Like many characters, the popularity of The Punisher has it’s ebbs and flows. Introduced in Amazing Spider-Man #129 way, way back in 1974, the very one dimensional vigilante began his war on crime (that we were privy to) by hunting Spider-Man. You see, at the time, Spidey was wanted for the murder of Norman Osborn. Or course, Spidey was innocent and the Punisher eventually realized that he was being played by super villain The Jackal.
The Punisher became a popular guest star in the urban sector of Marvel Comics. Popping up routinely in various Spider-Man comics as well as Frank Miller’s Daredevil run which would inspire much of his characterization in Daredevil season 2 on Netflix.
The character’s popularity would explode with the release of his first mini-series in 1986. It was a risk for Marvel as they weren’t really doing many mini-series at the time and The Punisher was mainly a strong second tier character. But 1986 turned into a banner year for dark characters and mature stroies. Over at DC, The Dark Knight Returns rewrote the book on Batman (as Batman: Year One would do a year later). It also saw the release of Watchmen.
Shortly after that, The Punisher would turn into one of Marvel’s highest profile characters and cash cows. The Punisher was still guest starring across the Marvel universe at an impressive rate, especially considering he was also eventually starring in three monthly titles. 1989 would also bring us the dreadful Punisher movie, from a time before all MCU films were made of gold and unicorn horns and allowed them to print money.
Much like the comic collector market, The Punisher’s bubble would burst in 1995 when all his titles would be cancelled. For the next five years or so, Marvel would try and try again to relaunch The Punisher, with little success. And when one of the versions of the character has him dying and coming back as a demon slayer, it is not hard to see why.
In the year 2000, thanks to the work of writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon, best known as the creative team behind the DC/Vertigo hit Preacher, The Punisher returned to normalcy and popularity. For the next ten years or so, Ennis would be the guiding hand for most of the Punisher’s tales. A second Punisher movie starring Thomas Jane would be released in 2004 and while not a direct adaptation, would borrow heavily from Ennis’s take on the character.
At the end of the decade, as the Punisher seemed to be losing steam again, Marvel would release another Punisher movie, Punisher: War Zone. A movie so awful, it ranks dead last in terms of box office take among all the Marvel films. Even lower than Howard The Duck. And when popularity wanes, apparently you are contractually obligated to do something ridiculous with the Punisher. In this case, kill him again and make him a into a version of Frankenstein’s monster.
Luckily, the Punisher would get returned to normal at the end of that storyline. Shortly after, the character would start trending back up again thanks to a mini-series by Rick Remender, but more so thanks to a new series from writer Greg Rucka that I highly reccommend you check out.
Since then, the Punisher has been treading water. Popular enough to maintain a monthly book, but no longer at the same super star status. But his turn in the second season of Daredevil may have changed all that. Jon Bernthal’s outstanding performance as Frank Castle has already secured him his own Netflix series, though we might not see that until 2018.
To keep us chomping at the bit, and to capitalize on the current upswing in popularity, Marvel allows us today to purchase a new Punisher #1 by writer Becky Cloonan and veteran Punisher artist Steve Dillon.
(This is where it gets spoiler-y so make sure you’ve read the issue before procedding if you care…)
Unfortunately, the first issue didn’t do much to grab me. It’s typical Punisher fare. The DEA is preparing a raid to take down some drug lords. The Punisher shows up the night before and wipes pretty much everyone out except for the number one and two guys in the organization.
One of the move confusing aspects of the book was the art. I think Steve Dillon is a great artist and the art in the book is strong, but here’s the thing. There is a new character in the book named Olaf. He has grey hair and claims to have been Frank Castle’s commanding officer back in the Marines. The problem is, he looks exactly like what my mental picture of Steve Dillon’s Punisher looks like, though needing some Just For Men. So, the entire book I’m like “Is that Frank undercover? What is going on here?” But then the actual Punisher shows up and he and Olaf share a moment. So they are not the same guy. This Castle is dark haired, with a buzz cut. Perhaps they are trying to make him look more like Jon Bernthal’s protrayal of him? Castle also has zero dialouge in the issue, letting his guns (and thumbs) do the talking. So I’m still not sure there isn’t more going on here than meets the eye.
I was also let down by the ending. The surviving drug lords discuss what they will do now, which of course ends in the decision to kill Frank Castle. The second in command drug lord goes by the name “Face”, and we learn why as the last page shows him mounting the face of one of the other dead characters on a plaque and then preparing to hang it on a wall with other similarly grotesque face cut outs. It obviously has a shock factor aspect to it, but just comes off as a total rip-off of the first issue of Detective Comics during DC’s New 52 relaunch. The first issue of that series saw the Joker cut off his own face for who knows what reason and post it on the wall.
While it bares a “Parental Advisory Not For Kids” warning on the front cover, the innards seemed like they needed something even more adult. The violence and gore is heavy, but how many times can you read “$#%@” in the span of 22 pages? It just seems like they should have made the book purely adult only and allowed the language in there. I know this would restrict the number of people they can sell too. And while I don’t think everything should go the Deadpool movie route, it at least proves that R-rated material sells. And what does it say about our society that it’s ok to see a man gouge another man’s eyes out, or see people’s brain’s exposed by bullet wounds, but you can’t drop an F-bomb?
I don’t usually grade or give specific recommendations on these “reviews”, but I’d give this one a “meh”. There is enough here to stick around to see what happens in the second issue, but time will tell if this is an ebb or a flow.