In the early 2000’s, writer Garth Ennis took over a floundering Punisher property from Marvel and completely revived the character with a back to basics approach that blended the writers own singular sensibilities. Ennis is a creator with a gift for finding satire, humanism and horror within stories of ultra-violence in equal measure and he had some classic arcs on the title like Born, Slavers, Barracuda or Welcome Back Frank. Since he left the title in 2008, Marvel has used different comics writers to reconfigure the character to varying degrees of success. Rick Remender made Frank Castle a Frankenstein monster, Jason Aaron did a cover of Frank Miller’s Daredevil on the Max imprint, Greg Rucka had him join up with a female version of the character and then fight the Avengers, Daniel Way & Charles Soule teamed him with the Thunderbolts while Nathan Edmondson relocated him to Los Angles. That’s to say nothing for some of the miniseries featuring the character like Space Punisher or his turn with the Howling Commandos during Secret Wars. Most of these Punisher series were well liked among readers with critical acclaim but none had the staying power of Ennis whose shadow’s loomed large over the title since his departure. Coming back again after a scene stealing turn in the second season of Netflix’s Daredevil, writer Becky Cloonan teams with frequent Ennis collaborator Steve Dillon and colorist Frank Martin for a streamlined back to basics approach to The Punisher that stands out for it’s graphic violence but has little else to distinguish it from it’s predecessors.
In The Punisher #1, the DEA is staking out a gang about to offload a large shipment of narcotics that give the users super strength. The Punisher kills the gang save for two surviving members, one is a former marine that’s worked with Castle and the other like’s to cut peoples faces off. Cloonan has shown over the last few years that she is more qualified as a comics writer in addition to being an illustrator and for her part, the debut of her Punisher does have some stylistic flourishes unique to her own sensibilities while introducing a premise that is intriguing on a visceral level. Artist Steve Dillon has the same dynamic and raw visual narrative here that he brought to his past time on The Punisher while colorist Frank Martin continues to be the industry standard with a muted brightness to his colors that’s reminiscent of his East of West work. There’s nothing wrong with the issue per say and it’s creative talent has earned the benefit of the doubt for future installments. At the same time, there is very little here that hasn’t been done before with the character in the series debut.
When Ennis took over the title in April of 2000, The Punisher was in need of a back to basics approach. I suppose that’s debatable if that’s the case now and while the way Cloonan, Dillon & Martin approach that concept in their debut on the book mostly works; it does little to transcend it’s premise. Punisher fans should love this while readers interested in the creative teams take on the book will be left waiting for future installments of the series to distinguish itself.