There’s a moment very early on in the first issue of “Punisher: In The Blood” where writer Rick Remender proves why his voice is so vital and necessary to superhero comics in general and the Marvel Universe specifically. It’s a passing line of dialogue, not much of import, but it speaks volumes about his tone, his sense of style, and how much he defers to any stodgy reverence some might have towards traditional, continuity-heavy comics.
He has a neo-nazi skinhead call Dormammu “Dormarmaduke.”
It’s an incredible bit of dialogue, instantly illustrating the frission that takes place when you put a character like The Punisher into the Marvel Universe of Stilt Men and Invisible Women. Because if you have a Punisher, you have common thugs, and what would common thugs make of someone like Dormammu? Or would they even know enough about him to remember how his name goes?
Remender, throughout his superhero work (and in the preceding “Franken-Castle” especially), has been expert at couching the ground-level world of characters like The Punisher in the Baxter Building Terrace-level world of the 616 Marvel Universe. “In The Blood” features a lot less Monster-sized craziness (although the brief hint we get that he’s still operation out of the Monster Tunnels was a nice touch), but it’s still a lot more fanciful than any Max iteration of the character. Another great example of how Remender straddles these two worlds is a climactic sequence where Frank Castle whisks away from a prison in what can only be called “The Punisher Glider” right before he incinerates hundreds of prisoners in an explosion he set. It's the ridiculous right alongside the painfully sublime.
Artist Roland Boschi does fine work here. Along with Dan Brown’s colors, the art has a suitably gritty, loose tone to it, making the many scenes of violence feel a bit more vicious and giving the entire issue a simultaneously starkly edged yet fluid feel. Boschi is a long-time veteran of Remender and Jason Aaron’s work, and as always, his style fits very well with the work they do on their Marvel books.
Remender has set up, with the prison explosion and the return of one of The Punisher’s oldest foes, a potentially very interesting five issue series here. Franken-Castle is gone. And while I’ll miss him, it seems like Remender is certainly capable of telling all kinds of different Punisher stories. I’m looking forward to seeing how this one turns out.