Review: The Punisher #1

Greg Rucka takes on Frank Castle, making the character readable again for the first time in years.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

The Punisher #1

I don’t want to jump the gun here (no pun intended) but the new reboot of the Punisher might be the first time I’ve enjoyed the character in years. I loved the original run of The Punisher and I was even behind Garth Ennis’s Welcome Back, Frank series. Then, as usual, Ennis blew it and The Punisher got passed around like a hooker at a convention. Jason Aaron did some decent work with Punisher MAX, but the art from Steve Dillon made me say no. I’ve hated Dillon’s work since Preacher, which was oddly another Garth Ennis series that started well and then fell apart. Recently I had to sit through Frankencastle, which almost got me to give up on the whole idea of Punisher. However, Punisher #1 is good stuff, the stuff makes me amped to read Punisher again.

Greg Rucka is a writer I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with, but this time he knocks it out of the park Rucka attacks Punisher as the street soldier killing machine he’s meant to be and mixes it with a real-crime police story. The opening to Punisher #1 is awesome, a sheer visceral violent experience. During a seemingly normal wedding, a mercenary group shows up and kills or critically injures everybody, thus setting up the police angle. In stepping back and allowing this opening to be purely art with no words, Rucka sets a tone without touching the page. Artist Marco Checchetto unleashes holy hell on this wedding and it gives the book a grimy street level presence it needs. When Rucka jumps back in, we meet two cops – one veteran and one newcomer to the world of detectives.

I like how the Punisher is largely kept out of issue #1 until the end. It creates tension and mystery around the character, something he hasn’t had in a while. When Punisher shows up to unleash vengeance on the group that attacked the wedding, you almost cheer to see him in action again.  In between the bookend violence, Rucka establishes some mystery elements, such as what’s the extent of the new detectives' relationship with Punisher, and why did this seemingly innocent wedding become the focus of mercenaries. There’s also a tidbit at the end between Punisher and the head of the mercenaries that will whet the appetite for issue #2. Rucka seems to be going back to the old school style of writing the Punisher, when he was neither superhero nor punch line, from a time when it was about a man and his personal sense of justice.

Marco Checchetto turns in some of his best work to date with Punisher #1. I like his interplay between standard panel layout and more unexpected pages. Checchetto understands that for real movement and action to unfold, there has to be a succession of images that allow our imagination to fill in the blanks. His work on both scenes of violence move like film sequences and the rest of the book keeps a rapid fire pace that makes the issue a page-turner. Punisher #1 is a re-launch of a character that is beset on all sides by the violence and greed of evil men. You have to tell that story with fluidity and action, something Cheecchetto does with ease. I won’t come out fully and say the Punisher is back; Marvel could still screw it up, but for now I’m happier with the character than I have been for a long time.