by Nathan Edmondson (Writer), Mitch Gerads (Artist)
The Story: The Howling Commandos get even more interested in Frank as he begins to settle down in L.A.
The Review: Some people believe that opening issues are crucial. They need to open up possibilities, set up one or many ongoing threads, set up a world and its characters along many other things. There is a need for a hook to make sure readers are ready to get invested in the story and how the characters have to do with it. In a market with plenty of new series and new volumes starting in a competitive manner, that is something that stands up as even more truthful these days.
It is also something that I believe in, yet I also completely believe in an even bigger importance in the second issue. The follow-up to the opening needs to prove that it can sustain the themes and the possible progress the title has previously introduced. Unfortunately, as much as the first issue of this current volume of Punisher had been potent, there are some problems with the second one that does not necessarily bode well for the series.
The problems have nothing to do with some of the finer points like the cast. The way Frank Castle interacts with Tuggs, his weapon supplier, Lou the restaurant owner and officer Stone is actually quite interesting. With the character previously portrayed as a loner dedicated solely to his job, it is kind of refreshing to see a sort of nuance to how he actually talk with them in a semi-friendly manner. The addition to Loot, a coyote Frank saved could also bring a nice little humanity to the character that has been missing in previous iterations.
The characterization of Frank is also not a part of the problem, with a balance between a certain humanity and his dedication to his mission that does not go against the established traits. In a way, the contrast between how he interacts with allies and friends and how he treats criminals makes for a nuanced balance that makes the differences all the more striking. The moments of kindness and those of brutality clash against each other, yet in a way that sets up a message and a certain complexity to Frank Castle that not every versions portrayed very well. As a character, these little additions and changes work strangely, yet effectively for a tweaked Punisher that is entertaining to read.
Where part of the problems lies is in the pacing, which is a bit unfocused. Switching from scenes to scenes without much of a connecting tissues in some places, some of the better moments are unfortunately not set up well enough to provide much of an impact on the tale as a whole. While there are some good uses of non-linear storytelling in the beginning of the issue to set up the mystery of why Frank could be in L.A., the poor cohesion and sense of fluid progression makes some of the finer points a bit weaker than they could be.
Another aspect which is problematic are the Howling Commandos, the group that has been set up as an antagonistic force in the first issue. While their name and their implication makes for a rather compelling intrigue as to their functions, there isn’t enough given to make them properly interesting just now. Their actions, for the most part, are more ominous than clear, with them observing Frank and noticing some of his allies and methods. It does bring their analytic methods to the forefront, pushing forward their militaristic aspects nicely, but it does not exactly make those actions compelling in the slightest. Those characters mostly break the pacing of the issue, with the few pages focusing on them not bringing much to the issue as a whole.
Still, despite all these problems, the visual parts of this book are pretty solid thanks to Mitch Gerads. With a good sense of composition, his panels always focus on a logical progression without breaking away the perspectives, making the panel-to-panel movement feel fluid and unforced. Putting a good balance between characters and setting, Gerads is able to bring out just enough details in both to make each little details count, without breaking down the number of elements appearing.
His general lines may be a bit rougher, with a certain loose aspect to them that makes them look a bit muddled, yet Gerads manage to overcome this small weakness to provide just enough details to the characters and the backgrounds. Not letting this weaken the emotions and the action, his character breathes nonetheless with a very decent range of expressions and motions that make the more action-oriented and the more dialogue-heavy scenes work out with the same quality. His art, however, lacks a certain experimentation, with a more traditional panel layout and a more classical perspective that play on the safer side, which is just was well for this book.
Where he seems to be a bit more experimental in ways that work to the book advantage is with the colorization, with a certain emphasis on more disparate colors in the action scenes and more subdued palette in the interactions between characters. With colors like bright blue, purple, dark blue and many other such out-there colors being contrasted to more nuanced ones in the gunfights and the more brutal moments, there is a certain focus on the colder aspects of Frank’s personality through his actions, which works very well with the themes of the book and the tone of those specific scenes. The normal scenes, however, plays a bit more with a certain realistic palette with definitely smaller contrasts, such as the shirt Frank Castle is wearing* being different to the beige, brown, yellow and other such tiny bit warm, yet duller colors heavily featured in those pages. Gerads prove he is a talented colorist here, which enhance the book considerably visually.
The Conclusion: The characters, the way Frank Castle is written and the art of Mitch Gerads are brought a bit down by the weak cohesion and the pacing of the issue. While it is by no mean a bad issue, it is a tad weaker than the first issue. Enjoyable, but a tad flawed.
-Hugo Robberts Larivière
*The success of Hawkeye is so big, even the characters in the universe in which it takes place wants to show their love. If Frank Castle deigns to wear a shirt with your logo on it, you know you’ve gotten quite big.