It’s hard to follow an extremely successful act. Garth Ennis certainly qualifies as that, writing 60 issues of the current, intended-for-mature-readers series of “The Punisher” as well as numerous issues of the preceding version of the comic. So after quite a few years with Ennis’ rendition of the character, it’s not surprising that a new writer would have an uphill battle. What surprised me, though, is how far off Gregg Hurwitz’s take seems to be from what we’ve seen before.
If I had to point my finger at a single point in which the comic misses the mark, it’s the Punisher’s internal narration. Having the Punisher narrate the book is a standard device for the comic; the idea, itself, is perfectly sound and even expected. But there seems to be a real fundamental lack of someone who’s ever actually read an issue of “The Punisher.” Sure, Hurwitz knows that the death of Frank’s family is what turned him into the Punisher and it’s what drives him forward. But when you get to the page early on where the Punisher muses on how different things happen in the world, but his family is dead? It’s like you’re reading a parody of the character, trying to get more and more ludicrous with each statement, that is then followed with “They are dead.” It finally culminates in, “The sun rises and sets, the earth holds its oblivious rotation, and they are dead. They are dead. They are dead. They are dead.” And that’s when I had to close the book and just shake my head for a bit.
I wasn’t expecting a carbon-copy of Ennis, certainly. That wouldn’t be fair to Hurwitz or the reader. I’ve read enough issues of “The Punisher” from before Ennis (thanks to a roommate who loved the character and bought everything with him in it) to be familiar with different takes on him, and this really doesn’t come close to any of them. The rest of the issue doesn’t pull out of the nose-dive, either, with a yawn-inspiring story setup we’ve seen a hundred times involving the Punisher being asked to help a community being preyed upon. It’s a little sluggish and remarkably predictable (with no particular sense of style to get beyond the by-the-numbers story), and with such random instances of profanity it almost feels like Hurwitz went back and added them in because he had a minimum swear word quota to hit.
Laurence Campbell’s art is unfortunately a bit lackluster as well. For every well-drawn page (the first one in particular, with the scenes of Tierra Rota, Mexico) there’s one where the art seems half-formed, a little too reliant on using shadows instead of actual features for faces. It doesn’t help that colorist Lee Loughridge’s computer got stuck on the color purple, which is so overused you’re half-waiting to discover that the evil mastermind behind the bad guys is Prince.
Maybe the next writer on “The Punisher” (they’ve lined up three different novelists to each take a crack at the book) will do a better job with the character. Right now, though, it’s making the idea of a non-Garth Ennis “The Punisher” from Marvel’s MAX imprint seem very bleak, indeed. And not in a good way.