Punisher #1 – “Memento Mori”

Punisher #1 Cover

“Memento Mori”
Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Artist: Mitch Gerads

Solicitation: For years, The Punisher has waged a war on crime in New York City with an array of very large guns, but a lead on a major source of drugs, weapons, and more has set his many sights due west. NOW! Frank Castle’s in the City of Angels, looking to give the devil his due. Things aren’t all they appear, though, with a highly trained military hit squad hot on Frank’s tail. Caught between a posse of Punisher predators and targets of his own one-man-war, Frank’s manifest destiny may be a shallow grave!

Related Issues: Punisher #2, Punisher #3
Tradepaperback: Punisher v1: Black and White
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Nathan Edmondson has been making a bit of a name for himself with quality military and espionage comics these last few years.  I first encountered him with excellent creator-owned series, The Activity, over at Image, but he has been garnering no small amount of praise for his work on the new Black Widow series at Marvel, too.  There was that odd blip of the Grifter series not doing so well critically or commercially, but given what we know about the DC’s New 52 and editorial interference some of that may not be his fault.  Regardless, even though Black Widow is a well-known character now that she had a lead role in the Avengers movie, you could still argue that the Punisher is the highest profile character the Edmondson has yet had the opportunity to write.

The Punisher is a tricky character at the best of times to write in a monthly comic.  Garth Ennis did it years ago by writing a comic that was essentially a dark comedy almost entirely divorced from the rest of the Marvel universe at large, and that worked well enough for a while but got a bit tired as the run dragged on.  Greg Rucka was writing a remarkably good straight-forward Punisher series a few years back before he rather famously had the character pulled out from under him so Punisher could join the Thunderbolts (and who the hell thought that was a good idea?).  Aside from those two runs, though, the Punisher has gone from series to series pretty much just looking for a reason to exist.  Your typical Punisher story follows a basic formula and never deviates from it for any length of time: Punisher identifies a target, Punisher stalks the target, Punisher kills lots of people between him and the target, and then Punisher kills the target.  It works pretty well, actually, but it also does not have a great deal of variety beyond how Punisher kills the target.

Edmondson’s take on the character is simply to shift Punisher’s base of operations from New York to Los Angeles.  As ideas go for mixing things up with the Punisher it really is not too horrible a plan.  New York is a bit overcrowded when it comes to heroes, and pretending that Punisher is working between the cracks there just does not cut it.  One of the bigger problems with the character over the years is that some hero or other should have taken him down long ago.  A few writers have attempted to tackle this, but almost invariably his ability to escape these encounters is hard to swallow (see Rucka’s War Zone epilogue arc to his Punisher run as an example of this).  Los Angeles is surprisingly unpopulated by superheroes and overpopulated by criminals, so the move makes sense.

There is a good balance between Punisher doing bad things to bad people and Punisher just being Frank Castle in Los Angeles and interacting with the locals.  The scene with him talking to a female police officer in a coffee shop may be a little too “look how much I know about these things” from Edmondson, but it works as a “quiet moment” interlude between the opening violence and closing assault on a criminal kingpin.  Mixed in briefly is the beginning of what looks to be a more interesting story, though.  A special operations team is prepping to go after Punisher, and given Edmondson’s skill in writing these teams we could be in for a very interesting showdown over the next few issues.

Edmondson brings his Activity partner, Mitch Gerads, along for the art duties, and the results are just as good here as they were in their previous work together.  There are hints of an influence from Jock from around the time he was working on Losers, though a bit less sketchy, and if you are going to do action books you could definitely choose worse artists to follow.  He can draw an entertaining firefight just as well as the scenes in the coffee shop.  Of particular note is a great single page spread that shows Punisher coming from below a boat to take out the cartel men in it which has a great play on perspective.  If he can keep a consistent schedule I think we will have a rather pretty book to look forward to each month.

Punisher is not a character who necessarily needs an ongoing comic, and in fact may work better as the star of the occasional mini-series instead.  However, if you are going to do a full on regular series then this looks like it will be among some of the better ones that we have gotten.  It is too early to tell how it will stack up against Garth Ennis’ and Greg Rucka’s work, but it is off to a good start.

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