Thursday, June 5, 2008

Punisher: Return To Big Nothing

There was a period of a year or so where the Punisher was my favorite character. I even got my stepfather to customize my skateboard with a Punisher skull and logo, which you just know got stolen. Thing is though, I grew out of my enjoyment pretty quick. I think a major turning point was when I saved a couple weeks' allowance to buy my first ever original graphic novel, "Assassin's Guild," by Jo Duffy and Jorge Zaffino. Not only did it suck, but I could see no reason for employing an extravagant format for such middling material. Little did I know that was about par for Marvel at the time, but I stayed on guard regardless.

All this is meant to explain why I waited nearly twenty years to finally read "Return To Big Nothing." It isn't that I hadn't enjoyed the same creative team on "Circle of Blood," either. For some reason that escapes me, between then and now, I acquired some unreasonable prejudice against Steven Grant's writing. Too many books about guys with guns I suppose, but seeing as how I hadn't read many of then, that's no excuse. I certainly loved the Mike Zeck/John Beatty art team as well, and this was during their peak period. Ultimately, I blame the book's being somewhat elusive (currently and for some time out of print,) and that damned "Assassin's Guild."

"Return To Big Nothing" reminded me of why I liked the character in the first place, and made me wonder why fans of Garth Ennis' work haven't revisited it. Grant seems to share the same view of the Punisher as functional sociopath, though his slightly shady moral code is more palatable than most. Knowing full well the limitations of Frank's personality, Grant focuses on the little details and clever bits that make or break a Punisher tale. Things like showing a 19-year-old punk Frank Castle getting his ass handled, or describing the smell of a Nevada whorehouse. All Punisher stories are essentially the same, so it's all up to how well you can finesse the material, and this creative team has their mojo working. Pick it up if you get the chance. Maybe someday Marvel will have sense enough to combine this with a "Circle of Blood," if only to make up for that tacked-on sixth issue by a separate creative team (Jo Duffy again, right?")

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