Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Punisher #1

Here's a character who has starred in some great comics - and some poor ones.

The Punisher started his career as a villain, and by many definitions he's still one - after all, he kills people. Granted, they're all bad guys who (many would say) deserve to be killed - but that doesn't make what he does any less illegal.

In the hands of the right creative team (Chuck Dixon, Garth Ennis, Mike Baron and Gerry Conway spring to mind as some of the best writers so far), The Punisher's adventures have all the allure of a good revenge flick, where the protagonist is so greviously wronged that he takes the law into his own hands and metes out justice on his own terms - no matter the cost to himself.

Frank Castle's origin (shockingly not repeated here) is that he's a war veteran who sees his wife and children brutally killed by mobsters. He somehow survives and dedicates his life and his incredible combat skills to permanently wiping out criminals.

This new series gives us a fresh look at the character - in fact, he's almost a complete mystery. He doesn't speak, there are no thought balloons - he's a ruthless machine of destruction.

The story begins with a tragic event - several gunmen crash a wedding party and cause a wholesale slaughter. (Need I mention that this is not a comic for young kids?)

What little exposition that's provided comes from the detectives investigating the case - but the Punisher is running his own investigation.

There's also a short backup story with a look at another grisly incident that gives the title character more of a chance to play hero. Sort of.

This is a grim, intense tale, told intelligently, that doesn't serve up the answers on a plate - the reader has to work a bit to sort it all out. But it's a excellent take on the character, and I look forward to more stories from writer Greg Rucka.

The art is by Marco Checchetto with colors by Matt Hollingsworth, and it's dark, grim and quite good. He knows just when to reveal and when to imply, and there are surprising touches of beauty next to true horror.

This isn't a comic for everyone. Some prefer more straightforward storytelling, and you don't get that here. Instead you get a story that's hard as nails and challenging.

But oh, the rewards.

Grade: A-


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