Frank takes on Spider-Man in an extra-sized Annual, but is it just too silly?
Punisher Annual #1
Written by Rick Remender
Artwork by Jason Pearson and Dave Stewart
Writing the Punisher in the Marvel Universe is a tricky proposition, he's such a serious dude, and is a much more realistic take on the Vigilante than almost every other superhero. Putting Frank Castle next to Captain America or Thor only serves to make the character look like small potatoes, and can also make regular heroes seem stupid. This is why Garth Ennis' cape-free take was so successful, but Rick Remender has embraced this contrast, taking the Punisher, and dropping him in crazy off-beat situations and seeing how he reacts.
In this special Annual, Remender drops Frank up against Spider-Man, the two have fought before (Frank debuted as a Spider-Man villain after all), but it's always interesting to see Spider-Man's idealism go up against Punisher's pragmatism. But Remender manages to put a different spin on things by having Spidey cut loose for once, and actually be willing to kill Frank. This is due to the evil influence of Letha and Lascivious, two of the villains resurrected by The Hood to kill the Punisher. This Annual is not some standalone piece of cash-grab, it's actually a part of the current ongoing storyline, and is a call-back to when Annuals were actually important.
This issue is essentially one big fight scene, with Punisher, Spider-Man, Letha and Lascivious all chasing eachother around NYC trying to kill eachother, and it's a whole lot of fun, the villain's powers are very interesting, one can make you hate, the other makes you love, and each leads to both hilarious, and shocking consequences, Remender is treating these Z-List characters with respect, and has made them dangerous as hell. Seeing Spider-Man cut loose is also very interesting, we're so used to him holding back, to being guilty, that when he gets pissed... you see why he could be considered a menace.
One of my favourite things about Remender's run on the Punisher is seeing Frank step up his armoury in order to take out superpowered threats, we've seen him use Ant-Man suits to deadly effect, and in this issue he has an array of classic MU equipment that are used in new ways, he's got Pumpkin bombs, Daredevil's Billy Club, Iron Man's repulsor's and even a Doctor Octopus arm, it's a fanboyish thrill seeing the Punisher use these items, but it's a thrill nonetheless, and it adds a unique flavour to this version of the character, it's a lot sillier than Ennis, but it's just as valid, as Frank remains the same whatever weapon he's using, an Uzi and a Lazer beam are the same thing to him, as long as it gets the job done. It's often feared that putting the Punisher in amongst superheroes compromises him, but I don't feel that here. Frank isn't even effected by Letha and Lascivious' powers, because he's so totally single-minded.
This is a fun widescreen romp of a story, and a lot of this is down to Jason Pearson of BodyBags fame, and he does a great job here. It's bright enough to be a superhero story, but the glower he puts on Frank is intense as hell. Pearson isn't the fastest artist, but he's a good fit for all sides of the Punisher's character, and would love to see him do more with the character.
This issue may be a bit too goofy for some fans of the more hardcore MAX Punisher, but if you can get past the superhero trappings, this is a rock-solid story of Frank Castle going up against some really bad people, featuring some great artwork, good ideas, funny moments, and Spider-Man, we all love Spider-Man right? Remender has made a Marvel Universe Punisher really work, and it's one of the most unique books on the stand.
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