(Marvel Comics, 2014)
Written by Nathan Edmondson
Artwork by Mitch Gerads
Lettering by VC’s Cory Petit
Frank Castle has returned from many things that would keep lesser men dead; he’s been shot, stabbed, bombed, taken more shrapnel than most platoons, he’s been cut apart and put back together as “Frankencastle”. He’s donned Captain America’s patriotic colors and he has even killed the entirety of the Marvel Universe, yes Frank as just about seen and done it all. They only thing that seems to take The Punisher s out of the game are writers who just don’t get the character. At his core, Frank is the proverbial “good man” who has been pushed to his limits and unable to find justice within the confines of the law opts to settle for vengeance through his own means. It’s a tale as old as Charlie Bronson in Death Wish and Michael Cain in Get Carter yet as contemporary as Gerard Butler in Law Abiding Citizen and Mel Gibson in Edge of Darkness, it is a timeless premise because we relate to it on a very primal level. It’s why we love Batman and Eric Draven, the desire to take matters into our own hands when we or our loved ones are done wrong. Who reading this hasn’t at one time or another wanted to exact revenge on the high school bully or the animal abuser who lives next door? It’s not wrong to feel justified anger, even Jesus felt that at the sight of the money changers in the temple; however it’s when we decide to act on those feelings that we could get into trouble. That is why these characters are such a huge part of popular culture, we can exorcise those vengeful urges vicariously through them and no one does it better than The Punisher when in the hands of an inspired creator like Garth Ennis, Jason Aaron and now we can add Nathan Edmonson to that list.
The best Punisher stories are those based outside the Marvel Universe, not necessarily outside continuity but away from the more brightly costumed inhabitants of the 616 and their cosmic battles with Earth’s existence in the balance. Frank’s battles are closer to home and the enemies a little less omnipotent but more often than not just as power mad and maniacal. That’s not to say that The Punisher doesn’t have a place in that world as well because he definitely does, just look at Matt Fraction’s inventive run on War Journal and more recently Frank’s appearance in Superior Spider-Man Team-up and you will see that The Punisher is a versatile character equally entertaining in vastly different arenas. This interpretation of the character brought to us by the incredibly talented creative team of Nathan Edmonson and Mitch Gerads is based in the more realistic world of current day Los Angeles and pits The Punisher against a familiar foe, the drug cartels.
The location move to Los Angeles works extremely well for this narrative however don’t expect palm trees and beach bunnies, this is the seedy underbelly of L.A. complete with a greasy run down coffee shop that serves as Frank’s new favorite haunt. Some of the best dialogue takes place at the counter of this coffee shop. Edmonson does some really great character development in these scenes as we see Frank interact with a local police officer, and if I’m not mistaken our gruff Mr. Castle might just be a tad smitten with this lovely female officer, either way it’s a very disarming scene and one that shows the depth and humanity of The Punisher. We still get plenty of bullets, bloodshed and bodies in this issue but Edmonson deftly builds up to all of the meticulously planned action. He shows us the details behind the explosions; we see Frank meet up with his insider contact to obtain munitions as well as accompany him on information gathering missions. Edmonson gets all the pieces perfectly in place before giving us the big pay-off so when it comes its even more satisfying because we get the sense of going along for the ride with Frank as he thoroughly dismantles the cartel. There’s lots of larger than life action here however it’s the subtle nuances that sometimes get overlooked in Punisher stories that Edmonson really seems to have firmly in hand. His genuine dialogue comes across in his character interactions, the words flow in a conversational dynamic that feels extremely real. There are no “I’ll be back” style one liners typical of action heroes, just well written believable dialogue that brings a further dimension of reality to these characters. Edmonson impressed me with his work on the current Black Widow series with Phil Noto and he continues to do so here with a super-fast paced, entertaining first issue of what I hope is a very long run on The Punisher.
Visually, Mitch Gerads packs a heck of a punch with his kinetic storytelling approach. His action sequences are particularly strong as is evident in the opening pages of this first issue. Gerads’ stylized rendering of the more graphic scenes adds a heightened sense of drama to the violent imagery. I like his take on The Punisher’s uniform, giving it a more utilitarian sensibility than past depictions, granted it does appear a bit cumbersome and bulky at times but overall I think it works fine.
I have been a fan of The Punisher since the 1986 Steven Grant and Mike Zeck mini-series. It was one of the first stories that brought the character into the more realistic realm that would go on to define most of the best Punisher narratives. Nathan Edmonson and Mitch Gerads seem to be on track to create another of those memorable Punisher runs. I really liked this first issue and I feel confident that this creative team is going to continue to captivate and impress. If you didn’t grab a copy this week, make a note to self to pick one up with your new books on Wednesday. This is good stuff, if you are a long-time fan of the character you will love it and if you haven’t read much of Frank Castle’s story this book is a perfect place to jump on for an exciting ride. (4/5)
Shawn is an aspiring writer/ artist who has been reading, collecting and living comic books for over 30 years. He lives in Baltimore with his wife, their son, lots of cats, dogs and other various finned and furry friends.