Punisher Vol. 1: The King of Killers Book One review – AIPT

Punisher Vol. 1: The King of Killers Book One lives up to its promise of a new Punisher era.
Many of us in times of uncertainty turn to a higher ideal to strive towards. Some turn to God; others to science or nature. Frank Castle turns to the one thing he knows: murder. The Punisher has seemingly found religion as the new leader of the Hand. Punisher Vol. 1: The King of Killers Book One marks the first half of Jason Aaron’s return to the character and it promises to be the “the Punisher story to end all Punisher stories.” This volume marks a new jumping on point for the character packed with poetic violence.
We start off, as most Punisher tales do, with a recounting of the Castle family murder. This opening introduces us to Azaceta’s distinct style and the birth of Marvel Universe’s greatest killer. We then flash forward to present day Greece, where the Punisher, garbed in his new insignia, massacres an Apostles of War arms deal. As the initial issue goes on, we learn how Frank fell in with the murderous cult of the Hand, what’s keeping him around, and hints at a looming opposing force.

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Each issue flashes back and forth between the past and present with varying degrees of intrigue. While I’m not super familiar with how much other books have gone into Frank’s childhood, this series weaves the Hand of the Beast through his life at key stages from his first kill to his first love. For me, the flashbacks peak in issue #3. It offers a character study of Frank at a point of his life that we haven’t seen much and feeds into his current characterization. The subsequent flashbacks are serviceable but not as interesting. When you have the option of reading about Frank’s school days or him tearing through a Hydra headquarters with a “banner-cannon,” one leaps out much more than the other.
Frank orders his steak bone-in.
Credit: Marvel
The present day portions of the book are where the real meat of the story lies. Frank has to balance his newfound destiny against his own ideals. We see him trade his guns for a katana, exhibit demonic prowess, and slowly have his defenses eroded away. Simmering in the background is Frank’s original god, Ares. It turns out the God of War doesn’t take lightly to his greatest disciple being swayed away from him. The first two issues try to obscure Ares, but one glimpse at his Apostle’s headgear in the first few pages and the mystery falls away immediately.
Ares’ presence here creates a battle for Frank’s soul. We may not know how far Frank will go for his family, but we also don’t know how far a spurned god will go for his greatest adherent. With this setup, each issue allows room to explore this over-arching story, but still retain the blood-drenched action one expects. Aaron does not forget the main reason why people love the Punisher: we love seeing him punish, and every issue delivers. There’s at least some blood-soaked killing spree fully realized through the artwork every issue. This book also exercises little restraint. It’s probably the most violent and gory book coming out from Marvel right now, and this is the perfect book for it. Dismemberment, torture, and guts galore; everything is on display here, and it’s impossible to look away.
Slicing and dicing!
Credit: Marvel
Saiz’s artwork renders the present day storyline and it’s fantastic. The digital painted style gives every page a crisp, clean look. The shadows perfectly cover faces to render the maximum emotion out of the story. The layouts of each page are equally great, particularly in the action scenes. Stewart’s colors enhance the work further. When the color red is such a recurring palette it can be all to easy to lose the vibrancy amidst the other colors; thankfully, this is never the case here. From the Hand’s gis to blood-spattered floors, the reds leap off the page.
I came away surprised with how much I enjoyed this book. What this series has done is give me something to actually latch onto with The Punisher. His eternal war on crime has always been a story of diminishing returns. How many times can we watch the one man army tearing through thugs and villains with righteous fury? But this series takes that man and forces him to grapple with a higher ideal. Is he truly the fist of the beast and has this been his destiny forever; or is he just being put on by this cult, who want to align themselves with one of the most prolific killers? Frank has to deal with all of this as well as the promise of resurrecting his family. How far will he go for the love of his life?
Punisher Vol. 1: The King of Killers Book One lives up to its promise of a new Punisher era. The new status quo is engaging and the writing is solid throughout, even if the verbose “Proverbs of the Sickly Ones” can wear a bit thin with back to back readings. Beyond the fresh story, the artwork knocks it out of the park. Fans of the Punisher will have plenty to enjoy here – and for those like myself who don’t usually go for this type of fare, it’s worth giving a shot.
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