After being mightily impressed by his Black Widow series, I decided to give Nathan Edmondson’s Punisher a try, and whilst I’m still not sure about after just one issue, there’s plenty of promise here that makes me want to continue and pick up #2.
I would say I am a Punisher fan, but that’s mainly down to the calibre of writers he’s had over the last decade or more. The likes of Ennis (duh), Fraction, Remender, Aaron, Rucka and more have done fantastic work with the character, but even then, I like those books more for the creators than the character. Frank Castle is a cipher, a killing machine that can be dropped in all sorts of settings and stories and work (I liked, nay, loved Franken-Castle).
In this new series, Edmondson is dropping Frank from coast to coast, taking him away from New York and into Los Angeles. Not only is this change of scenery a great idea, but it seems to have reinvigorated Frank Castle as a person. He’s in a city where he’s not instantly recognisable, and is able to actually demonstrate some personality. This slight softening might be anathema to some Punisher fans, but I don’t mind it. The issue actually begins with some characters who aren’t Frank, we see a group of bad-ass soldiers rescue a prisoner from Togo swiftly and effectively. They are preparing for a break, but are soon given word of redeployment. Where to? I think you can guess the answer.
The story then moves to Mexico, where The Punisher is taking out some Mexican drug smugglers. I really liked the upside down page showing Frank swimming up from under the water, it was weird and a bit disorientating, but effective. Frank interrogates the chief smuggler (who looks like Danny Trejo), who gives him the name ‘Hector Suarez’, but only after Frank shoots his hand off, which was really surprisingly violent. This isn’t Punisher MAX, but it might as well be! The next day, we see Frank back in LA, eating at a diner and actually being quite friendly with the guy who works there and even flirting with a fellow customer, who’s a cop.
Another character who seems to be friends with Frank is the soldier he goes to meet out in the desert who gives him a load of weapons. I’m guessing these two served together in whatever War it was Frank was in now. Are they still saying it’s Vietnam? Or have they done a ‘sliding timeline’ and changed it? Eh, it doesn’t really matter. This scene had a very Breaking Bad feel to it. It was out in the desert and Frank’s vehicle of choice was a very familiar looking RV. Breaking Bad is a modern crime classic, so any homage to that works for me. Now that I think of it, Danny Trejo was in Breaking Bad! The connections run deeper… It is weird seeing Frank be friends with people and be somewhat human, but so far it is working for me, he’s in a new city and has somewhat of a fresh start. Of course, all of Frank’s friends normally end up dead by the end of a writer’s run, so the future doesn’t look good for these characters.
I think the best scene of this issue was when Frank was tailing Hector Suarez, and he basically loses patience after being stuck in traffic, gets out of his car, and shoots a gas grenade into the limo. It was awesome to see crime clichés like that get subverted by the Punisher’s relentlessness and lack of patience. Hector, after being jabbed in the face by a car cigarette lighter, leads Punisher to the building where the Dos Sols cartel are making the drugs. He tells Frank that he might be good, but he’s not good enough to get in and out of there alive. So what does Frank do? Much like his lack of patience for the tail, he just whips out a rocket launcher and fires it at the top floor, killing the criminals instantly. It was a great moment, and it shows what separates The Punisher from other vigilantes. He doesn’t mess around. Marvel’s version of LA is often treated as basically being in the real world, there aren’t many, if any, superheroes there, so Frank being there does work very well. These are real-world criminals, dealing with a force of nature.
Frank heads back to the diner, where he’s told that Officer Sam is out on Punisher duty, cleaning up his mess. The issue ends with Sam at the scene, being watched by those soldiers from the first few pages, who turn out to be the new Howling Commandos. Their mission is take down the Punisher once and for all. This issue really has set things up nicely for the future, Frank has 3 separate entities gunning for him now, the LAPD, the Cartel, and now the Howling Commandos. It’s going to be fun to see that shake down.
Mitch Gerads is an artist I’m not too familiar with, but he impressed me here, his style is gritty, yet expressive, which makes it a good fit for this tone. Frank’s face is heavily lined, so he looks suitably bad-ass. If anything, Gerads reminds me of Steve Lieber crossed with John Paul Leon, which is a pretty awesome hybrid indeed. He has the darkness necessary for a crime story, but a light enough touch for an LA story.
So yes, a good start, Edmondson’s characterisation is perhaps a bit off, but it makes sense, and I’m excited to see where it goes.