Review: The Punisher #1

Let it never be said that Marvel doesn’t know how to launch a book.  Following hot on the heels of Bendis’ dark, well-received Moon Knight and Waid’s lighter, pitch-perfect Daredevil comes the third in a series of heavily hyped relaunches: Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto, working together on The Punisher.  Three high profile books, three high profile creative teams, and three high profile success stories so far.  The Punisher isn’t the strongest of the books, but Rucka and Checchetto’s innovative take on the character is just as daring and fascinating as either of the other two.

The Punisher is an interesting take, an action book that borders on horror, a vigilante book in which the titular vigilante essentially doesn’t appear.  As I pointed out way back in my Unread Canon entry on Ennis’ opening story in his legendary The Punisher MAX, the Punisher is a man with no charisma, with no real character.  He isn’t witty.  He isn’t even really darkly comic.  He has a mission.  And Rucka seems to have found the same escape clause Ennis did: the book is about the Punisher, but the Punisher isn’t necessarily the main character.  Instead, the book seems to focus heavily on a pair of detectives, Walter Bolt and Oscar Clemons, each with their own secrets, and how the Punisher is interacting with their lives and their cases.

Rucka obviously trusts his artist, Marco Checchetto – he fills the books with long, bloody, wordless sequences, trusting us to pick up on the character’s relationships and allegiances without a single word being spoken.  And while this doesn’t always work quite as well as Rucka might hope, there are a couple particularly bravura sequences throughout this first issue.  Checchetto’s work on the back-up sequence is even stronger, though still essentially dialogue-free.  Along with colorist Matt Hollingworth, Checchetto delivers excellent storytelling with all the bleak, stylistic realism of the modern crime comic.

The Punisher, like Daredevil and Moon Knight, is a daring departure of form for an established character. Largely gone is the ultraviolence, the nudity and language that have defined the character for the past decade.  In its place?  Top notch grim, violent, stylized storytelling.  The Punisher #1 trusts its audience.  It isn’t talking down to you, or pandering.  It’s a simple story, but one extremely well told, and one that unquestionably leaves you wanting more.

Grade: A-

– Cal Cleary

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