Punisher #1 Review The Nerdy Basement

Punisher #1 (Marvel Comics Review)


*** WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD FOR PUNISHER #1***

Frank Castle, The Punisher, has now cemented himself as one of the greatest killers within the Marvel Universe, and it seems that this status has not gone unnoticed. The Punisher has been unwillingly sworn in as the warlord of the notorious league of assassins, The Hand. A shocking secret from Castle’s past has convinced him to take the reins of this clan of ninjas. Writer Jason Aaron, pencilers Paul Azaceta & Jesús Saiz, colorist Dave Stewart and letterer VC’s Cory Petit explore this new beginning for Frank Castle’s brutal alter ego.

The Punisher has always been a point of contention with the comic book space. The bloodshed and gore presented throughout his stories have always brought along some capacity of controversy along with them, due to the fact that comics are mainly for children. Over time Marvel Comics has shifted the way they have published characters such as The Punisher to be more adult-driven stories, with the advent of Marvel Knights and the Marvel Max line. 

However, The Punisher has not been able to escape his negative press. Due to his past as a police officer and crusade to enact justice, The Punisher’s symbol has been adopted by many pro-military and pro-police groups in recent years. The issue of these groups was raised a significant amount during the Black Lives Matter protests throughout 2020 when the Blue Lives Matter groups adopted The Punisher skull as one of their symbols. 

Although not as prevalent an issue as back in 2020, Marvel used this storyline to change the Punisher’s symbol to mimic more of The Hand’s symbol and embody the visage of The Beast demon which the group worships. The change to his logo both works from a business standpoint and in-universe due to his new association with The Hand. As the skull marks the troubles with the United States Police and Military systems and the dangers of corruption, it is ultimately the right of Frank to use and change it.

Moving on from issues of the current day. Whilst the overall story is a rather simple explanation of how Frank Castle was made The Hand’s new warlord, the high point of this issue’s writing is Jason Aaron’s choice to explore how Frank’s morality influences the operations of The Hand. Within this issue, it is shown that as the leader of The Hand, Punisher sends out a group of ninjas to hunt down and bring him a large collection of abusers and murderers which he then executes. These instances within the story allow Frank’s characterization within his new position to shine through.

An interesting choice for the issue made by Aaron is to have the narration be done by another character, an elder member of The Hand. Whilst it doesn’t allow insight into how Frank Castle is dealing with everything happening around him, it allows the reader to recognize how The Punisher is revered by The Hand, having him appear as a force of nature rather than a man.

Aaron ends the issue on a cliffhanger which is likely to shake the Punisher’s character and Punisher readers to the core. Through ‘the power of the beast’, The Hand has been able to revive Frank Castle’s wife, Maria Castle. In an unforeseen turn of events, the Punisher now has his family back and will for the first time begin to know some semblance of peace. While some readers will assume this is some sort of trick from The Hand, Jesús Saiz makes a point of detailing various bullet wounds from where she had been shot on that fateful day, bringing into question whether or not The Hand is actually tricking Frank.

As previously noted this issue has two pencilers working on it. For the opening three pages, Paul Azaceta depicts the death of Frank Castle’s family through a first-person perspective. Azaceta’s art presents the scene of the massacre with harsh line work and harsh inking, making it appear visceral and harsh on the eyes. The colors of these three pages are similarly harsh, lacking any major gradients or shading beyond the necessary points. 

Taking a much more harsh approach to drawing and coloring this moment, coupled with the depiction of it being from Frank’s point of view, allows the reader to easily recognize the emotions he was feeling in the moment and how they resurface when he reflects upon it. The linework is constantly morphing and changing in thickness and depth, showcasing Frank’s feeling of grief growing into anger.

The splashes of blood throughout the scene continue to spread and cover the objects around them. The last thing he sees is his wife Maria as the paramedics lose her pulse before he loses consciousness and the only thing he sees is red; rage consuming him. The depiction of Frank’s perspective of his violent origins allows the reader in on his emotions. However, it also works thematically within the story of this new series, with the original origin story being contrasted with his new one; creating a trend of how the past and present shall be presented throughout this series.

Contrasting the artwork of Azaceta pencils is Saiz’s art. Saiz pencils present much more detail to the characters and their environment, allowing all the juicy details of the guts and gore to be as clear as possible. Moreover, the use of a more detailed style of pencils and coloring communicates to the reader that the main story is separate from the events of the opening pages.

Saiz’s art offers a gritty realism to the issue, with a mixed-use of wide-angle shots and closeups portraying the extent of the violence surrounding The Punisher. This sense of realism is truly embodied by the character designs, namely Saiz’s drawings of faces. Saiz implements soft instances of musculature that accentuate the character’s features without being obvious, allowing emotions to be read easily without the need for emphasis on them. 

The realistic style seen throughout this book is furthered by Stewarts’ colors. Throughout the issue Stewart uses the lighting of different environments to color the various characters with a myriad of gradients and shades, allowing the detail within Saiz’s anatomy to be exemplified by how the light curves and bounces off them. The focus on presenting this story through a realistic tone assists in showcasing the violence of the story in a matter-of-fact light and continues this trend from previous Punisher comics. 

A strange artistic choice within the issue is the use of the opening splash page to display a montage of Punisher comic panels and covers. Whilst the panels are from some of the most popular and well-drawn Punisher panels out there, it feels out of place and breaks up the issue before it has time to even get going really. Ultimately the use of this collage feels like a missed opportunity to have Saiz and Azaceta collaborate and draw the progression of the Punisher throughout the years, however, this decision was likely more fueled by time constraints than anything else.

A standout art piece is from the issue’s opening scene. The Punisher and The Hand take out a group called the Apostles of War, a gang of mercenaries who worship Ares, in the midst of stealing gamma-powered miniguns. Punisher leaves the leader til last to interrogate him yet the leader of the Apostles is unwilling to cooperate. In one swift motion, Punisher uses a katana to slit the man’s throat. A splash page depicts the Punisher at the end of that swift motion, katana in hand as blood spurts from the man’s neck in the background. 

This splash page stands out the most within this issue due to what it offers in a narrative sense. The splash page visually showcases this new version of the Punisher on full display in his new armored fatigues. Allowing the symbol of the beast on his chest to be emphasized. Alongside that it shows how Punisher has adapted to life as a member of The Hand, now incorporating martial arts and traditional Japanese weaponry into his arsenal and seemingly prioritizing the use of them over firearms.

Jason Aaron reignites the Punisher’s character with a brilliant new premise. Regardless of the controversy surrounding his new symbol, a change to the status quo of Frank Castle has been long overdue, and his introduction to The Hand offers an exciting new environment for the character to interact with.

Through the mysterious reintroduction of his wife Maria, Frank Castle seems like he’s in for a challenge the likes of which he’s never known. With two stunning pencilers at the reins, Paul Azaceta & Jesús Saiz, it seems Frank will be accompanied on his new journey by all the guts and gore fans have come to expect from the character. The Punisher issue one sets the stage for the character to experience a breath of fresh air and excite fans new and old. 

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Australia-based comic book fan. Here for a good time, not for a long time.

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