Punisher #4 Review

Reviewer: William Cooling
Story title: In the Beginning Pt. 4

Written by: Garth Ennis
Pencilled by: Lewis Larosa
Inked by: Tom Palmer
Coloured by: Dean White
Lettered by: Virtual Calligraphy’s Dave Sharpe
Editor: Axel Alonso
Publisher: MAX Comics/Marvel

Over the past three months Garth Ennis has been confirming his position as one of the great Punisher writers with his abandonment of the violent Loony Toons approach in favour of an ultra violent, totally serious approach having revitalised his run on the Punisher. The series so far has not only upped the violence considerably but also increased the emotional impact and content of the series with the return of Micro to help capture the Punisher offering Ennis the opportunity to build of his exploration of the Punisher as contained in the excellent Born. Last issue we saw Micro interrogate the Punisher and at the end offer him a chance to cease to be the Punisher. This week we learn what the chance is, its not a chance to be rehabilitated but to go legit, to be the CIA’s hired gun by going after terrorists, etc with a strictly “take no prisoners” approach. Meanwhile in another part of town the gangsters who want revenge on the Punisher for his genocidal campaign against them including a recent decapitation strike against their leadership at their late boss’s 100th birthday party and then his funeral. To this end last issue they had kidnap one of Bethell’s (Micro’s boss) agents, a certain Mr. Roth. After an unhappy interlude (for Mr. Roth especially) the gangsters have what they want and now how they’re going to use it.

This series is just getting better and better with Ennis’ delivering a tightly scripted, faced paced thriller that builds the suspense by the weaving of a number plot threads spread over an ensemble cast. Having once mocked those who wanted to explore the psychology of the Punisher he once more shows how good he is at it with Micro’s interrogation bringing to the fore the experiences and beliefs that make the Punisher more than a Nazi with a Gun. As with Born, Ennis has a superb grasp of Punisher’s characterisation with the continuing insights into Castle’s immediate reaction to the death of his family, to Vietnam and to Micro, building up a picture of a truly chilling anti-hero in vein of Travis from Taxi Driver. Ennis also doesn’t slack with regards to the supporting characters with Bethell’s agents Driver and Roth both being involved in one of the most…er…imaginative examples of torture I’ve seen oh Preacher probably (he has a thing about that area does he not?) with Ennis’ writing being so low-key and naturalistic to allow the reader to appreciate the true horror of what has happened (he also amazingly manages to avoid making jokes about). He is also excellent with the characterisation of the gangsters expertly detailing their amorality and their clinical desire to hold onto to what’s theirs. However, it’s with Micro that Ennis shows the best characterisation with Micro and Punisher’s relationship being given really pathos as Micro desperately tries to save Frank from his life as the Punisher and so reach a sense of atonement for his role in its creation.

In addition to superb writing this comic also sees some superb art courtesy of Lewis Larsoa. With this one of the Marvel Knights’ series major problem a the end, namely the inconsistent art as Tom Mandrake, Cam Kennedy and John Mcrea all failing to adequately replace the ever excellent Steve Dillon is solved. Lewis Larosa in his first four issues stamp his authority on this title to such an effect that it actually upsets me that Romita Jr. is going to replace him. His detailed linework combines shows an ability to cover a variety of styles from the smooth, naturalistic look of the gangsters search for the Punisher to the dark, messy and grotesque approach for the Punisher’s interrogation. Indeed, his Punisher is excellent with his linework and his use of shadowing capturing his ragged, war wearing looks and the sense of maniacal frustration at being imprisoned. In addition it wouldn’t be fair to ignore the contribution of the colours of Dean White whose grim palette gives the story the feel and integrity of some of the more extreme crime shows.

That really is the biggest compliment that can be made of this series that it feels like a crime show. Gone is the comedic, goofy approach of the majority of Ennis’s Marvel Knights’ run now we have the concept of the Punisher done its complete and violent justice by one of the best writer’s at the top of his game. Where once he laughed at those who wanted to the Punisher to be taken seriously we now see him play the Punisher with the straightest bat going. And I for one I’m glad.