Writer Jason Aaron (Scalped, Thor) and artists Jesus Saiz and Paul Azaceta bring Frank Castle to a new land and a brand new start with Punisher #1. Featuring colors by Dave Stewart and lettering from Cory Petit, this opening chapter offers an intriguing premise that is sure to be divisive among the character’s fanbase. With an engaging first-chapter script and solid, engrossing visuals, this fresh start for Marvel’s iconic sociopath is too compelling to keep away from.
“WILL THE PUNISHER’S WAR END? Born of tragedy. Devoted to war. Unstoppable in his rage. As the Punisher, Frank Castle has become the most accomplished killer the world has ever seen. Now it’s time for him to face his true destiny. What shocking secret from Frank’s past will convince him to take the reins of the Marvel Universe’s most notorious clan of assassins? And once Frank becomes the warlord of the deadly ninjas of the Hand, will it also mean an end for the Punisher? Or a whole new bloody beginning?”
Writing & Plot
Okay look, I have a lot of respect for Jason Aaron as a writer. His runs on Thor and Star Wars are some of the best stories Marvel has published in the last 20 years. However, as recent events have uncovered, the guy just needs to know when and how to stay in his lane. Punisher #1 is exactly that. Aaron has handled the gun-toting vigilante before in his run on Marvel’s old MAX label; a run that followed up the seminal work of Garth Ennis. Aaron’s first issue here, being a part of the main Marvel timeline, isn’t the brutal introspection that Ennis or even his own MAX run are. I have to admit, my impressions of Frank Castle are based entirely on his appearances out of continuity. I’ve always found the character an ill-fit for the mainstream Marvel universe. Aaron could very well change my mind.
Here, we get a Punisher working with legendary Daredevil antagonists The Hand. Together, they’re hunting down and slaughtering an international group of well-armed killers…among other people. Frank’s motivations for joining the ninja-assassin group appears purely work-related at first; after all, the Punisher will go anywhere to kill bad guys. The final page twist reveals the real reason he’s joined up, and friends it’s a game-changer. For the most part though, this issue just introduces us to Castle’s new life situation and setting. There’s a lot of narrative explaining The Hand’s motivations for bringing Punisher into the fold. It’s entertaining, especially getting to witness their uh…explosive first meeting. Outside of the ending though, there isn’t anything here that’s truly surprising. Castle is written from an outsiders perspective, with no narration from his POV. This sells the classic, frightening stone-cold characterization of The Punisher and, despite the mainstream Marvel trappings, really nails the feeling for a Punisher comic.
Admittedly, the polished visual work of Jesus Saiz and Paul Azaceta in Punisher #1 isn’t the sort of art style I imagine for the character. The clean, digital design is a far cry from the likes of Goran Parlov or Leandro Fernandez. However, their work is still very impressive and sharp by any comic’s standards. Saiz and Azacea craft vivid animations and kick-ass action in every panel. Their blocking and direction match the pacing of Aaron’s script and bring it to life with explosive clarity. I have to mention though, there is at times a sort of uncanny valley effect. The digital, semi-cgi style used by Saiz and Azaceta doesn’t have the subtle stylings of comic artists who use a similar style (Mikel Janin and Jamal Campbell, for example). In fact, despite the polish and direction, the visual style as a whole is a bit bland. In terms of fidelity it’s great, but it just seems so plain, especially for a Marvel comic.
Even the colors of veteran and legend Dave Stewart can’t quite save this comic’s visual experience from feeling oddly detached. Stewart’s rich, saturated tones do admittedly work very well for the styling of this comic. However, despite how impressively high-fidelity every panel looks, it still can’t quite shake this strange clay-like look. Cory Petit does a solid job of keeping the lettering manageable and flexible through the many full word balloons laden with expository dialogue. His SFX work comes in handy as well for really selling the actions sequences. All in all this is a well-crafted but oddly bland Punisher comic.
Punisher #1 is an impressive mixed bag. Jason Aaron’s script takes some commendable risks and has a hell of a final page twist to lead to an entertaining (if mostly unsurprising) opening chapter. The visuals from Jesus Saiz, Paul Azaceta, and Dave Stewart are sharp and well-directed, but often just bland in their execution. Still this is mostly a solid start to this controversial new chapter for Frank Castle. Be sure to grab this issue when it hits shelves on March 9th!