If I have to hazard a guess, I’d think that “Punisher: Nightmare” was a leftover from the mature readers “Punisher MAX” era, when several different writers were each jumping on for a different story arc. Scott M. Gimple and Mark Texeira’s “Punisher: Nightmare” reminds me a lot of those comics, with no trace of the rest of the Marvel Universe characters and an overall grounded, down-to-earth mindset. Unfortunately, just as most of the post-Garth Ennis “Punisher MAX” comics were good ideas that lacked a strong execution, “Punisher: Nightmare” falls into that trap as well.
Gimple’s plotting isn’t the problem. It’s fairly straightforward, taking a man named Jake Niman who fought in Afghanistan and having him go through the same horrific events that the Punisher went through as well; namely, a day in the park having his wife and daughter killed in an organized crime shooting. Gimple uses the more modern take on the character to his advantage here; the Punisher finds Jake’s blog and through it we start to see Jake’s psyche starting to crack and splinter under the stress of his time at war. It’s a simple but effective way to unload a lot of backstory to the reader very quickly, and it gets everything moving.
Unfortunately, the scripting drags “Punisher: Nightmare” #1 way down. The cover trumpets Gimple as being a writer for “The Walking Dead” television series, and while this might have worked better spoken out loud, here it feels like a parody. The first three pages feature a too-strong, overwrought narration by the Punisher that will eventually have readers begging for the Punisher to put them out of their misery if they will just be able to escape its droning. Gimple uses lots of asides within the narration marked off with parentheses, but every time they show up, they end up coming across as unintentionally funny. I felt like this was a comic where less would have been more, and someone (perhaps editors Tom Brevoort or Lauren Sankovitch) should have asked for a new draft that was a little more reined in.
Texeira’s art is good, although with the occasional inconsistency. For the most part, I like how he draws people other than the Punisher; they look real, not beefed up or about to explode. That said, the exaggerated stature of the Punisher in his trademark suit walking down the street looks a little ridiculous, and it’s too bad that once again someone higher up didn’t ask for some reining in. The images of Jake’s family are great, though — you can see the family resemblance between wife and daughter without them being identical, and Jake’s daughter in particular is cute without being over the top. Every now and then there’s an odd moment, like the Punisher’s glasses vanishing between panels, or a missing transition of Jake from standing to sitting making it at first look like Jake’s daughter just grew a few feet. Nothing is too bad; it’s just those sudden jumps that make you do a double take because of things happening between images with no warning.
“Punisher: Nightmare” #1 feels like an odd choice for a five-issue, weekly-release marquee position. There’s not enough to recommend this extra-strong push, although it’s all the more frustrating because I feel like with a little work this could have been a much stronger debut. Maybe these problems will vanish in later installments, but for now it’s just not quite there.