Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

27 June 2008

Essential Punisher, v. 2

Collects: Punisher (v. 2) #1-20, Punisher Annual #1, Daredevil #257 (1987-9)

Released: September 2007 (Marvel)

Format: 536 pages / black and white / $16.99 / ISBN: 9780785127345

When you buy a book with the title Essential Punisher, v. 2, you know what you’re going to get. Criminals stomped out like cockroaches. More guns than an NRA wet dream. Many non-lethal (for the Punisher) gunshot wounds, wearing out the old “creasing the skull” trick. And Frank Castle being a master of disguise, despite being a white guy built like a square-jawed tank.

Essential Punisher delivers on all that. V. 2 covers the first 20 issues of the first Punisher ongoing series, just before the glut of the early ‘90s gave the Punisher three ongoing titles. Writer Mike Baron deserves at least part of the credit for that, following the Punisher template of killing criminals and blowing stuff up. This may not sound like much, but given the attempted revival of the Punisher as an angel of vengeance about a decade ago, not derailing the essential appeal of the character has to count for something.

Essential Punisher, v. 2 coverBaron did more than that, though. The Punisher has always been short on recurring characters because the title has always been long on lethality. But Baron pulls together some loose ends and puts them into a four part story (#15-8) in which the Punisher goes of the Kingpin. It’s effective, it puts some emotional impact behind these characters’ fates, and it’s interesting to see those characters again.

That’s not to say everything Baron does works. The death of Microchip Jr. feels glossed over, barely referenced or affecting Microchip after it happens. The main story in the annual is part of the Evolutionary war crossover, which 1) is a horrible fit for the Punisher, and 2) feels like a missed opportunity. It would have been nice to see the Punisher use his military skills to use the drug king’s goons to mount an effective resistance to the armored Purifiers; instead, it was a less satisfying three-sided fight.

(There’s also Daredevil #257, which duplicates Punisher #10, except from Daredevil’s point of view, with the added advantage of a snippet from the Typhoid Mary storyline that is completely out of place in this book. That’s not Baron’s fault, of course.)

Art comes mostly from Klaus Janson (#1-5) and Whilce Portacio (#8-18). Their styles are completely different, although strangely, neither clashes with the other. Portacio’s style is the future (for the time, at least) — stylized, out-of-proportion figures (usually the Punisher, who looms over the common folk), with clean lines. Janson’s style recalls Frank Miller, whom he worked with for a while on Daredevil: thick lines, sparse details, lots of shading. Both appropriately use a lot of shadow, which doesn’t reproduce well in black and white. Janson’s art is especially victimized by this; his thick lines really need some form of color to provide some contrast.

Also: there are frequent pools of blood. They have no color in this book. That’s creepy after a while.

The enjoyment you get out of Essential Punisher, v. 2 will vary by your fondness for the Punisher. Keeping in mind that Baron is no Garth Ennis, Punisher fans should be happy — there are enough interesting plots and clever twists to keep you entertained. Those with less tolerance for the Punisher will be reminded there are only so many Punisher plots out there.

Oh, and a healthy nostalgia for comics’ last boom days won’t hurt your enjoyment.

Rating: Punisher symbol Punisher symbol Punisher symbol (3 of 5)

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