REVIEW: Marvel Universe vs. The Punisher

When I was first asked to review Marvel Universe vs. The Punisher, I had a moment of monumental fear – my first thought was of the horrible What If from the 90s, where Punisher goes on a killing spree and slaughters each and every superpowered being on the planet, all on his lonesome. The characterization was poor and the premise was laughable and thank you sweet merciful Lord that’s not what this comic actually is.

No, this comic is actually more like Marvel meets 28 Days Later, with the Punisher fighting demented zombie versions of superbeings in a post-Apocalyptic world. If that sounds sweet to you then, well, that just means you have good taste. It also means you are going to be sorely disappointed.

If nothing else, I will give the story credit: I loved the setup. The basic idea is that Frank Castle accidentally kicks off the zombie apocalypse. Unlike the Marvel Zombies concept, this infection affects normal people, too, and the world quickly goes to the stone age. Most of the superheroes retain some degree of their intelligence, and they divide the world into tribes, taking dominance over certain spots of land. Frank’s spent the past few years trying to clean up the mess he made, methodically taking the ‘un’ out of the ‘undead’. He’s gone a long time without seeing a single living human, until he stumbles on a priest and a boy. And then things get bad. Both for Frank, and for the reader.

When I pick up a Punisher story, I want to see bloodshed. Violence. Gore. Dirty deeds done dirt cheap. What I don’t expect – or want – to see is page after page after page of sermonizing about how Frank Castle is or is not a messenger of God, or if the plague was God’s will, or if Frank is obsessed with his quest, or if he really cares about the world. It’s amazing how one character can just grind things to a halt, but after the priest comes in with issue #2, it happens. I found myself just skipping over the pages where he and Frank were talking, because A: it was the exact opposite I wanted from a book with the Hulk fighting the Punisher on the cover and B: I figured I could just guess what they were talking about and not have any trouble continuing the story. And I was right.

Even when it’s good, it’s not really good; most of the fights are so brief and simple that they don’t even begin to satisfy? Again, take issue #2. We’ve got the Hulk bearing down on the Punisher, who’s armed solely with a bow and arrow – kind of a curbstomp in the making, but bare minimum, you’d think it would make for an interesting fight? A good read, with the Punisher using his wits and superior weaponry to take on the Jade Giant? Wrong. It lasts four pages. The Punisher takes out the Hulk in four pages.

And they’re not even a well-drawn four pages, either. The art isn’t exactly horrible, but it feels too cartoonish, too average to convey the carnage that’s going on. When the Punisher takes out a crowd of zombies with a bunch of grenades, there should be limbs flying everywhere, shrapnel and blood tossed about; there shouldn’t just be a simple orange explosion before you call it a scene. When a bunch of superzombies gang up on Frank, he should have to backpeddle and use his skills to the max, trick them and split them up and turn the tables; he shouldn’t just have one panel of spray-and-pray to kill the lot of them. It all feels so boring, and while that’s something you never want from any comic, with a premise like this it’s a downright shame. And while I’m on the subject, the ponytail he’s rocking makes him look a little too much like Steven Seagal.

Is it a total wash? No, not really. If you’re a fan of the Punisher, this might satisfy in a few ways; Frank’s characterization is dead on for the most part, though he does hit a bit too many of the familiar notes. Brooding about his lost family and how they changed him into the man he is today? Check. Narration told through entries in his ‘War Journal’? Check. The basics are covered. Beyond that, there’s really nothing here – Marvel Universe vs. the Punisher is too much sound and not nearly enough fury.

Tags: , ,