Review: The Punisher Vol. 13 #1 (2022) by Jason Aaron, Jesus Saiz and Paul Azaceta

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Art by Jesus Saiz, Colors by Dave Stewart

After over two years since the last Punisher ongoing (Volume 12 by Matthew Rosenberg), Frank Castle has finally returned. This current run is going to be a twelve-issue maxi-series running at an oversized length of at least 30 pages per issue and promises a big status quo shift for The Punisher.

Pure Attitude and Style and MAXIMUM VIOLENCE

To allay the long held fears and speculations of the core Punisher fanbase, we have to get one thing out of the way first: THE GUNS AND CLASSIC SKULL ARE HERE TO STAY.

While the marketing for this run has focused on Frank’s new demonic skull and newfound penchant for swords and almost all media surrounding The Punisher has made mention of the unique political situation the “skull” is in, this issue makes clear that such changes are purely for the sake of the direction of this particular run. The usage of knives and swords is alluded to be for ritualistic purposes with The Hand. With this issue, Marvel bears no shame on the mass murdering and maniacal bastard of a vigilante that Frank Castle is, his usage of every type of weapon possible and his iconic classic skull.

Frank’s first on page attack working in tangent with the Hand involves him slitting the throat of a goon who’s already lost an arm, before going behind him to drive his katana from his back to his chest for extra cruelty. Within his new homebase, Frank has his Hand minions present him with bound and gagged child abusers and rapists (represented equally across every gender and race!), before decapitating them all without hesitation. For a character that has been maligned as an oppressor and someone that targets minorities, it’s important to nail down that Frank Castle historically has been someone that goes after evil wherever it may be and that evil has historically been of all economic levels, political persuasions, nationalities and other personal identifications. Even within Rick Remender’s “Frankencastle” arc, Frank Castle was able to identify and sympathize with the mistreatment and violence of ghouls and monsters, even if society had cast them out for fear and lack of understanding. After all the political hubbub, it is so important that Marvel made these subtle, but important distinctions about The Punisher and his unshakeable morality with this comeback issue.

The real highlight of the issue is a flashback to Frank’s forced “initiation” into The Hand, where he is ambushed by a couple of dozen ninjas at one of his safehouses. The fight goes on for almost 10 pages of mayhem, being a spiritual blend of Frank’s apartment fight with The Russian in “Welcome Back, Frank” and the spontaneous mayhem of Frank’s fight with Bullseye in Aaron’s Punisher MAX run. Frank is pulling shotguns off of his safehouse walls and knives and uzis out of and from the under the fridge. The battle transitions to a torture room of Frank’s, where he has sledgehammers and chainsaws all over the ground (the latter is put to use!) and ends in him using multiple claymores and an M60 to finish the fight.

All of the violence in the safehouse is from conducted by a Frank Castle bearing his classic skull and Frank’s classic skull vest is later seen on a worship shrine in his new lair, which is packed wall to wall with pistols, rifles, SMGs, LMGs and missile launchers of all types.

Jason Aaron balances out the ridiculous violence with colorful and epic heavy metal dialogue, narrated from the point of view of the Archpriestess of The Hand, who will apparently narrate the run going into the future. While it is a bummer to have yet another modern Punisher run without Frank’s classic internal monologue and wit, it may be good to have distance from Frank’s perspective considering the promised in-depth look at significant and unseen moments into his history.

While I wasn’t a fan of the early teasers of Frank’s new look, Jesus Saiz’s work on this run is absolutely beautiful and tracks action in an easy to read and sensible fashion. Saiz’s style appears to be a blend of the expressive, simple style of Steve Dillon through photorealistic and anime filters. Saiz really shines in the details like seeing the mask of a Hand ninja crumble and fold after Frank beats in the ninja’s face with the butt of a shotgun. Paul Azaceta only draws the first 3 or so pages from Frank’s point of view during the Central Park Massacre and provides a clean and chaotic style somewhat akin to Greg Smallwood’s work on Moon Knight. More will have to be seen to give a clear judgment on Azaceta’s work on the run. Dave Stewart rounds out all the art with deep contrasting coloring that gives off a beautiful painted art vibe.

Substance and Value Not Yet Confirmed

The premise for this run takes its cues from the best forgotten and preemptively cancelled Volume 3 run by John Ostrander, where Frank Castle becomes leader of a mafia organization in an effort to impact his war on crime on a greater level.

Punisher-02-Family-00-FC

This issue gives several action-based sequences as to why Frank may tolerate such an alliance, which shows The Hand as an organization acting solely as an extension of Frank’s will with no criminal activity. The real teaser of an answer for why Frank is willing to work with The Hand comes in the final pages. It’s ultimately a twist we have seen before, but it’s unclear how Jason Aaron will play his cards. At the moment, it’s an answer with no details or depth. The implications and significance behind Frank’s decision to ally with The Hand remains to be judged in coming issues.

Final Verdict: Worth A Buy

For the moment, we have a true-to-form Punisher in a first issue that pulls no punches with its violence and is heavy metal as fuck. It’s too early to give a numbered rating to a run that may well fly too close to the sun and tarnish the legacy of the character. All I can say is that I was deeply satisfied by the violence, action and characterization of Frank within his new story and circumstance. For long term fans as well as new fans, it’s an important moment in the character’s history and this issue is a hell of a way to kick things off.

1 thought on “Review: The Punisher Vol. 13 #1 (2022) by Jason Aaron, Jesus Saiz and Paul Azaceta”

  1. Solid review! The way you handled the introduction of Maria is spot-on; while it does seem like a cheap “gimmick” that’s been (over-)done to lackluster effect in prior Punisher runs, Aaron is too smart and creative to simply use Maria as a deus ex machine motivation for Frank to join The Hand. I’d be surprised if that plot point doesn’t turn out to be surprising.

    Like

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