I have never been much for violence in my personal life. Like anyone else, I get angry. Sometimes, a little more angry on certain things. A few times, angrier than I ought to be. But — as they say — I am merely human. That said, I don’t know what the hell Frank Castle is. But I do know one thing: you do not want to make him angry. If there is one lesson to be learned from The Punisher #1, it is that.
That is, however, not all I am going to say on behalf of this book.
The Punisher has been missing from the Marvel Universe for a while now. After the long, joyous romp that was Franken-Castle, there was only a short mini-series with the newly resurrected Frank Castle. And the Punisher MAX series is essentially out-of-canon. But — comics be praised — Marvel has brought back everyone’s favorite vengeance killer, along with one top-tier team to boot.
The issue is split into two parts, the first being a detective story — where it is Frank Castle who delivers judgment on the guilty — and the second, an almost origin story of the young New York City detective who helps Frank Castle punish the wicked. The issue is even treated as a two-parter, with the credits appearing twice within the book.
The first story opens silently with a small wedding reception full of happy people, children and full-dress Marines. The party goes well until a gang walks in, touting SMGs and menacing grins. When one of the armed goons gets shot from behind by a rival gang, all hell breaks loose. The final shot fired was to the groom, from behind, in front of his bride. After that, the bride collapses on the floor of her dead and critically injured friends, crying as the goons go off in celebration. Thus begins The Punisher #1.
The rest of the story introduces us to the NYPD detectives that will be investigating the wedding day massacre: Brad Pitt and Morgan Freema — I mean, Detective Walter Bolt and Detective First Oscar Clemons. We even get some dialogue in these upcoming scenes! You can tell right off the bat that Detective Bolt is new to the beat. When he embarrassingly tells Clemons how honored he is to be partnered with him, one gets the sense that the world hasn’t yet taken his spirit away. Clemons, on the other hand, takes this bloodied mess of dead Marines and children in stride. Little does Clemons know who Bolt is working with. After getting a cryptic message with a demand to see the file on the wedding murders at a predesignated spot, Bolt leaves to a subway station to drop the file off. Then, for a nice one-page spread, we see The Punisher looking over the file in his hideout. While Bolt and Clemons are investigating the man who sold the guns to the gang, Frank Castle is already with the gang, delivering some good, old-fashioned justice.
Writer Greg Rucka is telling a different kind of story with this Punisher series. Strangely, The Punisher is not really the main character; the detectives are. We learn about them, we follow them, we hear them. In this comic, the Punisher speaks through his actions. He greets with a gun, responds with a smile, says farewell with a bullet. Rucka understands that Frank Castle does not need to use words. He’s not Spider-Man! And the way Rucka writes these scenes of inarticulation is pitch-perfect.
Rucka’s script works in harmony with the art of Marco Checchetto and Matt Hollingsworth, respectively on pencils and colors. This art team must have impressed the right people at Marvel after their run on Daredevil: The Man Without Fear and I could not be more excited to see what else they have in store for us in this ongoing. Checchetto’s pencils are reminiscent of the old covers of pulp novels from the ’20s and ’30s. Even in a relatively bright area, like the desk at the police station, the faces still loom in shadows. Honestly, such an ultraviolent and blood-spattered book has no business being so damned pretty. In the last scene, the Castle breaks up the celebration of the gang from the opening massacre by cutting the lights to their bar, picking a few of them off one-by-one. Then, when they all start firing, shooting them all except for the leader, leaving him alone in the dark. When the gang leader flips open his lighter, Frank is standing over him. And as the gang leader begs for his life as Castle presses the barrel to his chin, then uncocks the hammer and smiles, leaving him in the bar full of his dead comrades. A fine end to a damn fine comic.
But wait, there’s more!
The second story in this plus-sized issue tells us of how Detective Bolt began working with The Punisher, partially as a transcript of an interview conducted by an NYPD detective of then-Officer Walter Bolt. While Bolt hesitantly tells the tale of how he saved a public area of becoming a scene from The French Connection, the images unravel quite a different ball of yarn altogether. As Bolt is going on with his story, we see how Castle stops Bolt — before he gets himself riddled with holes — pulls a fire alarm to empty the area of innocent civilians and takes down all but one of the criminals with precision firing. The juxtaposition of the story Bolt tells and the images we see are timed so perfectly and leave us wanting to know how this is going to play out in the coming issues.
Rucka and team started this series off with one helluva bang! I want to know more about these characters that were introduced. I want to know if the Exchange — the criminal element that brought us this issue’s bloody massacre — will be out for blood. I want to know what Frank is going to do next. While I am certain that there will be some people who do not like this book, or dislike the works of Richard Stark or believe that the 1970s were a stain upon American cinema, I, for one, and happy that these people are not working for Marvel Comics.
Nick Boisson grew up on television, Woody Allen, video games, Hardy Boys mysteries and DC comic books, with the occasional Spider-Man issue thrown in for good measure. He currently roams the rainy streets of Miami, Florida, looking for a nice tie, a woman that gets him, and the windbreaker he lost when he was eight. He sometimes writes things down on Twitter as @nitroslick.