Is this the return of Frank Castle - or the start of something else? Frank Castle has disappeared, but evil will always need to be punished. With all-new threats rising to claim innocent victims, criminals will need to beware of a dangerous vigilante hunting them from the shadows. Who is the new Punisher? What put him on his path of vengeance? And when the smoke clears, will he even make it out alive? It's John Wick meets The Fugitive in this action-packed new saga from Ringo Award-winning writer David Pepose (SAVAGE AVENGERS, MOON KNIGHT: CITY OF THE DEAD) and Eisner and Harvey Award-nominated artist Dave Wachter (PLANET OF THE APES, X-MEN LEGENDS), as the Marvel Universe meets the next generation of punishment!
The most compelling element of a character like the Punisher is the timeliness of the vigilante, who was born of a specific era and styling of anti-hero protagonist. Starting off as, and often appearing as an antagonist, Frank Castle has always held a complicated role in the Marvel Universe. Whether it be mercenary hunting Spider-Man, to voice of murderous intent whispering into Daredevil’s ear, Frank Castle has filled a darker role in the wider Marvel Universe to much (and often misplaced) adoration. In 2023, as action movie tropes and expectations have shifted, one must wondering if the viewing of Frank Castle has also changed, and if so, what arises to take his place.
Punisher #1 – written by David Pepose with art by Dave Wachter, colors by Dan Brown, and letters by VC’s Cory Petit – is a lean, mean revitalizing machine in its establishment of the new Punisher, taking the core concept of the character and adding a new layer to the character. If the original Punisher concept was built around the popular action tropes of the time (inspired by the revenge flicks in a vein of Death Wish), then this new version of the character exists in a post-John Wick world. This interpretation of the vigilante stems from the dissolved world of S.H.I.E.L.D. rather than a hidden organization of assassins like in the John Wick world, intrinsically tying it into the recent continuity of Marvel.
This new version of the Punisher is embodied by Joe Garrison, an ex-agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. who was content to live a quiet life with his family. After the murder of his loved one, the man is on a mission to find their killer and enact his own form of justice on those who took his family away from him. Garrison had no intent to take on the vigilante’s mantle, earning the moniker due to the shape of the spy agency’s ballistic armor mirroring the infamous skull emblem. The first issue sees Garrison tracking down a criminal from Sokovia and his Inner Demons entourage, resulting in a fight with a new Hyde and then a tense train showdown.
Pepose delivers a tight, brisk first issue that wastes no time setting up the tragic fate of Garrison’s family, his previous role in service to S.H.I.E.L.D., and the backburner plot of being investigated for murder. The book moves at a speedy pace that feels like the type of action movie that is so confident in its storytelling that it never feels the need to get bogged down in exposition. It trusts the audience to find a groove in the familiar tropes and just experience the rich sense of conflict and character work. Pepose knows there’s no need to reinvent the wheel thanks to this, blending the push of John Wick and the pull of The Fugitive for a compelling story of innocence and revenge.
From page one, Garrison, Triple-A, and the Sokovian are all rich, developed characters that engage the reader while still containing plenty of unseen traits. Much of that development is thanks to Watcher’s art, which brings a lived-in, haunted quality to the book. These characters feel long-established as they carry a weight in their designs, with a heavy emphasis on pained expressions and cool stoicism. Even as Garrison is painted as a psychotic vigilante and murderer of his family, there’s never a kick in the bucket of expression, showcasing man’s dedication to his mission.
Wachter’s art also maintains a gritty, down-and-dirty aesthetic that artfully avoids being undercut by the more sci-fi elements of the script. The futuristic S.H.I.E.L.D tech could be a massive betrayal of the Punisher ethos, but instead helps to delineate this version of the character from Frank Castle, while still showing his skill in twisting any weapon to be part of his arsenal. Instead of undercutting, those technical elements give the book its own aesthetic core that Watcher blends, using sci-fi to score the resourcefulness of Garrison.
Much of that blending between the fantastical and street level comes in the form of Brown’s coloring, which gives this book a grimy palette shined up by the cool blues of the futuristic tech. Garrison’s design is a case and point, blending the harsh dark colors of the Punisher silhouette with the pulsing energy of his ballistic armor, making for a showcase of the stylistic flourishes. The book never lingers for too long in any one specific tone, jumping from the warming lights of the burnt home to the cool coloring of the subway tunnels, to the sickly lights of New York at night.
The light sources in this issue work with those specific color tones to separate this story from previous Punisher books, allowing a bit more color and warmth to pop in. Not everything is an endless sense drab, and that coloring choice gives a unique tone and identity to this specific version of the Punisher, one that is influenced by the look of the first two John Wick films. It’s a great decision that plays off on the page and makes for a compelling visual language that feels distinct for this version of the character. Just like Frank Castle’s approach and tone would not match this book, Garrison’s styling would not work for the original version of the character.
Punisher #1 is an excellent reinvention of the character, modernizing a key Marvel figure by altering the source DNA that influences the vigilante. Pepose channels the spirit of action films like John Wick and The Fugitive to develop a twisted, compelling lead that soaks in the harsher elements of the mantle and thrives in the non-stop execution of these changes. Working in tandem with Watcher’s art and Brown’s coloring, which bolsters itself on the blending of sci-fi and gritty revenge, the book creates a rich tone and aesthetic that stands apart from the typical Punisher story.
This is an excellent jumping-on point for anyone interested in the espionage/street-level vein of Marvel but had issues with the Frank Castle element of the Punisher mythology. It also scratches the itch of classic Punisher stories, delivering a twisted sense of justice on the remorseless criminals and supervillains of a world filled to the brim with ineffectual heroes and cycles of crime and non-punishment.
Punisher #1: New Man, Same Mission
- Writing - 10/1010/10
- Storyline - 10/1010/10
- Art - 10/1010/10
- Color - 10/1010/10
- Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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