2 out of 5
The Punisher: hates criminals. Because they killed his family!
…And old or new, a lot of Punisher comics tend not to get very far past this point. Garth Ennis remains one of the few writers who managed to inject the character with personality, but otherwise, I’ve found that successful Pun comics have to rely on how interesting you can make what’s going on around Frank Castle. And if your inspiration ends at the lines with which I started, most of what’s going on around Frank tends to boil down to simplistic roadblocks: bad guys with bigger guns or powers. This can still be fun, of course, but it can also be pretty tiresome.
Writer Gregory Wright is it at the tail end of this funnel of possibilities in his prestige book No Escape, limiting Frank down to some monosyllabic version of what I’ve suggested – Hate! Kill! – and tossing roadblocks his way that are similarly single-attributed: Paladin hunts Frank for money; U.S. Agent because he was told to.
Artist Danny Bulandadi, finishing over Tod Smith’s breakdowns, starts things off impressively cinematically, with a bombing that sends Frank out to track down the mob perpetrator – damn mob killed his damn family! – the layouts and finishes get somewhat sloppier and less adventurous as things go on, as though the artists were feeling rushed and / or bored by the rather standard sequence of showdowns. There’s some B-movie fun in the construction, and you can kinda revel in the camp of the over-seriousness, particularly Wright’s take on U.S. Agent, whose lingering craziness sure makes him easy to lead astray, but the illogic of things – low-level thugs willing to give up their lives for an unscary boss; overly complex “traps” for Castle that amount to shooting him with a gun – catches up with the minimal buzz, and it’s mostly just the non-stop nature of the prestige that keeps us going, as Frank is pretty much on the hunt from beginning to end.