The Punisher has recently been relaunched as a core Marvel Universe comic and is written by Greg Rucka ably assisted by a couple of very good artists. It’s yet another relaunch for the character that has been around for about 40 years, and has been overshadowed by DC’s recent line wide relaunch and Marvel’s own X-Men relaunch following Schism. This is a pity as it is a really excellent book.
Although it is set in the mainstream Marvel Universe, and uses continuity in order to aid the telling of the story, it never really seems like a standard superhero comic and these elements are largely ignored. One of my problems with the Punisher, going back to when (I believe, I don’t have it to hand to check) Mike Baron was writing it and (this I am sure of, as his work is very distinctive) Klaus Janson was drawing it was that it had the same structure as a superhero comic with a slightly darker edge as the Punisher killed rather than incarcerated his antagonists. He still happened across criminals and crimes by accident, as would a Spider-Man web swinging across the city.
Rucka has taken a much different approach. The Punisher is reliant on information, which he gleans from supporting characters who have their own agendas and distinct personalities. In most ways this book is about the supporting characters, and the Punisher gets very little of the actual spotlight. Fortunately the supporting cast is interesting and what is happening to them is much more interesting than a generic shooting. The two detectives investigating the Punisher and the aftermath of his presence have distinct personalities and both drive the story in very different ways. They interact with each other and with other characters convincingly and their actions have actual ramifications for the Punisher and the stories as a whole.
Rucka also writes excellent women. Typically his women are strong and capable, but also face subtly different challenges from men and also act in a way that is understandable but also distinct. This is something that has consistently been noticeable in Rucka’s work and the new characters he brings to the Punisher are all excellent, especially the women.
The weakest part of the book so far has been the most conventional: the Punisher fighting with a supper villain. It’s a poorly choreographed sequence that the resolution of has to be explained in the dialogue rather than shown. I think this may be the fault of the artist or it could be that it has been deliberately left ambiguous.
Overall, though, the Punisher is a surprisingly good read given the limitations of the main character and is full of people I actually want to read about and find myself caring about. Even if it sometimes skirts the Marvel Universe and some of the elements that may be incongruous in a book like this.