What makes the Punisher tick? The mission he’s chosen is so specific and tragic that, like Batman, every writer has a different idea for what turns the wheels in the mind of Frank Castle. Two issues in, it looks like Nathan Edmondson and Mitch Gerads’ take on the character in “The Punisher” is violent but a little more human and accessible than other recent versions of the character in the Marvel Universe.
I like Frank in Los Angeles; something just feels right about it. The sunny palate of the City of Angels is a great contrast to the darkness that follows him anywhere he goes. Edmondson delivers a great target for Frank’s new adventures — a “strata of villains too dangerous for the cops but not big enough for the super heroes.” The Punisher needs a box in which to play where his character game makes sense and this is it. He’s not super powered, so when the creative team brings in heavy hitters, it gives them weight, and it gives Castle enough breathing room from law enforcement that they’re not going to be jumping down his throat every time he shows up in public. Readers get a hell of a cliffhanger at the end of the issue that challenges this premise — AIM delivers a dangerous weapon to the Dos Soles cartel that challenges the upper strata of his new demographic. Pushing against the edges of this box is where Frank’s character will be best tested.
Edmondson injects Frank with more humanity and it suits him well. I feel like I’m actually meeting Frank for the first time and not The Punisher in disguise. The scenes in the diner have been highlights of the series. They’re good contrasts to the action and allow us a street level view of how LA views The Punisher’s arrival. For too long the Punisher exhausted me as a character – he was so dark and so moody all the time, there were no other facets to him other than Angst and Angst While Shooting. I’m finding myself actually liking Frank more now, even in the classic Garth Ennis stories. Those were tales that helped me understand WHY someone would engage in this fight, but here we learn WHO would engage in this fight. Even Dexter was able to function in public and seeing that Frank can actually speak to other humans without seeming like an over focused madman is important.
Mitch Gerads has a style well-suited for the stories Edmondson is telling. His art is gritty and accessible, which is how I feel about Frank in this story. The action sequences are well-paced and exciting, and Frank’s body language in the quieter scenes is great. Frank is relaxed, a sentence I don’t think has been uttered since he went to Central Park on a picnic. The weapons and tech – always the costar of a Punisher book – all look believable and like they have actual weight to them. I love Frank on a motorcycle, and a two-wheeled monster makes more sense in a spread out city like Los Angeles.
I don’t know if it’s other media’s portrayal of gang violence in LA or a personal exhaustion with the Punisher in New York, but this take feels new and exciting and appropriate. Sometimes a change to what’s outside your window does make a difference. I’m sure anything Frank builds for himself outside of his war will collapse around him spectacularly but until then I look forward to living within these walls while I still can.