Becky Cloonan’s The Punisher ongoing has been a solid, if slow and steady reintroduction to Frank Castle and the mythos surrounding him. This week though we get something a little different: The Punisher Annual by Gerry Conway with pencils by Felix Ruiz. Is it good?
The Punisher Annual #1 (Marvel Comics)
As with most annuals, this story is a done-in-one, so if you’re looking for your Frank fix but haven’t kept up with the ongoing, this may be a pretty good place to start. As far as the storyline, Marvel’s solicit reads:
OUR TREAT: FRANK’S UP TO HIS OLD TRICKS! There are ghouls everywhere on Halloween night, but real monsters don’t wear costumes! The Punisher is searching for a killer, but he’s also being watched…Let’s hope Frank’s quarry doesn’t put costumed civvies in the line of fire!
Saying “The Punisher is searching for a killer” is about as descriptive as saying “Superman saves some people,” but I guess that’s why we love the sociopathic lug, so there’s no reason to fix what ain’t broke. As long as the journey is a lot of fun the destination doesn’t have to be terribly outside the box for a comic like Punisher.
…That’s kind of the problem here though. The Punisher Annual is a very paint-by-numbers Punisher story. It’s always fun to see The Punisher plan and calculate his next move (and, of course, to witness the outpour of ultraviolence), but don’t expect a lot else here. The story just doesn’t provide a lot to chew on.
That’s not to say the writing is bad though, because it isn’t. In fact, I liked a lot of it, especially the narration from the police who are following Castle as he’s following Nicky Lowenstein, leader of a local Aryan Nation splinter group. It ruminates on what it means to be an American and ultimately, what it means to be human. Lines like, “Law isn’t what makes us Americans, hate is,” are particularly poignant, especially in today’s political climate.
I get what Ruiz was going for with the artwork, I really do. The Punisher’s universe is a bleak and gritty one, and the artwork is a success insofar as representing that darkness. However, it’s just not my style. The pencils are very scratchy and in some panels it’s hard to make out what’s going on. The colors are also very muted and at times come off as muddy. I always feel weird criticizing artwork when drawing stick figures is difficult for me, but on the whole this just didn’t work for me. Some panels were great though, particularly a full page splash of The Punisher after apprehending his target.
Is It Good?
The Punisher plus Halloween is pretty much a match made in heaven, but this annual doesn’t really push the character or mythos in any new direction. It’s a pretty good read and hits most of the notes you’d expect a Punisher story to, but not much more.