I started reading The Punisher
a long time ago – I think I first really became aware of him as a character that had popped up in a couple of the other comics that I read, then Marvel UK put a series of comics out and I was hooked.
He is a pretty simple character to understand – something bad happened to him and he sought to punish the people responsible, and he continued to punish people ever since. What else do you need to know about him? Oh, the big skull on his chest.
Bearing that in mind doesn’t it seem odd that he has been so badly served by the movies? How is it that they have failed to understand not only what drives him but also how iconic he is? I had heard good things about Ennis’s run on the series – that he had set a benchmark that it was going to be hard for anyone to follow. Well, you take stuff like that with a pinch of salt, because people are always rushing to say things like that. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love Ennis and I knew that whether I agreed with the choired praise or not I was not going to be reading anything bad.
So many characters nowadays get rebooted and rebranded that it can go any way you can imagine and you might end up with some godawful thing that is purely trend driven or something that collapses under the weight of its own self-referentialism and irony quotient. Ennis could probably have given them that kind of thing in spades – you just have to read The Pro
or The Boys
for proof of that, if needed.
Ennis gives us a straight, real world rooted Punisher. We get crooked Generals, Russians, People-Traffickers, the hugely entertaining Barracuda, and a whole load of touchstones with the real world that take us places we have been before with Frank Castle and some that we haven’t seen. Throughout it all his humanity shines through – he lives hard and plays hard but he is real. Take a feeling you have had about dealing with some of the scum out there in the world and amp it up to an almost primal level and you might get a glimpse of the inside of the Punisher’s skull. The hard hitting, less than wholesome heroes, are always the ones that have interested me – how far can you go before you become the bad guy? With Frank Castle it seems to be pretty far – those he comes up against, those he fights alongside, those whose lives he impacts upon, they all ask that question for us in Ennis’s run – how far is too far? The Punisher answers simply – or perhaps not so simply – as far as necessary, and you find yourself nodding in agreement … you do get drawn in.
I think with what Ennis has given us you really wouldn’t need to read any other Punisher stories to understand the character at all. Definitive? Quite possibly. A benchmark? Most definitely.