The Punisher: The Prize GN – C. J. Henderson

3 out of 5

Fiction writer C.J. Henderson takes a stab at The Punisher, and does that thing a lot of book-writers on comics do: he overwrites it a bit. Not so much in terms of over-exposition – he actually has a really good grasp on letting his artist, Mike Harris, do the work – but in terms of character and story complexity, writing up concepts and themes that never quite make their way to the page.

In tracking down some mysterious ultra-weapon, Frank is connected with a female reporter, and their flirtations – though ultimately dismissed by Frank – have him thinking of a life beyond vengeance. But he has a job to do, and he persists, leading up to a pretty fun wrinkle in its final battle, when that ultimate weapon is revealed.

While the romance angle may seem rather anti-Punisher to purists, Henderson leads into it believably, and rebuffs it “in character” as well; this is simply a slightly more human version of Frank, still driven, but existing moreso in the real world, and subject to the kinds of doubts and whatnot that come with that. But while this dynamic works within the moment, it just floats in and out otherwise; the kind of thing that would be more effective in a book, when you have a longer stretch of being able to develop it and tease it out; single pages that speak to Frank’s thoughts aren’t enough to make it really flourish into a theme here. The same ultimately goes for the weapon that Castle is tracking down, which is half-assedly treated like a mystery, and then just gets pushed to its final developments after various badguy-shootin’ scuffles; again, it feels like there was something more involved going on off the page / in Henderson’s head that just never made it into the book itself. Additionally, there are some POV switches that feel like a book artifact; they don’t add much to the comic and are maybe just confusing, as they’re used sparingly.

Given all that, the comic flows really well, and Mike Harris’ art is really quite something – it’s very loose, but he captures a sense of movement and humanity extremely well with those lines; it’s almost an animated style put on page, like Ralph Bakshi or something. He spares a lot of details while doing this, and so combined with the loose line, it feels a bit janky at a glance, but I found it to be really grabbing once I allowed it more time, and my attentions. He looks to have gotten a bit more detailed over the years, while still maintaining that free-form, animated vibe.

The Gift is worth reading because it does have a unique voice for Punisher. It’s not a landmark title or anything, but it is memorable in that regard.