Advance Review: THE PUNISHER #1 Has 'No-Nonsense Approach' by CLOONAN & DILLON

"The Punisher #1" first look
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

The Punisher #1
Written by Becky Cloonan
Art by Steve Dillon and Frank Martin
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

“You can’t kill Frank Castle. He’s already dead.”

Credit: Marvel Comics

With renewed interest in Marvel’s most lethal protector since his appearance in Marvel’s hit Netflix show Daredevil, Frank Castle returns to the printed page in basically the best way possible: by Steve Dillon’s pencil. But Dillon brings a new collaborator to the mix: Becky Cloonan. No stranger to Big Two comic books, Cloonan’s star has risen considerably over the years with work on Marvel and DC heroes as well as critically acclaimed small press work that was lauded for both their writing and art. Marvel’s general approach of “get good creators to work on characters they’re interested in” continues to pay off here. Cloonan and Dillon are a team dedicated to bring a no-nonsense approach that in turn makes it fairly synergistic with Jon Bernthal’s cinematic take on the character.

Credit: Marvel Comics

A sad reality about this Punisher title is that Becky Cloonan is the only woman writing a comic book with a male lead at Marvel. Let that sink in. Marvel publishes some 70+ comic books a month and women are usually relegated to writing female characters. In a sense, it feels like Cloonan knew she’d have to fight an uphill battle with naysayers who said that she couldn’t write brutal, overtly masculine character. So she did one better. Frank Castle doesn’t have a line of dialogue in the entire issue. This Punisher doesn’t mince words because he literally doesn’t use any. It’s all business. What this allows Cloonan to do is create a world that exists around Frank; one that he feels he must remedy and we get to see how those arenas (both the drug lords and the D.E.A.) work. Some of the dialogue to get us there might be a little bit jargon-y for folks that aren’t used to police procedural language, but it’s pretty easy to get your hooks in within a couple of pages. By the time Frank gets into action, Cloonan has gotten any setup and exposition out of the way and we’re in for intense violence the rest of the way through.

Credit: Marvel Comics

And who better to deliver all the blood and guts than the man who made Garth Ennis’ Punisher work sing - Steve Dillon. Dillon’s work has always been a perfect fit for Frank Castle. It’s the comic book equivalent of a broken nose that’s healed but was never set properly. The characters are not smooth and sleek. They are worn-out and aged. They look like they’ve seen things beyond what’s happening on the page. These are people with personal histories. Just as soon as you realize that, Dillon knocks you over the head with violence that’s almost cartoonish, it’s so grotesque. This is a no holds barred account of Frank Castle doing everything he can to fight off a bunch of superpowered tweakers and it’s exactly the kind of thing you want to see the Punisher engaged in. Frank Martin’s coloring never does too much to call attention to itself, but really helps underline Dillon’s work. Teams like Dillon and Martin make you question why Marvel ever even bothers hiring anyone else for this character.

Women are never applauded for writing male characters well. They aren’t applauded for writing female characters well, either. And that’s because that's what they were hired for, right? Well, this is one way to make a statement. Good writers just write well. They can write a variety of characters or different genders and backgrounds and sexual orientations. Becky Cloonan is a good writer and she proved it way before being offered the Punisher gig. This book is just a reminder that when you put a team of good creators together, you’ll likely get a favorable outcome. Is there room for improvement? Sure. This is a fairly by-the-numbers plot for Frank Castle. Drug busts aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel for the character. But it’s the execution that is important here. This issue is the assurance to fans that says, “Hey, we know what you want. Stop worrying and let us do our jobs.”

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