Written in reference to Acts of Vengeance (the late 1989/1990 crossover event pitting heroes against villains outside their rogue’s gallery), this year’s The Punisher annual sent odd duo Frank Castle and J. Jonah Jameson to space to fight evil Russian astronauts and the Brood Queen. With a writer familiar with all manner of sci-fi/space oddities in the form of Karla Pacheco, this annual had a lot of potential to it…contrary to the fantastical elements. With a confusing plot, poor delivery and a mismatched sense of humor however, the effort ended up very unbalanced.
The premise of this comic started well. Setting Frank against seemingly heroic and respected astronauts gave the comic a sense of black humor and mystery. Adding the odd combo of J. Jonah Jameson and sending the entire situation to space laid the grounds for a grand cosmic bloodbath. The problem lay in the overtly and inappropriately comedic direction of the comic book afterwards. Frank Castle has always been a character based in subtle humor, most notably through his straight man attitude or his completely disassociated from humanity quips. With a background writing for Rick and Morty and more fantastical properties, I’m certain that Karla wanted to give her own touch to this Punisher story, but this time it didn’t work for me. In focusing on ill-timed “shown and blatantly told” storytelling and filmic/audio gags that fail to translate to the comic medium, this story failed to capitalize on the threat match-up between the Brood Queen and Frank, delivering on any action or giving the reader the old-school sense of surprise at The Punisher’s use of tactics or uberhuman psychopathic state of mind.
On the positive side, there are some great interactions between J. Jonah Jameson and Frank Castle that are entertaining and surprisingly heartfelt. Jameson digs into his abrasiveness just enough to get under Frank’s skin, but matches up against Frank’s complete lack of murderous shame with a strong moral drive and enough pathos to connect with a man not regularly known for human emotion. Digging into this more than the ill-timed visual delivery and raising the carnage and tactics of the battles would have served this comic well.
On the visual end, the artwork was excellent. Adam Gorham was on point for this book in character design, paneling and backgrounds. Despite being based in a more cartoonish approach than other Punisher tales, Gorham draws characters well with expression and dynamics. I have mixed feelings about Matt Milla’s coloring however. Despite the issue and storyline going more for “fun”, things still felt off. Current Punisher artist Szymon Kudranski handled the epilogue that closed the storyline and was great. Returning to one last grim execution, Kudranski was a welcome sight as the title returned to Rosenberg’s street storyline. I have to give a shout out to the amazing work on the cover, by Dustin Weaver. It was wonderful to see Frank in the classic outfit with some sort of sci-fi space suit in a style and color scheme that looked like it fell right out of the nineties.
Overall Verdict: Despite a strong premise and an oddball set of elements poised to give Frank Castle a grand shooting gallery in space, this annual is more Ghosts of Mars than Aliens.