Sunday, January 11, 2009

Punisher #1

"Living in Darkness"
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Jerome Opena
Colourist: Dan Brown
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Editor: Axel Alonso

It seems that these days Marvel will take any change of creative team on a lower-tier comic as an excuse for a renumbering. Punisher #1 is essentially Punisher War Journal #26, but with Matt Fraction replaced by Rick Remender and Jerome Opena, the people who brought you Fear Agent.

Their first arc is a "Dark Reign" tie-in, which might seem an unpromising way to go with the Punisher. After all, he's a B-movie vigilante, more at home in his traditional role of gunning down nameless mobsters. But they're already doing that in the Max imprint Punisher series (now being renamed Punisher: Frank Castle for maximum confusion potential). This series, like Punisher War Journal before it, is apparently about trying to integrate the Punisher into the Marvel Universe.

I have to say that, despite largely enjoying Matt Fraction's run, I still have my doubts about whether this is really a good idea. Yes, he was created as a Spider-Man character. But that's not his most successful incarnation, and in recent years, when he's interacted with the rest of the Marvel Universe, it's worked partly because it's so incongruous. Can you keep that up when it's a regular format? I'm not convinced.

The "Dark Reign" gimmick, as you surely know by now, is that Norman Osborn and his allies have kicked out Tony Stark and are running the Initiative. That, at least, gives the Punisher something to kick against, and he duly starts off by trying to assassinate Norman Osborn on page 2. Unfortunately, where we go from there is a full-length fight scene against the Sentry.

Now, it's a very well-paced fight scene, and quite inventive, and almost manages to convince me that Frank would last more than five seconds against a guy who's supposed to be on a par with Superman. And it also points to a promising direction for the Sentry, a reasonably interesting character who's had nothing much to do since Brian Bendis dusted him off. Here, he's Osborn's dupe, wholly convinced that the good guys have won and everything's going to be fine now. It's a neat idea, and might be the role that the character's been missing. But that, I suppose, is probably a matter for the Avengers books.

However good a fight scene it may be, it's still just a fight scene, and doesn't take us much further into the story. At four dollars an issue, we need to get a bit further than "he doesn't like Norman Osborn" and "a mystery guy wants to help out."

By the way, this was solicited as a 48 page issue. And it is. But what the solicitation didn't mention is that the story only runs to the regulation 22 pages. The rest of the issue consists of a one-page essay by Remender, a recap of the Punisher's career lasting a jawdropping 13 pages (though in fairness, some effort has gone into it), a feature billed as a "Punisher Reading Chronology" which is actually just a list of trade paperbacks you might care to purchase, and a preview of Agents of Atlas #1. You can imagine my reaction when I got halfway through the issue and the story stopped dead. "Huh," I thought. "Is there a back-up strip? Oh."

Still, leaving aside the price tag and judging it as a first issue, what we have here is a classic example of writing for the trade. It's a good scene, but it's not a satisfying story - merely the opening pages of one. And I'm not convinced that will fly in the days of four dollar comics.

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