Twice in the month of November, Marvel revamped the Punisher. Twice.

Now, that sounds absurd- and it is (although, you could see it happening, the way things turn around at the Big Two), but when you realize that it was in two totally different books with two totally different continuities, well, then I suppose it makes a little more sense.

What's so interesting about these books (Punishermax #1 and Punisher #11) is that they take the character in such totally different directions- stylistically, thematically, artistically, etc. The first is a revamp of Marvel's long-running Punisher ongoing published through their adult MAX imprint, starting with a new number one. Having never followed the book before, I can't tell you what has changed besides the title, but I can tell you there's a damn good reason its published under the MAX banner. This book is violent as all hell, which I suppose plays to Steve Dillon's strengths, but there you go.

Dillon's art is, I think, a good place to start: has there ever been a more perfect artist to draw the Punisher? It's been said that his art is a little too goofy for this incredibly serious sort of book, but I wonder if that may be the point- you take this absurd level of violence (and, just think about this for a second, at one point in this issue Wilson Fisk pops a guys eyeballs out by squeezing the dude's head) and you combine with this grim n' gritty anti-hero and you can either take yourself too seriously and end up doing a bad Garth Ennis impersonation (which, I imagine, is why no one has done particularly well with the character in the last few years) or you can make it seem just as ridiculous as it is- not playfully ridiculous, mind you, just flat out ridiculous. Dillon's art walks this line perfectly, I think- it's just absurd enough to make the reader knows that it's absurd, but realistic enough that I actually cringed about a dozen times throughout the course of the issue. This makes sense, since the only other book that did that to me on a regular basis was, well, Preacher.

Jason Aaron, too, seems to be just the right guy for this character. He seems to get what makes him compelling and what makes him dangerous, and he gets the moral ambiguity that this book should have just right- the Punisher, ostensibly the good guy, is out for revenge- killing, murdering, torturing, doing not good things to not good people. Wilson Fisk, soon to be a paper Kingpin and nominally a bad guy, doing what he does so that he can make a life for his wife and son. Aaron's a smart guy, and he's writing a smart book- again, which is just what this book needs to be. Otherwise, the violence would go from senseless to gratutiously so, and what is a fantastic book would cease to hold any interest for me.

Rick Remender's revamp, on the other hand, is pretty much just silly (something that Jon predicated way back when). The plot goes something like this- bug eyed yellow guys save the remnants of Frank Castle from H.A.M.M.E.R, Man-Thing beats up on some Osborn cronies, Morbius puts the Punisher back together, Punisher throws a series of tantrums.

OK, it's more complicated than that, but where Jason Aaron impressed me with nuance and grace, Remender reveals that he has no concepts of the terms.

Which isn't to say that the book is bad- it's not. In fact, it's actually a lot of fun. It's not a high-concept story, and it knows it's not high-concept. I get the distinct feeling that someone said to someone else, "wouldn't it be cool if we took the Punisher and turned him into Frankenstein?" and that the idea just snowballed from there. It also happens that it's kind of like candy- nice, but sugary sweet and when it's gone, it's gone.

That the art is so unabashadly goofy doesn't help either. I think Marvel may have overcompensated here a little bit- I mean, really this art is often just silly. Frank Castle's Frankenexpressions are good for a laugh, but even those just help enforce the seemingly throw away nature of the story. Clearly, there's something at stake for the monsters who bring Castle back to life, but there's not really anything at stake for me.

Still, if you're looking for some fun with a bizarre idea, Punisher #11 should be right up your alley. If you're looking for really good comics, though? Check out Punishermax #1- you can't go wrong.

1 comment:

  1. I think that it must be noted and celebrated that this is our 100th post! Damn you Josh for beating me to it!

    And I say congratulations to all three of us, for making it this far! Let's get on the next one hundred!