Punisher #1-6

Written by Greg Rucka
Penciled by Marco Checchetto (#1-5) and Matthew Southworth (#6)
Inked by Marco Checchetto (#1-5) and Matthew Clark (#6)
32 pages each, color
Published by Marvel

When it comes to characters who have had an extremely varied range of depictions at Marvel, the Punisher is probably somewhere near (if not at) the top of the list. Some takes have had him fighting cheesy super-villains like Stilt-Man, punching a polar bear, or getting turned into a Frankenstein’s monster. Others were grim and serious, going up against human-trafficking and a distinct absence of super-heroes in a "for mature readers" title. Greg Rucka’s new take on the character is on the more serious side of things (having replaced the admittedly-fun monsters of Marvel title), and in many ways it distills a lot of the different takes into a unified front.

Under Rucka’s pen, The Punisher is a book where the titular character is more often than not a silent force of nature; he doesn’t have a single word of dialogue in the first issue, sweeping in during the second half as a mute angel of death. As the book has progressed we’ve gotten some narration and dialogue from him, but he’s still by no means a chatterbox. Rucka writes him as a serious, driven man haunted by his demons even as he continues to push forward with a relentless focus. In many ways it reminds me of Garth Ennis’s long run on the character; he’s not joking or silly like some renditions, instead a fairly accurate take on what a person in real life would be like if they went down this path.

Unlike Ennis’s Punisher MAX series, though, this version is set within the Marvel Universe, and so we’ve gotten at least one glimpse of a super-powered being in the form of the Vulture. At first the idea seems a little jarring—this is a comic that up until now had been focusing on a massacre at a wedding, and a police detective being coerced into giving information to the Punisher—but Rucka takes the idea of a character whose big power is to fly and handles it with a dangerous, grim mood. The Vulture isn’t a joke or a throwaway here; he’s a nasty creature who gets sicced on our protagonist and does some serious damage. If anything, it ends up providing one of the things I found myself liking the most about this new The Punisher series; the idea that injuries will take time to heal. We get this at first with Rachel, the bride who survived the shoot-out at her wedding, as we see her slowly move from hospital to physical therapy. But we even get that with the Punisher himself, forced to lie low for several months after his encounter with the Vulture and slowly get back up to full strength. It’s a tactic that we so rarely see in superhero universe books, and it helps further root The Punisher in a slightly more serious take on the character.

I wasn’t familiar with Marco Checchetto’s art before this title, but I’m a convert now. He draws the characters in a realistic, rough-hewn style. The way he draws the Punisher in the first issue alone made me a fan; the shadows around his eyes so that you can’t see then, that evil little smile right before he pulls the gun away. He’s dangerous and it lets us see him from the villains’ perspective, that unstoppable force. It’s a great contrast to later on when he draws a bedraggled, healing Punisher; his hair is stringy and longer, facial hair has come in, and at a glance he doesn’t look that dangerous… until you see his eye glinting in anger and you realize that even a beaten down Punisher is still deadly. Matthew Southworth and Matthew Clark step in for art on The Punisher #6, and it looks well in line with what Checchetto produced for the first five chapters; it’s also nice to see the pair still bring their own little flair to the comic.

The first six issues of The Punisher are set to be collected in March 2012, and it’s a satisfying chunk of story. While Rucka’s telling a bigger story that will continue beyond this point, it’s a good first taste as anything. The Punisher has always been a slightly odd and varied title, but I feel like Rucka’s found a way to bring a little something for everyone into the title. (Well, maybe not the really strange stuff.) This is definitely a title worth checking out.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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