The popularity of The Punisher seemed to have peaked during the gritty anti-hero 90’s, in a forgettable era of comic book vigilantes that lost the plot, turning Golden Age ideology on its head and forcing us to examine what heroism really means. The Punisher began his comic book career as a villain, plan and simple, a foil for Spider-Man intended to underscore the fact that revenge and justice are not the same thing. But the character took on a life of his own, and for good reason — it’s a helluva concept and a brilliantly iconic design — and this week’s issue, the first under the Legacy imprint, hits shelves a few days before The Punisher stars in his own thirteen-episode series on Netflix.
The Punisher #218, by Matthew Rosenberg, Guiu Vilanova, and Lee Loughridge, has lofty aims. On the one hand, there’s the appeal of a Garth Ennis run, more at home in this Call of Duty era among espionage or crime comics like Queen & Country or Criminal. On the other hand, there’s this notion of Legacy, and, in Week 7 of the initiative, we’d still like to think that Marvel’s storied legacy is populated with more light than shadow.
Rosenberg, an up-and-coming writer who has already tackled Marvel’s underworld with his Kingpin series, looks poised to make good on both goals. There are lots of gangsters’ heads getting blowed up, and several sadistic grins from a Frank Castle who, of course, looks a lot like Jon Bernthal. He’s the same ruthless badass that he’s always been, and we are never asked for a minute to consider the humanity of his victims. But there’s also the matter of a certain piece of ordinance that Frank steals in the opening to this arc, and a wider scope to the story than we’d come to expect.
We gave him the War Machine armor, but he’s not becoming War Machine. He could never. War Machine is James Rhodes, a hero, an Avenger, something to aspire to. Frank is simply The Punisher, nothing more and nothing less. These characters we all love aren’t their suits or their weapons, they are the people inside that we care about. Hopefully, by having Frank steal the iconic armor, we can shine a light on not just Frank’s legacy, but Rhodey’s as well. – Matthew Rosenberg
So there goes the Punisher, suited up in War Machine armor, off to do some dirty work for Nick Fury in a fictional eastern European nation that apparently is being run by war criminals and traitorous ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives. And they kill kids. So let’s get gritty and blow more shit up.
I’ll be interested to see just how much of James Rhodes’s legacy is truly upheld in this series, and whether or not it devolves into a video game of over-the-top villainous goons and bullet-spray retorts. Maybe along the way we can ask ourselves just how noble and heroic an armored suit with a Gatling gun slung over the shoulder truly is. Or maybe we’ll just enjoy some of that sharp Rosenberg wit and those wicked Frank Castle antics. I’d be fine with either.