Monday, May 5, 2008

The Punisher: Circle Of Blood

Can it be? Am I reviewing a non-Garth Ennis penned Punisher comic? Really? Yes. It's true. I read the Classic Premiere hardcover of the now classic five issue mini-series that kick started The Punisher's solo title, so let's take a look.

After being thrown in prison, Frank Castle is coerced into helping some Mafia guy and the villain Jigsaw escape from prison. Once he does that, he's roped into working for the Trust, a collective of private citizens with the intent on cleaning up the streets. So Frank starts a gangwar and then has it escalate into a nightmarish body count. Frank slowly unravels the mystery around the Trust, who have been brainwashing criminals into thinking they're the Punisher themselves, so Frank then makes a play for the Trust.

There's a little bit more to this mini-series than I let on in the summary. The thing is, it don't matter. What matters is here's Frank's chance to kill a whole bunch o' people and he does. Oh, he does. Apparently Mr Sims has three versions of this in collected format and I'm not sure why. This is a very mediocre Punisher story. Maybe it's 'cause it's the first real one, maybe because it's not quite as nuanced as what I'm used to, but really, it's average at best. Especially the fact that Mike Zeck's anatomy for people gets all wonky from panel to the panel. And especially the fact that the entire creative team takes early retirement and lets some randoms finish the last issue. What's the story on that?

I just wasn't impressed. I thought the "circle of blood" theme that ran through the entire mini-series was the best part. Frank realizes that he's simply part of the same cycle of violence, and doppelgangers echo that theme more than once. I really enjoyed the subplot of the kid who's straight, but is the son of a Mob guy killed by Frank, who vows revenge on The Punisher. It's kind of like epic Greek tragedy where the cycle never ends because revenge begets revenge. There's also a couple neat lines where The Punisher says that he isn't Frank Castle anymore, and that it's the Punisher persona that keeps the circle of blood going. Writing Frank as a tortured man works better than writing him as just a badass.

I can't say this is terrible... I've just been spoiled by over 60 issues of Garth Ennis on the character. Once I forget about the Ennis stuff, I may enjoy Circle Of Blood for what it is: the first real solo Punisher story. Recommended for fans of the character only, really.

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