While veteran Punisher writer Garth Ennis has kept in touch with Frank Castle as a man and a United States Marine in the past decade through 2012’s Fury MAX: My War Gone By and 2017’s Punisher: The Platoon, Punisher: Soviet marks the first time that Ennis has stepped back into the world of Frank Castle AS THE PUNISHER since 2009’s Punisher War Zone miniseries. To top off this momentous return to the streets, Marvel has given Ennis the pass to utilize the MAX label to ensure that the series realizes its full super-hero-free, foul-mouthed and excessively violent potential. On another historic note, Ennis has brought along long time collaborator Jacen Burrows who is stepping foot into the visual world of The Punisher for the first time. So how was this first dip back into the bloodbath? Check out the review below.
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Punisher: Soviet #1 follows The Punisher on the trail of two mysteries: the artful and efficient execution of twelve Russian mobsters by an “new player” and the out of pattern and sudden transformation of a brutal Russian mob outfit into a clean corporate crime organization. Somewhere in the middle lies the involvement of players within the Russian military.
Ennis is the king of long form Punisher storytelling and the mystery framework of this series has no allusions of doing anything different. What is unique this time around is the lack of emotional fuel. There are no uniquely cruel criminals or horrendous crimes to set Frank off on his journey. In a way, it’s nice that Ennis isn’t trying to create a “Slavers II” or outmatch anything he’s already written. The main draw this time around is the question of how Frank will react to this “new player” who may bear great similarity to himself in methods and motivations. Considering Ennis’s long held intrigue for history his recent exploration of Soviet experiences during World War II through the beautiful and brilliant Sara (out on TKO Studios now), the Russian Special Forces angle promises a unique war story waiting to burst out of this miniseries. Due to its six issue arc length, it’s difficult to gauge where that story will take us. It’s a draw that’s not immediate and visceral, but intriguing enough for what is expected of and has been delivered by Ennis.
In terms of form, it’s the little things that set apart an Ennis Punisher book from others. Underneath the immediate intrigue of violence, sadism and danger, he spends time getting the reader into the world and feel of the comic through explanation of minor things like AK-47 mechanics, kill analysis and drug courier vehicle operations. Doubling as a a psychological look into Frank Castle’s analytical mind (and his war journal), it’s a functional way to ground the events in detail and realism. For those content with the 80s action movie physics and plot armor of the older comics, this approach could be seen as too wordy or unnecessary. As an Ennis purist through and through, it’s absolutely perfect. Body count wise, this issue was surprisingly restrained. Yeah, there’s a lot of great dead bodies with rolled up eyes and arterial spray, but a lot of deaths in this issue were actually offscreen. Nevertheless, Ennis still manages to create interesting action sequences and and a unique scenario showing how Frank might respond to a criminal familiar with his interrogation and limits and unwilling to break. Interestingly enough, this interaction involves a smartphone placing the series in the modern day.
For his first foray into The Punisher world, Jacen Burrows killed it! The way he draws the characters and action is realistic, but still comic book-based. It’s also notable that Burrows has no qualms with being different, preferring to stick away from the “no eyes” Frank we’ve all come to be familiar with. This issue notably supplements the analytical, mystery approach of the comic with some unique viewing angles to draw attention to what Frank sees and feels and still has time for some badass splash pages and action poses. Where Burrows particularly shines is in the violence. There’s just something real slick and stylized in the way he details the injuries, blood spray and carnage. Burrows also shows an excellent control of environment effortlessly moving from darkened woods to the ashen grey fire of an exploded warehouse brimming with asbestos fallout to a neon nightclub and look at that variant cover! If there’s any criticism to be had, it’s that there is occasionally some body frame and facial size variability between the excellent close-ups and wider shots. Nonetheless, he’s an excellent sight for sore eyes considering some of Frank’s recent depictions. Paolo Rivera also created an awesome main cover for this first issue and it looks like he’s using different styles for each cover, which should hopefully mirror the continuing insanity of the unfolding story!
Overall Verdict: Punisher Soviet #1 is a welcome return to form for Punisher fans seeking a breather from Frank’s recent, more ridiculous adventures into the fantastic. Ennis reminds readers of the unique perspective he brings to the table through world-building detail and promises of historical war context. With a detailed and mindful approach and no fear of being unique, Jacen Burrows proves himself to be a worthy visual addition to The Punisher canon.
Look out for the last issue of Punisher: Kill Krew by Gerry Duggan and Juan Ferreyra next Wednesday and for Punisher: Soviet #2 out December 11, 2019!