There are some creative teams who are destined to tell stories about particular characters in comic books. Their talents can elevate superheroes, vigilantes and monsters to an artistic level that exceeds the confines of the graphic medium. The stories they tell become nigh legendary and are often cherry-picked by film adaptations of their respective properties. Works like Alan Moore and Steve Bissette's The Saga of the Swamp Thing or Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's The Ultimates come to mind. This is why it's exciting to see a creator return to a character they helped define in some capacity like in Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows' Punisher: Soviet #1.
Few writers have handled the character of Frank Castle with the same matter-of-fact, stone-faced gusto and such visceral intensity bubbling to the surface like Garth Ennis. His run with legendary artist and Preacher co-creator Steve Dillon (who sadly passed away in 2016) brought a dark sense of humor to the character, but kept all that rage intact during their Marvel Knights. But with Punisher: MAX, Ennis, along with a small cabal of amazing artists including Leandro Fernandez, Darick Robertson and Goran Parlov, upended the character's current standing in the Marvel Universe. Punisher: MAX saw Frank age in real time and made his vigilante mission a deadly serious as the murder and mayhem the monsters caught in his cross hairs caused. In short, it was one of the most relevant and visceral versions of the character for readers who could stomach it. Punisher: Soviet #1 isn't quite a zany as the Marvel Knights era stuff (no polar bear punching), but it's not quite as punishingly brutal as the MAX stuff either...at least, not yet.
Punisher: Soviet #1 find Frank Castle waltzing into a Russian mobster stronghold, ready to lay waste to anyone inside. But when he arrives, his work has already been done. The mobsters have all been taken out with surgical precision with a weapon that doesn't afford afford its user such luxuries. From here, Frank begins to investigate who this new player in town is. This issue is mostly set-up to something we can only assume will be much bigger. Ennis' script is as sharp as ever. The hardboiled narration elevates the states panels, which is to its benefit since there isn't a ton of action in this debut issue. But knowing Ennis (and Jacen Burrows' affinity for illustrating gruesome images), the body count will most likely skyrocket in subsequent issues.
Jacen Burrows' is a perfect fit for this material. He's worked with Ennis before in Crossed and .303, and their sensibilities jibe perfectly. Burrows is an artist who doesn't pull their punches, even when the subject matter is soul-crushing and horrifically disturbing. This isn't to say Burrows is some sort of juvenile gorehound, although, his work probably speaks to fans with those base sensibilities. Instead, Burrows presents violence and random acts of deviance in blunt manner. When things get nasty on the page, he just gives readers the facts, even if those facts may scar them for life (his work in Dark Blue still has us shook). His blunt line work and stoney-faced characters lend themselves well to the world of this more violent and brooding Punisher. It's precisely why Steve Dillon is so memorable when it comes to illustrating Frank's world.
Punisher: Soviet #1 is a welcome return to form for the Frank Castle. This issue strikes up a well-balanced tone for audiences who may have thought Punisher: MAX a bit too much and the Marvel Knights period was a tad too silly (of course, this could change at a moment's notice). Ennis and Burrows are the right creators for this comic and it shows from start to finish. Welcome back, Frank, indeed.
Punisher: Soviet #1 is available now from Marvel Comics.