In Punisher #1, there’s a new vigilante in town — and his intentions are even more unclear than the original guy’s.
I have not read any recent Punisher comics, but I take it on good authority that Marvel has actually done a lot to recontextualize and redefine the character in them, making it clear that Frank Castle is not a heroic figure who should be admired or idolized, The way that so many IRL authority figures have, increasingly, co-opted him as a symbol has even led the company to not only change the emblem on his costume, but kill him off entirely. (Well, for now, anyway.) But don’t you worry, Marvel isn’t going to let this little development keep them from publishing new Punisher comics, even if they possibly should retire that whole character concept now!
Punisher #1, from writer David Pepose and artist Dave Wachter, introduces Joe Garrison, a former SHIELD agent who embarks on a tour of rampage after the murder of his wife and children. Throw in recognizable C-list supervillain for his starter story and a classic conspiracy in the works, and you’ve got a Punisher comic.
I think the biggest problems with Punisher #1 is that the “new” Punisher doesn’t really seem especially distinct from the old one. He seemingly has the same personality, an incredibly similar backstory, and a penchant for extreme violence. The only visible points of differentiation are that he has a different hair color and a slightly different costume. Joe Garrison, as presented here, is basically a palette swap of Frank Castle. (Even his surname, Garrison, refers to a type of fortified structure… like a castle.) I wouldn’t be surprised if Pepose intended for this to originally be Castle, but recent narrative developments took him off the table and the idea was repurposed for a replacement character. It’s just a little convenient.
There actually have been new characters answering to the Punisher name over the years, but none of them really stick around for very long, and it always loops back around to Castle in the skull. It’s a shame, because there is some intrigue in introducing a new Punisher for the current age — what if there were an explicitly “ACAB” Punisher who seeks justice from corrupt cops and greedy elites? If Marvel is looking to take back the Punisher from those who take the wrong messages from him, that’d be a pretty good way to do it. Instead, we’re stuck with an imitation of the original guy because they don’t want to deviate too hard from the concept as it originally existed. The illusion of change and all that.
Granted, this is only one issue, and I don’t know what the creative team is planning. Pepose’s script, while not especially exciting or unique, does what’s expected of it, and Wachter’s art has a scratchy, pulpy quality contrasted by surprisingly bright and vibrant colors at times. There’s potential here, but I don’t know how well this Punisher will be received, or if will even endure long enough for them to deliver something worth reading.