Graphic Novels and Manga Challenge. Hosted by Nicola, it's one of the challenges I look forward to the most. This past year I read more for this challenge than even from the one I host (i.e., The Canadian Book Challenge). In fact, I had only signed up for the 2nd level of the challenge (i.e., 24) but I'm closing in on the top level (i.e., 52). The Punisher: In The Beginning marks my 49th of the year. So close!
I've wanted to read something about the Punisher ever since I heard that he was going to be included in Marvel Cinematic Universe, making his appearance in season 2 of The Daredevil next year. He's not a character I'd known much about other than his logo, but I was intrigued to know that he's likely to play a villainous role. I've quickly gathered that while he targets bad guys, it's his means of doing so that make his superhero status so dubious. Knowing the upcoming theme of the next MCU movie, Captain America: Civil War, with it's anti-vigilante stance it's a perfect time to bring The Punisher into the mix. Given how Netflix is the only corner of the MCU that seems willing to go dark, it's also the perfect place for him.
But if I wasn't overly familiar with the Punisher, I was completely clueless about Marvel's MAX comics line. Basically it's their R rated imprint. Yeah, the name is a bit much. And on that note, my fears that it would try too hard to be shocking and edgy did not turn out to be unwarranted. There are definite moments in here that made me say, "oh, brother." The only female character getting turned on by violence was, quite frankly, pathetic and a major drawback.
That said, not everything was gratuitous and I think the character demands an uncomfortable story. When you strip away the cartoonishness of other superheroes, he's not doing anything really different. For that matter, he also forces us to look at the context of violence. Is it ever the answer? Most of us aren't Gandhi and would feel a little naive to say no outright. There are certain violent crimes that all but the sickest of us would decry as wrong. Deciding when violence is right, however, is less clear and when someone says it is, it should be uncomfortable. Therefore The Punisher, Civil War plot lines, and so on, are needed to balance out the clear and typically unchallenged and black and white morality of superhero tales.
This is Frank Castle's, aka The Punisher's, origin story. It's dark and full of revenge. Despite it all, I didn't dislike him. Maybe I should have? Maybe that story-line will come?
The art is not bad. It's gritty and dark, and therefore fitting. I do wish, however, that Castle himself wasn't drawn as an over-sized grotesque freak. A part of his appeal is that he's not an actual superhero. He doesn't have any superpowers. Drawing him like a non-green Hulk kind of strips that away. Tim Bradstreet's cover version would have been much better. Likewise, Jon Bernthal is a great choice. I think Larosa would have gone with The Great Khali.