Garth Ennis returns to “The Punisher” with the six-part miniseries collected here in “Punisher: Soviet,” illustrated by Jacen Burrows, Guillermo Ortego and Nolan Woodard.
When Frank Castle discovers a battalion of Russian monsters shot to death, he admires the craftsmanship of the killer. The Punisher couldn’t have done a better job himself. But if it wasn’t him, who was their executioner? Frank’s hunt for their killer leads him to a Russian named Valery Stepanovich, who served time in Afghanistan, and witnessed the brutal torture of his comrades at the hands of the Mujahideen. The nightmares that have plagued him ever since have twisted him into a killer with just one target in mind: the man in the Russian military who sold out Stepanovich and his unit, Konstantin Ponchenko, now kingpin of the Russian mafia. That’s a mission Frank is more than willing to support.
Garth Ennis has always used The Punisher as a tool to explore the darkest and nastiest elements of society: from street violence, terrorism, corporate greed and war, Ennis has exposed it all through the lens of Frank Castle. He understands: The Punisher is not a hero. He is vengeance personified, fixated on simple solutions — murder — in a complex world. And in “Punisher: Soviet” he delves into the broken psyche of a man scarred by war, with nothing left to lose. Ennis has done this all before, but honestly, I’ll return to it every time he does.
The artwork is fantastic. If anything, it’s too crisp and clean given the violence and bloodiness of the story. I’d love to see Burrows and Ortego on a classic superhero comic, with Woodward’s bold colours in support. I detected a touch of Tom Grummett the pencils — who is probably one of my all-time favourite Superman artists — and I’d love to see this art team’s take on the Man of Steel.
Number Of Pages: 136
Published: 18th August 2020
Publisher: Marvel Comics
There have been several world-class runs of “The Punisher” in recent years. Garth Ennis set the tone with his “Marvel Knights” series, then raised the bar with “Punisher Max;” Jason Aaron built on that foundation, propelling “Max” to even greater heights; and Matt Fraction, Rick Remender and Greg Rucka adeptly molded the character for Mavel’s 616 universe. “The Punisher” is now synonymous with quality. And “The Activity” creative team of Nathan Edmonson and Mitch Gerads certainly deliver that.
Punisher detractors label the character as very one-note. He is, essentially, an action hero with archaic tropes, who exists in a world of tights and capes. What purpose can he possible have in a world of superheroes? This is a point that is reiterated throughout BLACK AND WHITE, the first volume in this new series: The Punisher exists to handle the villains too dangerous for cops, but not big enough for the superheroes. He cleans up the dirt that falls between the cracks, and does it exceedingly, and brutally, well.
Edmondson and Gerads don’t reinvent the wheel; instead, they refine the elements that’ve made the character resonate for decades. The biggest change is the shifting of locales, from New York to Los Angeles – a welcome amendment, as Marvel characters are habitually based in NYC – and the introduction of a new supporting cast of characters. While Frank Castle remains a methodical killing machine, Edmonson makes the character a little less cold and stoic than what’s customary – and it’s refreshing. I can’t remember the last time I saw Castle’s lips curl upwards; but he does it a couple times here.
PUNISHER: VOL 1 – BLACK & WHITE sees Castle taking on the powerful Dos Sols gang, who have formed an allegiance with A.I.M. and have set in motion a plan to take over the city with a “secret weapon.” Meanwhile, the shadowy military unit known as the Howling Commandos have been tasked to bring Castle in – and these dual storylines coalesce with a grand finale, and of course, a cliff-hanger ending. The plotting is tight, and Gerads’ artwork is spectacular, the action scenes executed superbly; I was a big fan of this creative team from their work on their creator-owned series “The Activity” and it’s great fun seeing them adapt their style for the mainstream.
For the foreseeable future, THE PUNISHER will remain synonymous with quality. A remarkable feat for a character who, really, isn’t all that remarkable.