The Punisher Volume 1 – “On the Road” Review

After the success of Jon Bernthal’s portrayal of the character in Daredevil Season 2, it was a shoo-in that The Punisher would be getting his own new comic series. Marvel has not put a slapdash creative team together to take on Frank Castle. Instead, they have invested in two great comic book artists. Becky Cloonan gets her first go at writing the ultra-violent world of The Punisher, whilst legendary artist Steve Dillon returns to one of his best-known works.

It’s a simple story. There aren’t too many layers, and it’s certainly not a story concerned with subtlety. Frank and the D.E.A are both independently looking to stop the drug operations of mercenary outfit Condor. Frank gets there first, with headstrong Agent Ortiz and more cautious Agent Henderson quick on his trail. There’s a secondary story about an old associate of Castle’s who is now a part of the Condor hierarchy, but there’s not much else in terms of intertwining tales. It’s mainly a platform for The Punisher to do what he does best whilst the D.E.A chase after him.

As the story progresses it does improve, but it never really blows you away. There are moments of brilliance but for the most part it’s generally good not great. The last few issues are the best as all the pieces fall into place, and we begin to get some answers and crawl towards the end-game (through a blaze of gunfire obviously).

Frank is a blank slate originally, not even speaking in the first issue. But we get a little more character with dips into his past. This takes place mainly in the sixth and final issue of the volume, but there’s also a moment when Frank interacts with a dreadfully-treated young girl, and for a brief second you see the life that Frank may have had before. A tough man opened up only by the innocence of a child is nothing new, but it’s still a lovely little addition by Cloonan.

The rest of the cast are generally one-note characters. The bad guys are just your generic terrible people. They’re there simply to be fodder for Frank and his brutal ways. The D.E.A fares little better. Agent Henderson is a bit of a nothing character. Ortiz on the other hand shows some progression, but her arc is telegraphed from the very beginning. The moment when she and Frank come face to face (and back to back) is one of the shining lights of this collection though.

The action does get a bit muddled a few times, but there are other moments when Steve Dillon does something a little different and creates some really stunning and unique visuals. A particular moment with a smoke bomb stands out.

Both Cloonan and Dillon really understand the character of The Punisher; that much is evident from the first issue. Thus, this was never going to be a bad comic. But there is little that pushes it past merely average. It’s a solid enough first volume.

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