If anything is deserving of Frank Castle style brutality, it’s the many awful shots that well meaning comic creators have taken at reinventing the Punisher. The violent, avenging hitman may fit nicely into Marvel’s Max line of gritty crime dramas, but attempts at fitting him into the mainstream Marvel universe range from clunky and contrived to absolutely terrible. Over the years we’ve seen the Punisher become a holy hitman, a whip wielding geisha, and most recently, a goofy Frankenstein monster rip-off. So when I came across Frank Tieri and Mark Texeira‘s “Space: Punisher” limited series, I was ready for a real birdcage liner of a comic book. Thankfully, I was wrong. “Space: Punisher” is the furthest thing from a disappointment. It kicks cosmic ass.
Last month’s “Space: Punisher #1″ introduced Tieri & Texeira’s space swashbuckling version of Frank Castle. Tons had changed on the surface, but as it turns out, the raw materials of what makes the Punisher, the Punisher are all still there. Frank’s family was still murdered by the mob, but La Costra Nostra has been replaced by The Six Fingered Hand, an intergalactic mafia of space criminals. His battle van has been swapped out for a retro spaceship named after his dead wife, Maria. Micro is now a robot, who looks like a smaller version of Gort from “The Day the Earth Stood Still” if his weapons were seriously upgraded by Skynet. The whole thing sounds really campy and out there, and it is, but it’s done extremely well and with tons of slick sci-fi B movie style to boot.
In issue #1, Castle amputated the first finger of The Six Fingered Hand, A Venom symbiote bonded Brood Queen. After shaking down a a fun-house mirror version of the Star Wars cantina, he discovered the key to locating the rest of the group responsible for his family’s murder, the Barracuda. In Issue #2, the space mafia strikes back by sending the most deadly hitters in the galaxy: Deadpool, Sabretooth, and the Leader. Unfortunately for all parties involved, the Incredible Hulk exists in this version of the Marvel U, and he’s even scarier than his mainstream Universe counterpart. He looks like The Hulk had a kid with Sheeva from Mortal Kombat. The Hulk shows up, and, as expected, he absolutely wipes the floor with every living thing in the room and Castle and Micro narrowly escape to continue their mission. The rest of the issue sees the Punisher hunting down the next member of the The Six Fingered Hand, Dr. Octopus, who is half man, half octopus in a mermaid sort of way. This take on the Spider-man villain would never work in the terrestrial Marvel books, but in space, oddly enough, it works very well.
A large part of what makes this book as good as it is, is the art direction. Mark Texeira’s designs for the reimagined characters are a pleasing blend of flesh and metal, alien, human, and robot. The retro robots and ships are particularly fun. Texeira’s faded watercolor renderings look like something straight out of an old pulp sci-fi novel cover or a 50′s B-movie poster. There were some weird scale issues with the Hulk battle, but they never got in the way of my enjoyment of the issue, if anything, they made the fight a lot funnier. Despite being a fantasy book, the violence is rendered with loads of splattery, bloody detail. It’s pretty gruesome, but it manages to keep this comic very much a Punisher MAX style affair, without ruining the book’s tone. It’s a good balance.
“Space: Punisher #2″ is chock full of fan service and cool little nods to both the Punisher mythos and the Marvel Universe as a whole. Both the story and the artwork are cheeky, smart, and brutal, and yet the book still manages to avoid the pitfall of taking itself too seriously. Tieri and Texeria are really having fun with this one, and I’m with them every step of the way, with a gigantic nerd smile on my face.
Set phasers to “Punish”.