Punisher stories aren’t the easiest in the world to ground in the hyper-reality of Marvel U. Unlike the Batman, Castle doesn’t have bottomless wealth nor an entire youth becoming a ninja-detective with a utility belt that Domino and Longshot would find convenient. He’s merely got his training and a whole lotta guns. Nathan Edmonson has crafted a Punisher tale that takes Frank out of his comfort-zone of New York and transplants him to the favorite superhero secondary city of LA, but at this point I’ll take it. Edmonson, in this issue, has a much more focused lens on Punisher himself and his motivation. It’s actually an incredibly tense scene when Electro is shock-torturing him and off-handedly mentions that his memories will begin to fade if he keeps up much more of this. Castle’s memories define so much of him that that is a definite and real threat. We also get glimpses at the supporting cast that’s been established, and while they’re not always the most compelling characters, it’s neat to see them nevertheless.
Mitch Gerads art is everything we need for a great Punisher series: it’s jagged, it’s intentional, there’s no wasted imagery. It’s utilitarian, but neither boring nor lazy and the color scheme he chooses is both beautiful in its mundanity and striking when players like Electro are front-and-center. The illusion of motion is definitely here and it’s absolutely necessary with a procedural book like this.
The newly introduced Howling Commandos are STILL essentially window-dressing and have very little, if any, backstory to fall back on for their motivation. I can’t yet tell if they’re mercenaries or S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, as would befit their name, but at this point they’ve managed to mug an innocent bystander and his dog. Truly a force to be reckoned with. I know they’ll likely come into their own before the arc ends, but at this point they just seem to be borderline sociopathic bullies. The art generally holds up its end of the bargain amazingly well, but there are some panels where either a face or a pose looks awkward or incorrectly staged. It’s never TOO severe, but it’s enough to break the illusion once or twice.
The Punisher, as with Edmonson’s other book Black Widow, is a great book for anyone looking to branch out from superheroes or break INTO them. If it helps your palette at all, think of it as an action/crime series with a supernatural bend because that’s essentially what it is and I love it for it. Castle’s always struggled to find his place in the Marvel U, and that place often gets relegated to parody or self-aware references. This is a book that posits his place is right alongside the other hitters in the Marvel U, even if it isn’t among the A-listers.