In Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964), a United States Supreme Court case involving Ohio’s ban of the Louis Malle film The Lovers (Les Amants) for pornographic obscenity, Justice Potter Stewart was put on the spot to define the meaning of “hardcore pornography”. Unable to lay down a definitive and all-encompassing answer, he famously uttered the phrase “I know it when I see it.” Much of the same can be said in regards to the accuracy, faithfulness and enjoyability of most Punisher comics and adaptations. As simple as he can be to understand, there is an indescribable essence to writing and building the world and character of Frank Castle BEYOND THE BODYCOUNT that many have tried to capture and only few having succeeded. What is that essence? Whatever it is “I know it when I see it” and I see it plain as can be in the case of Gerry Duggan’s portrayal of Frank Castle in the War of the Realms, Savage Avengers” and this latest excellent Punisher: Kill Krew #2.
The story of Frank Castle in this War of the Realms spinoff is simple. Some Frost Giants and other monsters murdered the family of a single father named Jones along with the parents of multiple orphaned children and they want justice. Frank Castle, ever the living embodiment of death, is going to get it for them. Narrative set-up and execution are the two elements to a successful Punisher comic and this comic exceeds in both.
A) Narrative Set-Up: First and foremost, Duggan passes the first quality metric by looking beyond Frank as just another angry man with a gun and writing according to the historic potential of the character. Unlike certain other unnamed writers, this isn’t a showcase for Duggan’s politics, individual creations or zany indie comic flex. Duggan realizes that the quality and uniqueness of The Punisher lies in the tragedy of individual loss and the exploration of the extremity beyond that. Beneath this grand adventure of flying goats, celestial tinkerers and sadistic frost giants lies a tragedy and motivation pertinent and relatable to Frank and Duggan writes in an honorable manner to keep it centered there. Despite the ridiculous surrounding circumstances, Duggan hones in and frames the narrative in consideration of Frank’s psyche, personality and past, only letting the greater Marvel 616 and his cosmic leanings complement rather than take away from the layered moral framework of The Punisher comic.
In a few pages, we get the development of personality for Frank’s Mickey Fondozzi-esque dark elf captive, Belith, some insight into the personalities of the war orphans, some of Frank’s gruff fatherly mannerisms with an ice cream shop attendant, a long coming “cosmic spirit of vengeance” encounter and the unveiling of a lawyerly and a mutant-oriented addition to the kill krew. It’s fresh writing, fan service and new circumstances that uses familiar character dynamics to bring more humanity, hilarious dickish behavior and hatred out of Frank. This is all in addition to a comic graciously returning to the first person perspective and voice of Frank Castle and driven by memorable action and the gruesome kills we’ve come to love. For all those that loved the scale of Cosmic Ghost Rider but disliked the Deadpool type humor, this is the perfect median ground for you.
B) Execution in writing and art: It speaks volumes that Duggan is one of the first writers in a long set of years to feature the War Journal. Throughout the years, the absence of monologue has created an interesting avenue to explore the actions of Frank without commentary or emotional guidance. Without words and without the first person perspective of the classics however, the past decade’s rendition of The Punisher have largely lost the tactics, nuance and 80s action attitude of the character, something this book has no shortage of. Whether it’s his small smile when he’s just blown the face off of a Svartalfheim dark elf, his reaction to headbutt an enemy into a bloody, pulverised mess with not one, not two but three hits after being taunted for running out of ammo or the fact that he unflinchingly tells a grade school kid “Fine, I’ll come back to earth with proof of death, Duggan understands that it’s not just about what Frank does, it’s about how he does it and how he says it.
Juan Ferreyra’s art also demonstrates that it’s also about how you show it. The psychic link between writer and artist is the synergy that crafts beautiful comics. We’ve been lucky to have teams such as Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon/Leandro Fernandez/Goran Parlov. Carl Potts and Jim Lee. Chuck Dixon and John Romita Jr. Mike Baron and Hugh Haynes. Now, Gerry Duggan and Juan Ferreyra. Ferreyra doubles down on both art and coloring to make this miniseries truly his own and he nails it in the close-ups, in the movement, in the splash pages, in those signature black eye hole Frank picks and in the copious amounts blood and gore. One of my favorite pages was the execution below. Mirroring the layered themes of the comic, I found the use of multiple panels and angles of action simultaneously drew pity for an enemy, showed the coldness and disgust of Frank‘s actions and stopped to say “Hey, it’s badass too.”, a perfect summary of what this series brings to the table in its blend of the cosmic and The Punisher world. It’s beautiful art that is also thoughtful and intelligent.
Last but not least, this issue is capped off by an absolutely, all encompassing badass cover by ‘Tony Moore. We have the Battlevan powered by black bifrost magic and carried by a fucking SPACE GOAT!
Overall Verdict: It’s got heart. It’s got art. It’s got blood. And what’s to come? A team-up with the Juggernaut? The recruitment of the Black Knight? With Gerry Duggan’s batting average over .400 for his Punisher work, It’s clear that a grand adventure true to self is in store for Frank. Even as the journey becomes more irreverent, the Punisher DNA continues to shine through in vibe and visuals, resulting in one of the truest return to forms of the past decade.
Did you even see that epic tease of last issue art by Ferreyra today?!? This is THE TEAM for the next ongoing. ADD THIS TO THE PULL!