Well folks, it’s a new year, and that means some new changes are coming to the site. One is that each month I plan to use Silverwolf’s Den to look at an entire run of a comic series, from the first issue to the last. Today, I’m discussing Punisher by Greg Rucka and Marco Chechetto, a series that ran for 23 issues from 2011 to 2013 (16 issues of the main title, one issue each of The Amazing Spider-Man and Draedevil as part of a crossover, and then 5 of the follow-up mini-series Punisher: War Zone).
The Punisher never interested me. Sure, he’s got a cool backstory and has his share of kick ass moments in comics, but I always felt he was one-dimensional and thus didn’t appeal to me. However, after reading a crossover of Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Punisher from a few years ago, I got interested in Frank Castle and his world. Given that Rucka, a massively talented writer, tackled the character, I figured I’d give the series a shot and read it from the beginning.
And boy, does this run on Punisher prove that a good writer can make any character interesting!
Marine Sergeant Rachel Cole’s wedding day transforms into a hideous massacre when members of The Exchange arrive and gun down twenty-nine people, including her husband. Infuriated by this event that mirrors his own origin, Frank Castle suits up and hunts down members of The Exchange, wreaking a violent vengeance upon them.
Despite Cole’s wounds, both mental and physical, the marine perseveres and starts her own war against The Exchange. Though her military training and combat experience is substantial, she is unprepared for a battle of revenge. Ultimately, Frank Castle takes her under his wing, and the two team up to assault The Exchange. The NYPD, however, isn’t fond of one Punisher, let alone two running rampant on the streets, leading to an inevitable showdown between the two sides.
One of Rucka’s greatest narrative choices involves Frank Castle’s inner monologue: there is none. Everything readers need to understand about The Punisher’s motivation they learn simply through his actions and the (very few) words he speaks. In fact, Castle himself doesn’t speak during the entire first two issues, and only speaks in sentence fragments in the following few.
Another interesting aspect of this series is the focus on characters other than Castle. The aforementioned Sergeant Cole-Alves (as she insists on noting she took her husband’s name) becomes a new Punisher. Their team up is interesting, as Rachel respects Frank’s methods and military superiority. However, their interaction goes deeper, as Frank tries to prevent her from becoming too entangled in the cycle of violence. It is Cole-Alves, ultimately, who receives the strongest character arc and the most development during this run.
We also have Detective Walter Bolt, a man who became an overnight hero for appearing at a scene where the Punisher took out a crime boss and his lackeys. Bolt’s story is mired with realism, and he acts as an audience surrogate. Bolt feels like a real person, in that he falls into a gray area: he works to protect the people of New York, but cheats on his wife and takes credit he doesn’t deserve. Like Cole-Alves, Bolt receives a great deal of development, and acts as another series protagonist.
Detective Ozzy Clemens is Bolt’s partner and the senior officer in their duo. Clemens holds the role of mentor figure, and as a man who’s seen his fair share of difficult cases, especially some involving the Punisher, he offers a unique perspective when working with Bolt. The interactions between these two officers is organic, and their are a few issues devoted mostly to their investigation, which are thoroughly enjoyable despite not including much of the Punisher himself. One of my regrets is that Clemens does not appear in War Zone, but it doubtless would’ve been hard to find sufficient space for him.
Lastly, we have Norah Winters, a reporter with an extreme interest in the case. Winters forms a friendship with Cole-Alves, and has a mutual understanding with Clemens. She receives a decent amount of development, but I really wish we could have seen a little more of her life, since the tidbits Rucka reveals are rather intriguing. Still, Winters fills a role of a character caught between motivations: she wants to report the best news story, while also helping Cole-Alves. Yet, she feels some confusion when it comes to hiding the activities of the new Punisher from the authorities.
Despite strong character development and exploration of complex themes, Rucka’s writing falters slightly in some of the earlier issues. Two problems that arise come from both pacing and use of flashbacks. In the first case, multiple issues read very quickly, simply because of a lack of dialogue. In the second, extensive flashbacks in the early issues may confuse the reader, as they are not elaborated upon on explained until midway through the series. Nevertheless, for those that stick it out and keep reading this run, these problems melt away.
Checchetto’s art fits Rucka’s scripting flawlessly. His characters, locations, and weaponry are highly realistic which is ideal for a street-level Marvel book. The battle scenes are high energy, while still maintaining that aforementioned sense of realism. Characters’ facial expressions and body language form a necessary piece of the narrative, as many of the scenes are told without dialogue, or even sound effects. The cover artwork for the series is also amazing, notably on issues #13 and #16.
Checchetto’s greatest accomplishment is his visual story-telling, particularly in issue #12, in which he depicts a brutal yet beautiful fist fight in the rain. The scene resonated with me, and is probably my favorite moment from the entire run. There are a number of other notable moments too, especially the final scene of issue #16, which also occurs in the rain. If there was a man born to draw exciting moments as precipitation falls, it’s Checchetto.
A few other artists entered the series for an issue or two, including Mico Suayan, one of my personal favorites for his work on Valiant’s Harbinger. The other artists selected all work well to fill Checchetto’s shoes, adding their own visual stamp to the world of the Punisher.
Colorist Matt Hollingsworth, an industry favorite from his work on Hawkeye, stayed as colorist throughout the run as well. Hollingsworth’s use of contrast makes the scenes pop, especially as he limits his palette to key earth tones, white, and black in most this. And of course, red appears when the blood flows, the splatters filling most scenes with a certain horrid beauty.
Like Hollingsworth, letterer Joe Caramagna was also a fixture of Punisher throughout its run. Caramagna does excellent work with balloon placing, and has a few cool sound effect tricks throughout the comic as well.
Rucka and Checchetto’s Punisher is a powerful series that questions the motivations of those with nothing to lose, while taking a hard look at concepts like revenge, duty, and loyalty. It’s a run that has brought me new respect for and interest in the Punisher. Even if you don’t think Frank Castle is a great character, this run will change your mind with its amazing character work and visuals.
-exceptional character work, especially with Cole-Alves, Bolt, and Castle himself
-story rich in complicated themes and emotions
-a few issues feel too short
-extensive use of flashbacks makes some of the early issues confusing until you read further into the series
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