The Punisher mythos seems straightforward to the point of being simplistic. Heís a character that resists deconstruction. Every effort to reimage him has tended to be a deeper exploration into his central myth rather than a true reinvention. No writer has ever really departed from the central premise; Frank Castle kills everything in sight and then blows it all up to make sure its dead. Garth Ennis has had tremendous fun with this central idea in his classic run on the MAX series, taking the Punisherís stony silence and predictably outrageous violence and surrounding it with next door neighbors, terrified Mafioso, and police psychiatrists whose characters reflect and react to the Punisherís ongoing war.
Matt Fraction and Rick Remenderís current arc on Punisher War Journal attempts a different kind of reflection on the Punisher mythos, using his nemesis Jigsaw to take him apart, psychologically as much as physically. This issue, part five of six, stands out largely for its scripting and its dialogue. Fraction and Remender shape the narrative around two sets of conversations about the meaning of the Punisherís mission, one between Clarke and Di and the other between Bridges and the Punisher himself. Both ask whether or not the Punisherís crusade is really about seeking revenge for his wife and family or if heís become little more than what Bridges calls ďa human gunĒ that can find itself pointed in any direction, including sometimes at the innocent. We have been here before so thereís nothing really new here for Fraction and Remender to explore. At the same time, these issues are central to the entire Punisher mythos and the thoughtful dialogue handles it well. Frank himself is, not surprisingly, silent as a tomb on the issue (except for one brief, un-Frank like outburst at Bridges mention of his wife, perhaps a sign that recent events have started to get to him).
I think the arts for this title remains strong. I donít have the same objections to Howard Chaykinís work on the series that some reviewers and fans have voiced. His pencils are sometimes criticized as cartoony; a broad characterization that I think refers to a tendency in his drawing to reimagine familiar faces in a sometimes radical fashion. It seems to me that some of Chaykinís odd proportions, and even contortions, sometimes give the human figure at rest (as they mostly are in this issue) the feeling of barely repressed energy, about to explode. He certainly knows how to pull off the gritty realism necessary for any Punisher title.
Punisher War Journal #22 is not a bad place to jump on this title as it sets up an issue that promises some status-quo altering events. It also sets up what promises to be a major showdown between the Punisher (joined by some erstwhile femme fatale allies) and Jigsaw, backed up by the Wrecking Crew. The subtext for this series has been that Jigsaw is the only major villain Frank has not killed, or even really tried to kill. Heís always preferred to smash the former-crime bossís face one more time. Fraction and Remender seem like they are in the mood to change that. Whatever this great writing team decides, it will be worth watching.
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