The Punisher is a hard character to get right. Sure, he hunts down bad guys and dispenses final justice in the swiftest way possible, but he also does so without little regard for consequences, the safety of bystanders, or sanctity of human life. He’s a vigilante, yes, but he’s also a cold-blooded murderer. Matthew Rosenberg and Szymon Kudranski have done their best to explore the intricacies of the enigmatic Frank Castle in their first two issues of The Punisher while making Frank feel like a terrifying force of unstoppable retribution mixed with a slasher film villain. The Punisher #3 unfortunately steers away from the new ambiguously terrifying perception of the Punisher for a more recognizable “good guy shoots bad guys with guns” story, but the constant juxtaposition of The Punisher and Daredevil subtly showcases why Frank is not a superhero, just a killer.
In the first two issues of this new run, The Punisher wasn’t seen much — he was presented more as an off-panel hunter slowly closing in on his prey before delivering a killing blow. This created a real sense of terror and dread around the Punisher that is unfortunately missing from this issue.
While the fights are brought to life spectacularly by Kudranski — particularly in a gorgeously rendered two-page spread that shows the Punisher and Daredevil simultaneously battling Hydra goons in the interior and on the exterior of a train — they focus less on Frank stalking his prey and more on outright combat. These moments of action are still entertaining and a treat to soak in, but there’s no longer this sense that the Punisher is this almost unnatural force of vigilante retribution seen in the first two issues. Instead, this has a standard “hero with guns shoots the bad guys” feel to it. It’s not bad, in fact it’s still entertaining to look at, it just lacks the same lasting impression.
Even after taking a more mundane approach to the action in this issue, Rosenberg and Kudranski still manage to make assertions about the ethics of Frank Castle’s crusade by pairing him up with Daredevil, a character famous for his no-killing stance. Readers who pay close attention will notice Daredevil goes to great lengths and expends more energy to subdue his opponents than Frank Castle does to kill his enemies. Daredevil is flipping and diving around, doing everything he can to stop the threat without lethal force, yet Frank mostly stands still, dispatching his foes with head shots.
Yet, the results are the same: both manage to stop their targets and defend themselves until they’re safe. Only Daredevil did it with so much less bloodshed. This can be read as a subtle way of showing that there’s no excuse for Frank’s endless killing — the results are the same as if he decided to pursue less lethal options. Killing may be quicker and require less effort, but it doesn’t bring better results. This issue slyly shows that Frank doesn’t kill because he has to, Frank kills because he chooses too. Does that sound like a hero?
There’s an unexpected amount of humor injected into this issue too, albeit with varying results. There are some comedic moments that are delivered with enough subtle nuance that they don’t feel out of place, like the jail scene where the officers bicker over the Punisher’s political ideology while a brawl erupts in the background. That moment in particular manages to be funny without derailing the darker, grittier tone that separates The Punisher from most Marvel stories.
Then there are the quips from Frank Castle — these are far less subtle and do derail the gritty tone the series has established. It’s not that they’re cringe-worthy, in fact most of Frank’s lines will elicit minor chuckles, they just feel out of character. Readers used to a quiet, stoic Frank Castle who says very little will wonder if he was bitten by some radioactive bug filled with sarcasm and wit. Overall, it just feels like Frank talks too much period.
Without giving anything away, this issue closes with the revelation that a classic Punisher villain is back and has specific plans for Frank Castle. This will surely get long-time readers excited and add a layer of nostalgia to this young run, but hopefully the series continues to explore the ethics of Frank’s crusade alongside dazzling fight scenes.