle we’ve ever gotten, a silent, avenging, phantom that lights up the page with fear and excitement without a word.
This take on the Punisher also leads to Rucka letting Marco Checchetto do much of the heavy lifting, which is just fine. Checchetto’s art is absolutely beautiful, moody and detailed and with both European and American noir influences. The Punisher is as scary as Rucka wants him and more than that, Checchetto paints a very different NYC from what we normally see. The Punisher’s NYC is dark, dangerous, and is so moody and atmospheric that it almost carries hints of magical realism. Any of the actual dialogue is left to two new characters, Detectives Bolt and Clemons, who follow the tried-and-true tired veteran/young guy on the edge formula for cop movie partners. Settling the focus so squarely on these two very mundane characters has a grounding effect on the comic, making the Punisher even more of a legend and hopefully, in future, something of a white whale. Honestly, the grounded feel and detective-work actually brought me back to Rucka’s prior work on Gotham Central, which is definitely a good thing given that that was one of my favorite comics of all time. It’s two normal guys doing the best they can while a supernatural predator hunts the streets.
Better still, Rucka gives one of the detectives a very interesting relationship with the Punisher that I can’t get into without spoiling. The relationship alone makes the new character really interesting, while also promising dividends. It’s a really complex set of circumstances and a clear case of a single big decision impacting a man’s life in very constricting, morally grey ways.
What’s Not So Good: I absolutely loved this comic. My only complaint was that the main feature did fly by a little quickly and I was shocked when it reached its end. In other words, I’m really, really happing that we’re getting another issue this month.
Conclusion: The Punisher comic I’ve wanted for years and one that, for this reviewer, makes Frankencastle look even dumber in retrospect.