Punisher #1–5 by Rick Remender and Jerome Opena
After Garth Ennis’ incredible run on the Punisher, albeit outside the Marvel universe proper, I’m amazed anyone would want the job of writing a continuing series about the character, which is perhaps why it has been handled by newer, hungrier writers. Matt Fraction had the first attempt at bringing back Frank Castle to the mainstream in 2007, using Civil War as the launching point, eventually bringing on Rick Remender as co-writer (quite a common technique at Marvel now) before the series was relaunched with this new number one, again using a Marvel crossover as the launching point. This makes a lot of sense, ensuring hype and a link to something important, but also a valid story option: viewing the Marvel universe in the middle of a massive crossover through the eyes of the deliberately non-superhero character.
Norman Osborn has turned himself into a public hero but he’s still a criminal working things from the inside, and the Punisher wants to take him down. By shooting him with a gun from over a mile away. But the Sentry stops the bullet, and tries to stop the Punisher, but the Punisher is a tough nut to crack. He also gets help from ‘a new best friend’, who wants to help him take down Osborn properly. When they start to gain Osborn’s attention by highlight the supposedly non-existent crime in New York, Osborn sets The Hood on to Punisher to stop him permanently, and things get even more crazy. You know things have got bad when the Punisher has to get some special weapons – at the end of issue 4, he is dressed with Ant Man’s helmet, a shield that looks like an old Captain America version, Hawkeye’s quiver and bow, and an assortment of extra powerful weapons.
I haven’t read Remender’s previous work, such as Fear Agent and The End League, but I will have to based on this because it’s very good. He’s got the Punisher narration down really well, does good dialogue and knows how to make the Punisher work within the Marvel universe. He throws in some funny lines and pop culture references, and there are some wonderful throwaway ideas, such as the Shaolin Scientist Squad. He also has the Punisher and his new helper acting intelligently and being prepared, something I appreciate in this sort of story. There’s a suitably gritty tone, but it still allows for the appearance of the Sentry and the various supervillains who show up, so I’ve got to say that I’m impressed and will look out for Remender’s other Marvel work, such as Uncanny X-Force and the cancelled Doctor Voodoo.
The other new factor for me in this book was the art: I haven’t seen Opena’s work before, but it is really, really good. He’s got a gritty style but with a sharpness to his line so he can handle the dirty action of the Punisher but still draw an impressive Sentry, so you can buy both aspects of the book. That’s important for the balance of the comic, and I’m not sure how well it would have worked without the right artist. Opena has hints of Chris Bachalo at times, but his art is clearer and less self-indulgent, especially in his faces; I can see some elements of Mike Deodato in there as well, but that could be because he draws Osborn very similar to Deodato. However, he’s still an artist with a unique and strong sense of his own style, a confident artist in both his dynamic action and his excellent camerawork in scenes of just dialogue, or generally – he’s a great storyteller, a joy to watch him bring Remender’s plot to life. I’ll be watching out for his work, and I’ll be on the lookout for the next volumes in this series.