Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Classics - The Punisher #1 (1986)

   The Punisher was a character who would not be denied.

   Created as an opponent for the Amazing Spider-Man by writer Gerry Conway and artist John Romita (though Ross Andru drew that first appearance), the character was a one-man war on crime.

   Frank Castle was a Vietnam veteran who saw his wife and children gunned down by mobsters - so he declared war on criminals and used his military skills to kill the bad guys.

   The character was a thinly-disguised take on the adventures of Mack Bolan, the Executioner, who appeared in dozens of paperback adventures written by Don Pendleton.

   The Punisher had appeared in black and white magazines and in supporting roles in other comics, fighting (or working with) such heroes as Spider-Man, Captain America and Daredevil.

   The fans loved the character! Finally the demand led to the creation of a mini-series - labeled on the cover as a four-issue series, but it was actually a five-issue series (go figure).

   It was a perfect fit for writer Steven Grant, who excelled at the hard-edged, take-no-prisoners stories - literally, in this case, as the story starts with the Punisher arriving at a maximum security prison, where he encounters lots of hostility and an old foe.

   But the prisoners find that their numbers don't help much when dealing with a fighting machine like Castle, and he soon fights his way to the top of the prison food chain. It's a brutal series that pushed the four-color limits and helped the character become one of the most popular in the '80s and beyond.

   It didn't hurt that the art was crafted by Mike Zeck, who was riding high from the hugely successful Secret Wars. Teamed with John Beatty's inks and coloring his own work, Zeck turned in some of his best work ever, loading each page with raw action, powerful layouts and intense energy.

   This mini-series quickly launched the anti-hero into his own series (and numerous spinoffs) - it's a striking work that holds up well even today, when grim and gritty is all too common.

    In the mid-'80s it was groundbreaking -  and unforgettable.

Grade: A


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