A lot of times, because comics is perceived as such an immature medium, critics and readers will go out of their way to heap praise on one or two books a year that are appropriately “serious” and/or completely enmeshed in the socioeconomic goings on of the day. They’re comics’ Oscar Bait and pretty much everyone goes along with it. One year it might be “Blankets” (I thought “Carnet De Voyage” was way better). Another year it might be “Mother Come Home” (The recent “All And Sundry” is a much more varied, creative, and satisfying work). The point is, there’s a very specific kind of comic that is critically lauded and respected, and sadly, “The Punisher” #13 will never fall into that category. Which is unfortunate, because to me, this issue of “The Punisher” embodies everything that is truly great about comics.
I’ll admit, the first time I heard about “FrankenCastle,” I laughed it off just like everyone else. This is the guy with a bazooka standing on the fire escape! Drawn by Klaus Janson! That guy can’t be this guy! But through sheer force of pulp will, Remender turned me around. You can’t argue with comics that are this good, this freewheeling, this just-plain-entertaining. Along with writers like Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction, and Jason Aaron, Remender is bringing a fantastically entertaining voice to Marvel’s comics these days. Concerned with little more than mining the richest seams of ludicrous adventure storytelling, they’ve turned a dark and ominous universe into the funnest little corner of the medium.
Moore and Hawthorne’s art captures the over-the-top glee that every kid reading comics used to share, poring over details by flashlight when you were supposed to be asleep. The final page of the issue is a testament to the boundless imagination at play as Frank Castle prepares for vengeance with a gatling gun in his hands, at least two heavy machine guns over his shoulder, two samurai swords in his belt, and a huge Colt revolver on each hip. These are the sorts of things comics were always meant to be. While firmly rooted in an exaggerated cross between John Severin and Jack Davis, Moore’s style, miraculously, never veers of the rails into incomprehensibility, which is a blessing, since in this issue Remender has written some of the best single pages I have ever read.
Moore and Remender are long time collaborators, and their effortless synchronicity shows throughout these pages. Remender’s perfectly pitched dialogue for Frank works so seamlessly with Moore’s grit and detail, it leads to moments that have to be seen to be believed. For example, if I told you that there was a page in which Frank grabs a Monster Hunting Samurai, feeds him his own wrist mounted grenade launcher, drops a grenade into the pipe, and throws him into a group of other Monster Hunting Samurai, you’d probably never believe that such a page could be as fantastic and timeless as, say, that one where Dream is thinking about his dead son in “Brief Lives,” right? Wrong. This page is even better. (I’d read you the dialogue, but it probably wouldn’t work out of context.)
So, sure, when Samuel L. Jackson is calling David Mazzuchelli up to the stage at next year’s Eisner Awards and all the 501st Stormtroopers clap, you may think that the right book is being honored. “Asterios Polyp” is a fine book to be sure, but let’s be real here. “The Punisher” #13 has Frank Castle throwing the Man-Thing at a helicopter.