It is safe to say that Becky Cloonan had an uphill struggle ahead of her with this particular title. Netflix’s ‘Daredevil’ gave fans the perfect iteration of the character just a few short months ago and so, in order to live up to expectations, this comic had to be nothing short of spectacular in all departments. Could this previously top notch writer pull it off?
The spirit dampening answer is no, she could not. That’s not to suggest that this is a bad comic because it absolutely isn’t. What it is is depressingly average and that simply won’t do when The Punisher himself is on such a hot streak with fans as of late.
Becky Cloonan has proven herself a solid creator in the past with her work on the sterling ‘Northlanders’ series as well as Scott Snyder’s ‘Batman’ so it wasn’t unreasonable to expect something great from her here. There were glimpses of that greatness too as she got certain aspects of a Punisher title spot on. For instance, Punisher is something of a one dimensional character which means he does not fare well when subjected to too much of the limelight. He is better off left in the shadows as the main plot develops around him with other players in place. That is exactly how Cloonan writes this story as Punisher takes a back seat to the more complex criminal element and the law enforcement trying to bring them down. In doing this she negates the ever present problem of audiences growing weary of the trigger happy lead.
The main characters, Punisher included, are all handled very well as Cloonan makes sure to give each of them an engaging personality. For the two key criminals present in the story this is done by, for one of them, giving him a pre-existing connection to Frank Castle and thus a window into the soul of the man. That’s something that fans always need when being reintroduced to this individual and it can be done to great effect as was learnt by the presence of The Blacksmith in Daredevil. In the case of the other villain, who will serve as the key antagonist for this arc, it is achieved by making him just as intimidating as his black clad counterpart. Not an easy task by any means but one that Cloonan seems set to achieve.
For the ‘heroes’, and that term is used quite loosely in a comic such as this, they are presented really as ordinary though determined officers of the law. They have the quite relatable goal of seeking justice, even against the unrelatable enemy of a drug organisation. They won’t set the world alight with their short appearance in the book but they serve as a decent pair for audiences to latch onto for the foreseeable future.
It is with the B-characters that things fall apart a little. They are all terribly poorly done to the point of being props and nothing more. Not a single one of them is developed into somebody to care about, nor do they serve a purpose beyond being cannon fodder. Yes, a Punisher comic needs a certain amount of cannon fodder but it wouldn’t hurt to flesh out some of these people before they die. In fact, it tends to make the violence you witness a little more impactful.
Another important thing to note is that, despite the covers warning of this being ‘Not For Kids’, there is still a great deal of censorship to be found in these pages. You would have thought that such a comic would revel in its chance to throw in some vulgar language alongside the wanton displays of extreme violence, but no. All such colourful words are censored entirely and it makes for a very disjointed read to say the least. It is remarkable that the publishers clearly thought that impalement was A-Okay but the word ‘fuck’ was a bridge too far.
More than all of this though was the fact that the plot just didn’t do anything new. Sure, Punisher has never been a character renowned for pushing creative barriers or challenging its audience. It’s a rather simple, straightforward tome with very little to offer those who don’t care for death in abundance but that doesn’t mean that the author shouldn’t try to go in a new direction. Every character in existence has an interesting avenue that they’ve yet to explore, it just takes the right writer to lead them there and clearly Cloonan is not the writer for that job.
The real sticking point on this book though? That’d be the art which is not so ably provided by Steve Dillon and Frank Martin. There is just no soul to anything that’s being presented here. It’s as though they slapped on some basic outlines, coloured them in, and called it a day. In some scenes it is actually a little tricky to tell exactly what a character is feeling as they all have the same preset facial expression, one of blissful ignorance, which you could imagine this pair sporting too. When there are so many dynamic artists out there capable of such great things it is a complete mystery as to why Marvel have gone with these two for this book.
If you want something new from The Punisher, do not read this book. It is not brave in its direction and it will not fulfill you. If, however, you are in the market for something quintessentially Punisher that does all the basic stuff right and doesn’t try to be too exciting then go right ahead and read this.
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