Review (With Spoilers!): The Punisher Vol. 13 #7 (2023) by Jason Aaron, Jesus Saiz and Paul Azaceta

Art by Jesus Saiz, Colors by Dave Stewart

While the cover and cliffhanger of last issue set up the meat of this issue to be the conflict between Daredevil and The Punisher, their battle is brief and more of a teaser for a prolonged conflict between these heroes and their new respective ninja clans to come in other crossovers. Over the course of a few traded blows, Daredevil lectures Frank on his continual crossing of boundaries in working with The Hand and attempts to exorcise Frank in the belief that he is possessed. Frank pushes back, reaffirms that he is doing everything of his own free will and holds Daredevil in a chokehold as he manifests yet another “Gift of The Beast”: LEVITATION!

Art by Jesus Saiz, Colors by Dave Stewart

While the battle appears to be just a fun take on a classic conflict between these heroes, an important point that Jason Aaron does draws attention to is the question of Maria Castle’s free will in her resurrection. Daredevil accuses Frank of resurrecting his wife against or at least without her consent. The past few issues have seemed to indicate that Maria is mindless and not actually aware of her own surroundings. Given Frank’s track record of not being cool with his family’s attempted resurrections, it seems odd that Frank would tolerate having his wife back in these conditions. However, the issue later reveals that Maria is slowly gaining back ALL of her memories and that Frank intends to have an actual heart to heart with her regarding everything…including his time as The Punisher.

While resurrected Maria in the present is not yet in her right mind to converse, this issue provides a glimpse into Maria’s throughts and flashbacks on the period after Frank has returned from the war as a teaser to that future conversation. Jason Aaron had previously mentioned in an interview with Marvel.com that he was looking forward to writing for and finally bringing a voice to Maria Castle beyond her status as fuel for Frank Castle’s war on crime. It’s likely that this is not the last we’ve heard from her perspective and that her presence is crucial to this run.

Art by Paul Azaceta, Colors by Dave Stewart

Walking Back From A Retread of MAX Volume 2

The previous issues appeared to paint Frank Castle as a disturbed and distant individual since childhood who pushed away society and family to find home in warfare and death, in line with Aaron’s MAX interpretation of the character. This issue plays into that, but also surprisingly walks back on the past few issues to reclaim some of Frank Castle’s humanity and suggest that both Maria and Frank are being manipulated by The Hand.

From Maria Castle’s perspective, she remembers Frank as a man in love with war, who is becoming a stranger to his children, lacking intimacy and sleeping alone in a tent in the backyard with his hand on a pistol. She confesses to her priest that she is tormented by dreams in which she makes love to Frank, who has glowing red eyes, a shadowy figure and tells her to call him “The Beast”. Her growing concern and fear over her husband is so great that she returns home from a medical surgery to an empty house in disarray…and fears that her husband has done something horrible to their children.

Art by Jesus Saiz, Colors by Dave Stewart

But the reality she sees is Frank being a loving father to his kids. The house is in disarray because of toys, board games and junk food everywhere and his kids are in the loving embrace of their father. When the kids ask “if that man will be there” outside of church, Maria reads it as the children not recognizing their father…but they are actually concerned about a Hand minion lurking in the alleyway of the church. The flashbacks end with Frank letting Maria know about their children’s fears of the man and him teaching her how to use a gun to defend herself. The issue ends with Ares at the gates of The Hand’s hideout and ready to storm it.

Art by Jesus Saiz, Colors by Dave Stewart

Defining Frank Castle and The Punisher: Not for the Old School Fans

Different writers have emphasized different elements of The Punisher. Is he a man just trying to enter dangerous and suicidal situations to punish himself for failing to protect his family? Is he a man that is trying to make a difference in the war on crime or just in it for himself? What incident really created “The Punisher”? Is he a caring human being or just a morally obligated sociopath? So far, this run appears to be taking into multiple interpretations and iterations of Frank to make us question who he is and who The Punisher is. It’s clear that Jason Aaron and Marvel come into this run, with these questions clearly in mind.

The concept is sound and the art is AMAZING, but the execution remains questionable. This run puts up big stakes with its big questions, but also can be a whole lot of nothing. Given that Frank has had no internal monologue and the run is dealing in flashbacks, this could be another retcon, written off as Hand manipulation or as a footnote like “Angel Punisher”. If so, what was the point of showing the reader all of this anyhow?

The value in this run will ultimately be defined by the endgame. And if you’re a stock old school Punisher fan not interested in these questions and modern interpretations, there’s little for you here. You probably just want different crime stories with more body counts, fun kills and the gritty Punisher “take”. For me personally, I am interested in the questions and I think there is value and depth to be gained in humanizing and modernizing the character. I just hope that given the political context of the character, there’s not an agenda of why they’re being asked and that The Punisher we’ve come to known comes out at the end of it.

RATING: 7/10

Next Up! Issue #8 on December 7th.

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