Punisher #1

Written by Rick Remender
Art by Jerome Opena
32 pages, color
Published by Marvel Comics

Just how many Punisher #1s can there really be? By my count, Marvel’s latest Punisher #1 is actually the eighth. There’s the original 1985 mini-series, the original 1987 ongoing series, the 1995 "back down to just one title" ongoing series, the 1998 Marvel Knights mini-series involving angels and mystic guns, the 2000 Marvel Knights mini-series that brought him back to basics, the follow-up 2001 ongoing series, and then the 2004 ongoing series under the MAX mature readers imprint. And that’s not including, of course, all of the other titles over the years like Punisher War Journal (both of them), Punisher War Zone (both of them), Punisher 2099… you get the idea. All of this is really a long way of asking the question, can this latest Punisher #1 stand out amid an already pretty large herd?

The Skrull invasion is over, and Norman Osborn is the hero of the hour. The Punisher can see through that façade, though, and knows Osborn for the villain that he truly is. So for the Punisher, his course of action is clear: kill Norman Osborn. There’s only one small barrier between the Punisher and Osborn, though, and that’s the might of the Sentry. Can a non-powered human stand a chance against one of the most powerful forces on the entire planet?

Rick Remender comes onto Punisher in a strange sort of sideways manner. Last year he came on board Punisher War Journal as a co-author for existing writer Matt Fraction. With Fraction’s time with the character over, Remender has taken over the book solo, and Marvel has decided to change the numbering and title of the book appropriately. It’s certainly a nice gesture of faith on Marvel’s part, trying to push Remender’s shift to sole author of the book into an event. I think Remender is a good choice for a writer of Punisher, with him showing in his first issue that he understands that the character is not only brute force and weaponry, but cunning and quick on his feet. After all, if he’s operating in the Marvel Universe, in order to survive against so many super-powered beings he’d have to be more than just a quick killer.

At the same time, though, it almost feels like Remender is trying to prove his character is tough in such a way that begins to defy logic. Years ago, new characters would almost immediately tangle with a high-powered character like Wolverine in an effort to show off that the new creation was tough, too. Even though the Punisher has been around for over 30 years (the cover to this new Punisher #1 is a nice homage to his first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #129), that feels like what Remender is aiming for by pitting him against the Sentry. The problem is, by making the Punisher’s opponent so tough it actually detracts from the story because there’s no logical way for the Punisher to have survived the event. Anyone who’s read a book with the Sentry as a character will probably end up being at least temporarily removed from the reading experience to scratch their head over the idea. Just like other characters somehow holding their own against Wolverine, it’s a little hard to believe—and that’s a shame, because Remender’s script and how the Punisher survives is otherwise very well written and actually pretty tense. With a different foe at the other end, I think it would have all fit together perfectly.

Jerome Opena’s art is a dark, gritty style—one that quite honestly I’d have expected on Garth Ennis’s run on the Punisher MAX series for mature readers, rather than a title set firmly in the Marvel Universe. I’m not complaining, though; this grimy, uncomfortable view of the world really fits the Punisher and it makes sense to not have a shiny and squeaky clean art style illustrating this script. I particularly like how Opena handles the action sequences in Punisher #1; the Punisher’s scramble to escape the Sentry actually feels fast, like you can almost see the Punisher sliding down the latter or crashing through a window. Even when he’s catching his breath, slumped up against a subway car door, you can’t help but feel like you’re in the chase with him, that everything is going to fall apart if you don’t move as fast as you possibly can. I know that Opena worked with Remender on Fear Agent, and it’s very clear to see why Remender and Opena were teamed up again to put Punisher together.

Did the market really need another Punisher #1? Probably not. But with the recent movie on the screens, plus this new creative team being in place, it is nice that they aren’t being lost in the shuffle. With Ennis’s departure from the Punisher MAX series causing that title to flounder, I can’t help but think that it’s nice that the non-mature-readers book is picking up the banner and giving readers a Punisher comic to look forward to. In the end, this is a good job from both Remender and Opena, and I’ll be back for more.

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