It’s not every day that an acclaimed writer such as Garth Ennis returns to a character that helped him establish himself as one of the more talented creators in the industry, but that is exactly the case with Punisher: Soviet #1. With Jacen Burrows on pencils, Guillermo Ortego on inks, Nolan Woodward on colors, and Rob Steen on letters Punisher: Soviet #1 has all the makings of another pivotal entry in the Punisher’s catalog.
Punisher: Soviet #1 begins with The Punisher following a tip from a government source about a Russian Mobster’s hideout, only to find out that the encampment has already been taking out by someone with a similar set of skills and M.O to Castle. Before going further into this review, it is necessary to point out that this is a continuation of Marvel MAX line, specifically (and obviously) Punisher MAX. So this comic is graphic and mature, but simultaneously more grounded and realistic. This Frank Castle ages normally, and he is not currently the cosmic Ghost Rider.
A majority of this chapter is spent in Castle’s mind, with some pretty heavy narration. But Ennis makes this work, as The Punisher is probably one of the easier Marvel Characters to make into a narration heavy noir-like story. And the story itself is pretty straightforward, but that truly is how Castle operates, so it works in the larger picture. Castle sees someone he deems evil; he eliminates them.
This is why narration works so well with The Punisher because otherwise, he is a simplistic murder machine. Only when you hear his thoughts does his military expertise and strategic planning show itself. And when there is no narration, the brutality shines through even stronger. This is all evident in the scene in which he is taking down one of Pronchenko’s envoy. He is able to spot their pattern and identify the main target, all while intimidating the envoy into explaining everything through their radio and then lures them into an enclosed space where he is able to hide and explode 200 pounds of plastic explosives, dealing maximum damage. His brutality shines through as he interrogates a survivor by insinuating that he will cut him while his family is listening on the phone. This scene is a showcase for the Punisher at his sharpest and most powerful.
Burrows’ lines, Ortego’s inks, Woodard’s colors, and Steen’s letters are essential to the success of Punisher: Soviet #1. Burrows’ detailed and natural linework is almost photo-realistic, and it plays into Castle brutish physique. The inks and colors are brilliant, however. The manner in which the colors change from an almost sickly green or tan to dense and faded blues and finally transitioning to explosive orange is almost masterful as it engages the reader’s eyes as it flows seamlessly between events. Steen’s letters are stark and bold, just like the Punisher, and how plain they are in this chapter works to the story’s advantage.
Garth Ennis’s original run on Punisher: MAX is legendary, and it would be unfair to compare most Punisher stories to it. However, the joint effort of Ennis, Burrows, Ortego, Woodard, and Steen makes Punisher: Soviet #1 feel like the final story could reach some of those lofty heights.