Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Artist: Guiu Vilanova
With the launch of Marvel Legacy and his upcoming Netflix series, this is the perfect time for The Punisher to become a big deal again in the world of comics. Not since Garth Enis penned the title was Punisher a major comic that required you to take notice. Enter Matthew Rosenberg who has made a name for himself with some of his indie titles like 4 Kids Walk Into the Bank, and also made this year’s Kingpin series better than it had any business being. Marvel has taken note of that success and given him some major books to make his own. The question being, of course, can he live up to the potential everyone thinks he has.
So far there is a lot to be excited about. The book begins as many Punisher books do as Frank Castle viciously takes out a number of low-level criminals attempting to sell some illegal goods. Similar to a cold open to a James Bond film it works as an avenue to bring you into the mood of the book in an exciting way. Castle’s unrelenting drive and strategic planning are put on full display as he works through goon after goon with relative ease until he stumbles upon an unwanted surprise in his trusty van. Awaiting his presence is an unlikely ally in the form of Nick Fury who comes barring a proposition he feels the Punisher would be interested in taking.
The interplay between Fury and Castle is where Rosenberg’s script shines brightest. For one they are an intriguing combination of characters. Unlike most superheroes, Fury is not as morally against the actions of The Punisher as others. He too will bend and break the rules if he feels it is necessary to keep the world safe. So instead of getting the typical “Killing is Wrong!” argument you see with other Punisher team-ups you have a much more dynamic discussion between two men trying to find a common place while never fully revealing where they stand. Castle knows Fury cannot be trusted, and Fury knows Castle cannot be controlled. Although they can find some sort of a middle ground it is clear this will not end nearly as well as it started, yet they will go through with it anyway knowing some good will come of it despite the interference of the other man.
Fury’s hope is to use Castle to take out a brutal dictator and his evil forces before they can cause more destruction and reveal to the world how the failure of S.H.I.E.L.D. forces led to the rise of their power. With legal bindings and S.H.I.E.L.D. out of commission Fury’s limited options led him to recruit Castle knowing he has the skills did get it done and anonymity so it would not tie back to him. Considering he will be taking on an entire army Fury provides a fully loaded cherry to top this sundae of violent vengeance—a piece of technology that will give him more firepower than ever before.
Putting the Punisher in the War Machine armor does come off as a gimmick that could be fun or could be a story that gets away from the street level storytelling that has made the character who he is up to this point. Obviously, it is way too early to tell but based on Rosenberg’s take on the character that he gets into in his personal essay in the back matter there is a reason to have faith. As he describes the Punisher is a simple answer to a complex problem, and where the drama resides is in the fallout that occurs due to that blunt response. More importantly, it shows Rosenberg may not fall into the same trap as other writers that try to recreate what Garth Enis has already done in the past. He is putting his own unique stamp on the legacy of the character and it something that is honestly needed. One that is not as off the wall as Frankencastle but also not just more of the same.
Guiu Vilanova also does not fall into the trap many artists do when drawing Punisher by attempting to evoke Steve Dillion’s infamous style. He does draw Castle in a way that certain resembles Jay Bernthal. Thankfully it is in no way to the level of photo referencing that occurs in some of the Star Wars books. Vilanova is not an artist that I had great familiarity with, but could not help but think of someone like Sean Phillips when looking at his art. There is a realistic tone with strong facial acting and tightly designed panels that keep the pace flowing. The first appearance of the War Machine armor did appear off at first and perhaps did not have the impact it would have otherwise. Still intrigued by what this team can produce in the future.