Frank Castle switches coasts and becomes a little more sociable in Nathan Edmondson and Mitch Gerads’ “The Punisher” #1, as he takes on a local drug cartel and leaves the usual body count in his wake, on both sides of the border. There’s plenty of violence; that’s almost a precursor to any Punisher comic; but it’s far from senseless, as Edmondson gives Castle a simple but singular mission in this issue, one that may or may not be accomplished come issue’s end but is most definitely a catalyst for the next group that’s put Castle in their sights.
The issue actually starts off with this aforementioned group, whose identity comes as a surprise when it’s revealed at the end. In fact, this reveal sets up a possible subplot that would be worth exploring in future issues, if for no other reason than to discover if they’re really who they claim to be. This development is welcomed after the comic’s decent but rather routine two-page opening sequence, which features a comparatively typical military extraction of a prisoner in a hostile country, complete with some uninspired banter afterwards.
This sequence is brief, though, and the issue only gets better from that point on, as it switches to Castle in the midst of a confrontation with some bad guys that have him literally in over his head. Gerads cleverly lays out the start of this scene, which gives way to The Punisher doing his usual thing in his usual way, and it’s good to see Frank fully recovered and back in the game after Greg Rucka’s excellent run. For those who thought Rucka’s time on the character was a little too dark, Edmondson shines a little bit of light into Castle’s life; it’s not just the southern California sunshine peeking through all of the smog, it’s also in the form of a friend on the LAPD (who presumably doesn’t know who she’s having breakfast next to at the diner), as well as an Army contact who sneaks him some pretty heavy weaponry every now and then. Edmondson’s Punisher isn’t quite as dark and driven as he was under some past writers, or if he is he at least puts it away long enough to interact with others, like a relatively normal human being. It’s a nice change that says nothing ill of what’s come before; Edmondson sees the time is right to tweak the character a bit, and he does so boldly, but no reader will think for one second that this is a kinder, gentler Frank Castle. The shoulder-mounted rocket launcher proves that.
Gerad gives Los Angeles a nice balance between bright and sunny, and smoggy and grimy. His Punisher isn’t a scarred and grizzled assassin whose war on crime doesn’t allow time to buy a razor and use it once in awhile; Castle now looks like a guy who isn’t afraid to venture out and let the sunlight hit his face, although that’s not to say he doesn’t spend plenty of time in one of his hidden armories somewhere. Gerad also presumably handles the colors (as no colorist is credited separately), and helps add to brighter look of this issue.
“The Punisher” #1 is a worthwhile beginning of a new era for the character, remaining true to his motive and mission, but isn’t afraid to let a little light in while doing so.