Writer: David Pepose
Art: Dave Wachter
Colors: Dan Brown
Letters: VC’s Cory Petit
Cover: Rod Reis
Variant Covers: Mico Suayan & Frank D’Armata; Phil Noto; Salvador Larroca & Edgar Delgado; Skottie Young
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Release Date: November 8, 2023
Frank Castle is gone, but the Punisher is alive and well. A brand new series with a new main character means there are a lot of questions to ask. PUNISHER #1 is ambitious. The creative team swings for the fences. And they’re largely successful. Joe Garrison’s family is dead, murdered when their house exploded. In PUNISHER #1, Joe is on his own, looking for the Sokovian behind their murder and tearing up the underworld to find him. His appearance and tactics have the media asking if there’s a new Punisher in town. Meanwhile, the police have zeroed in on Joe as the prime suspect in the murder of his family. Catching the Sokovian alive could clear his name. As an ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Joe has more than enough training to get the job done. And having a partner gives him an even greater chance of success. But if Joe is going to get to the Sokovian, he’ll have to fight his way past Hyde first.
PUNISHER #1 brings the series back to its roots, essentially repackaging Frank Castle’s origin for new character Joe Garrison. That might beg the question of why a new character was created rather than just finding a way to bring Frank back. But it actually proves to be a smart move. Pepose gets to jettison all of the baggage that Frank Castle has accumulated over the years (especially recently) while still playing with the character’s thematic core.
Joe’s character development is relatively surface level here. There is a very brief flashback to a moment Joe is sharing with his family. But for the most part, Pepose delivers a basic origin: the death of Joe’s family, Joe being the suspected killer, and Joe’s S.H.I.EL.D. background that justifies his abilities. But the issue doesn’t dig much deeper–at least not until the final pages. What Joe does to the Sokovian promises significant consequences for him. That choice tells us something. Beyond that, PUNISHER #1 does set up a “mission report” device to justify first person narration and also includes a partner for Joe. They both promise the opportunity to easily learn a lot about the character going forward. As a stand alone story, the issue moves fast. Opening with the aftermath of Joe’s family being killed and working backward into why it happened while following Joe as he starts avenging their deaths gets the issue off to a fast start which it never loses.
The Art & Letters
Not surprisingly, PUNISHER #1 is a dark book. Wachter’s art sets the tone from the start. The line work is rough. It creates a lot of depth without extensive use of thick, broad shading. And the technique works particularly well with Joe. He has a hard edge throughout. Sometimes angry, a couple times desperate. Never happy. In this instance it’s very effective. This kind of detail creates very visceral action as well. The gun play is exciting enough. The fight between Joe and Hyde is exceptional. Hyde is a huge creature. He looks like he’s about to burst out of his own skin. And Wachter’s style adds extra detail when it comes to less obvious features like rough, uneven nails and disheveled hair. And Hyde’s final disposition in the fight borders on body horror. Joe’s new costume is creative and at the same time basic but effective. The repurposed S.H.I.EL.D. logo on Joe’s arm, resembling a skull, is subtle and clever.
Brown’s coloring complements Wachter’s rough style. The issue ranges from subdued to dark. Nothing is particularly rich, and certainly not vivid. The many shades of purple leading up to and during the Hyde fight reinforce the grotesque quality of Hyde’s transformation and appearance. Petit’s choice of color for the mission report caption boxes contrasts effectively with Brown’s overall coloring palette. It’s rich and heavy in a way that none of Brown’s colors are. To an extent that contrast makes the captions feel more important than the standard white dialogue bubbles. The issue is rife with sound effects which Petit makes a meal of. Petit intertwines them with the action. He matches the colors of weapon effects. In one case he makes the letter design of a sound effect match the electric current of the weapon making the sound. It’s very compelling, and adds a lot to the visuals during the action sequences.
On first blush the new PUNISHER series seems to be returning to the original concept behind the character. It’s not complicated, and that makes for a story and character that are easy to get into. The art is the perfect tone setter for the story Pepose is telling. As an issue designed to introduce a new series with a new protagonist, PUNISHER #1 is effective and holds a lot of potential.