In “The Punisher” #1, Becky Cloonan takes on Frank Castle for the first time, while Steve Dillon returns to the character he knows so well. Cloonan has a good handle on the type of situation the character normally finds himself in and even adds a twist or two, and Dillon revels in all of the trademark violence while adding the occasional disturbing image. Even so, the series kicks off with a scenario that’s a little too familiar, and there’s not a lot that the Punisher’s faithful followers haven’t seen a time or ten before.
The story opens up with a criminal enterprise preparing to make its move, which Cloonan uses to introduce readers to both the presumed villain of the arc as well a supporting character, who’s not necessarily what he seems to be, has a surprising connection to Frank’s past and eventually proves himself to be the most interesting aspect of the issue. This setup can’t help but telegraph that the Punisher is going to make the bad guys’ plans go awry; it’s like watching the hapless future victim in a horror flick slowly walk towards a mysterious closed door at the end of a darkened hallway.
On the other end of the law, there’s also the police taskforce planning their own move against these crooks, but it’s not hard to guess who beats them to it, especially since it’s clearly foreshadowed by Dillon pretty early on. Then there’s the inevitable aftermath, where the cops figure out Frank Castle is also on the case, although Cloonan does throw in a unique twist here. Cloonan sprinkles in surprises to help freshen up an otherwise standard Punisher comic, making it a little more enticing for those chancing the book in the hopes that a new writer will bring something a little different to the title, while giving diehard Punisher fans exactly what they expect.
Dillon’s layouts largely serve to carry Cloonan’s script, and he competently and cleanly advances the story with little fanfare. There are plenty of shots of bad guys getting their due at the wrong end of the Punisher’s gun (or whatever else is nearby that he can use as a weapon), but readers noting the cover’s parental advisory wouldn’t have it any other way. However, Dillon relies on one of two facial expressions for nearly every character: The Scowl and the Evil Smile.
Cloonan and Dillon’s “The Punisher” #1 doesn’t raise the bar much, but — for a character not really known for pushing storytelling boundaries — that’s just fine for anyone needing their Frank Castle fix.