Wars are common occurrences in crime fiction. They can be gang wars between rival mobsters, a war on drugs, or an all-encompassing war against the forces of organized crime itself. The latter type of war has been waged by many memorable protagonists like Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op, Richard Stark’s Parker, Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan, and Bolan’s four-color descendant, Marvel Comics’ U.S. Marine-turned-vigilante Frank Castle, AKA the Punisher.
Acclaimed thriller writer Greg Rucka joins artists Marco Checchetto, Matthew Southworth, Matthew Clark, and color artist Matt Hollingsworth to kick off a new campaign in the Punisher’s ongoing war against organized crime. The Punisher Volume 1 (March 14, 2012) is a graphic novel that collects the first six issues of the title character’s current series.
One common way to follow a war on crime is through the perspective of the person that wages it. Rucka isn’t interested in doing that, though. The Punisher is almost a force of nature in the opening stories. His first line of dialogue doesn’t come until the end of the third story in the collection. So instead of the Punisher’s perspective, Rucka offers up the P.O.V.s of several compelling characters caught up in the Punisher’s current campaign against crime.
These characters’ fates become intertwined when two rival gangs open fire on each other in the middle of a wedding, killing most of the guests. The first characters we meet are the detectives assigned to make sense of the massacre, and they allow Rucka to graft some interesting police procedural elements onto his tale. They are veteran Detective Ozzie Clemons, who has a keen analytical mind and is morally offended by the Punisher’s violent crusade, and his new partner, Detective Walter Bolt, who unbeknownst to Ozzie, is an informant for the Punisher.
In a back-up tale that complements the first story, Rucka shows how a moment of weakness earned Bolt his Detective shield and put him under the thumb of the Punisher. We get to know these two flawed cops as they pursue both the Punisher and the suspects in the Wedding Massacre. Rucka further fleshes them out by giving us a glimpse into how their jobs affect their private lives. We see Bolt and Clemons celebrating Thanksgiving Day in very different ways.
Rucka and Checchetto also show readers how people who don’t confront violence on a daily basis view the Punisher. Norah Winters is a reporter covering the Wedding Massacre who comes face to face with the Punisher. She’s an interesting character in her own right, but what’s especially interesting is watching her wrestle with how best to report the actions of a morally murky character. Norah’s role also allows Rucka to offer up yet another compelling perspective, that of a victim. Norah develops a friendship with one of the only survivors of the Wedding Massacre, the bride, Marine Sergeant Rachel Cole-Alves.
First, we see Rachel react to the loss of her husband, family, and friends. We then see her wrestle with how to restore balance and meaning in her life, and see the dark choice she makes to do that.
Another interesting group of characters with a distinct point of view on the Punisher are the criminals he’s hunting. In this volume, it’s a criminal cabal known as The Exchange. They’re former members of super powered terrorist groups who have given up trying to conquer the world and are instead trying to conquer the more lucrative world of organized crime. The Exchange is a secretive organization by nature, but Rucka and Checchetto offer up some interesting scenes between its various members that shows how they work, relate to each other, and operate. It gives the feeling of an organization that is both realistic, and fantastic at the same time.
As if a story that offers up the perspectives of a vigilante, criminals, cops, a reporter and a crime victim wasn’t riveting enough Rucka and Checchetto also offer up bursts of violent and exciting action. Most of the action takes the form of blazing gun fights, but the creators also find a way to incorporate the super powered elements of the Marvel Universe into the story in a way that feels realistic. That comes when the Exchange hires a low level super-criminal named the Vulture to kill the Punisher.
The Punisher barely escapes with his life and he then has to spend the next three months recovering from the injuries he sustained in the visceral and violent conflict.
So if you’re looking for a gritty, hardboiled, action-packed crime tale that blends multiple points of view and crime fiction elements with some of the more interesting elements of the Marvel Universe, look no further than Punisher Volume 1.
All images used with permission of Marvel Comics.