Review by Karl Verhoven
Jason Aaron’s already had one stint writing The Punisher, turning in a four volume collaboration with Steve Dillon presenting a complete story arc looking at the Punisher of an alternate universe. He’s not quite working with the primary article here either, in a series that sees the Punisher appointed High Slayer of Marvel’s killer ninja clan the Hand, so killing with a sword rather than his primary weapons.
The Hand are puzzling creations, seemingly infinite in number over the years, each trained to the peak of swordsmanship and cunning, yet just the cannon fodder for anyone they come across. “They died without a cry. Without a whimper. Without a single sound.”, reports a gleeful observer, “They died like ninja”. Indeed, the corpse count is excessive as the Punisher sets about them over the opening episode, but the Hand have a trick they’ve used before: they can revive the dead, and that taps into what Frank Castle has always wanted.
Jesús Saiz is the primary artist, drawing the dead person in question complete with bullet holes and not shying away from other effects of weapons. At first it seems to be straddling a line. Is Saiz glorifying the violence for a voyeuristic audience, or is ensuring readers are made aware that violence has consequences. It can be asked about any Punisher artwork, but the difference is here the answer doesn’t appear obvious. That’s not just because Saiz is a better artist than most who’ve worked on the character, slick and oriented toward action, yet also capable of stunning beauty. Just take a look at the background statues. In the end, though, the balance tips toward gratuitous pandering to seekers of sordid thrills, which is a shame.
Equally good artist Paul Azaceta is restricted to scenes of the past, as Aaron is possibly the first writer to investigate Castle’s childhood. These glimpses mess with the accepted premise of the Punisher, that he was forged during military service, and completely turned when his family were murdered in the crossfire of battling gangsters. Aaron would have it that Castle was always the relentless killer, even as a child his spirit calling out to the creepy old woman running the Hand. It’s an idea, but because it’s the young Castle in isolation with no indication where his impetus came from, it’s not a very good idea.
Aaron doesn’t do much to conceal the identity of the primary enemy over the earliest chapters, and his choice sets up a battle the Punisher can never win no matter how many ninja accompany him. However, the means of circumventing the inevitable consequence has been set-up, and Aaron ends with a cliffhanger introducing another former leader of the Hand to kick off the next volume.
The cycle of temptation and seduction is employed understandably, but the jury’s out on other matters less plausibly presented. Aaron may yet convince, and this earns points for being a new approach rather than the standard one.