Updated: Mar 24, 2022
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artists: Jesús Saiz & Paul Azaceta
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
I’ve been reading Punisher comics from an age where I was probably too young to even look at the covers. I’ve seen the films, I’ve played the game multiple times, hell, I even owned a shirt where it looked like I was The Punisher. But I’ve grown up in a world where that skull no longer equates to a comic book character and has instead been co-opted by aggressive military figures and police. As I matured, I saw this violent, broken character do horrific things; instead of seeing them as cool badass moments, I started to see that it’s a cautionary tale. It’s a horrible man doing horrible things that feed a cycle of violence that catches everyone in its wake. Those who wear the Punisher skull symbol now are often those who see his acts as true justice, brutality to get closer to their ideal. They want to emulate Frank Castle, not see the character as someone who is everything you should not want to be.
The Punisher #1 is the first Punisher solo book since the very public examination for police brutality and violence in 2020. It would be the perfect time to explore what the character and his ideology have become to people like the police. The creative team does none of that. The debut issue of the new series has nothing to say at all. It’s an empty, toothless comic with beautiful visuals but no voice to prop up the art.
The Punisher #1 opens with the true start to Frank Castle’s origins as the Punisher, the slaughtering of his family. Frank reaches for his wife as his entire reason for life is taken from him, which is quickly replaced with a blood-soaked quest for vengeance. After years of mass murder, Frank Castle has joined the Hand, which is a group of ninjas. He’s traded in his skull logo for a Hand-inspired skull logo. Zero acknowledgment of why, other than a major return in his life.
This comic is devoid of any themes or examinations of violence. It actually has Frank as an executioner of criminals by sword, beheading them on the page. There is never a moment where the creative team slows down the typical blood bath to ever explore what the implications of violence can be. There are groups that almost worship violence and weapons but it’s never something that is further expanded upon.
There is a chance that themes may become more clear throughout the series, but the first issue is where you should at least lay down your thesis of the series. This does nothing. There is no meat on the bone nor any food on the table. It’s a basic Punisher story that feels like treading water. This new #1 was a chance to say something with the Punisher and it says nothing. It says that violence is the path and doesn’t do any work to show the Punisher is anything but the character the people who have adopted his skull believe he is.
I do not want to see the character of The Punisher retire. I was telling you the truth that I love this character. But as I have, the character must also mature and change to become better. I want creators and Marvel to take back the symbol by evolving the character into something else. Characters should be allowed to grow and mature as the readers do. We can see what this skull logo has become in our world: a symbol worn by those who encourage or wish they could do more harm upon others rather than confront issues in a way that can cause long-term positive change. I want this comic to be that. I had the hope that it would face all of this head-on as art has the power to do. Art is its own weapon to fight against the horrors of the world. Instead of facing that though, this story has side-stepped it entirely in its debut to do nothing but tread water.