Many times Frank Castle brushed with the law. But never has the Punisher been brought to court for his crusade against crime. He either always evades capture in the first place, or escaped custody once we punished whoever he needed to infiltrate prison to reach. In THE TRIAL OF THE PUNISHER #1, the eponymous anti-hero stands before the judge. Why did he allow such a thing? And what kind of circus would his presence turn the courtroom into?
For those just coming in, Frank Castle began life as a marine. But when his family died in a mob war crossfire, the desire for retribution sent him on a cycle of violence that would never end. Frank Castle died, and The Punisher was born.
My personal favorite run of The Punisher was the series written by Greg Rucka, a relatively recent stint that ran and completed before Rucka left Marvel. After that business ended, The Punisher spent some times with the Thunderbolts. I don’t know if he’s still with them; it’s a series I don’t read. Thankfully, that isn’t required reading for today’s tale.
THE TRIAL OF THE PUNISHER #1 begins with Castle turning himself in to the authorities. His crime: murdering a district attorney, something the Punisher would never do. In spite of his kill count, The Punisher holds himself to a standard. He only kills the guilty. A district attorney is not on that list, although from what we learn in this issue, it was probably an accident. Maybe. The book gives conflicting accounts as to the nature of the DA’s physical state of death, and what caused it. Nevertheless, he confesses fully to the crime, ensuring that it’s not a matter of if, but rather how, The Punisher is convicted.
Frank is introduced to his court-appointed defense attorney, a very professional, yet very suspicious Lisa Santos. She knows the Punisher is working some sort of angle, but lacking any idea what such suicidal decisions could net the man, she works to defend him in a fair manner. The trial begins, and the matter of how Frank’s past kills and acts of brutality will factor into the proceedings is addressed. As is the question of Castle’s sanity.
In spite of select action beats – including one fight in prison and one flashback to one of Frank’s aforementioned acts of brutality – THE TRIAL OF THE PUNISHER #1 is more subtle. This won’t necessarily be a bombastic affair, though I know writer Marc Guggenheim won’t skimp on the action where appropriate. This is, instead, a study of the character of Frank Castle. The exact legalities or lack thereof pertaining to The Punisher’s actions deserve exploration, which is what I assume this series will cover.
Leinil Francis Yu provides the pencil work on the book, with heavily inking lines and a draw closer to the realistic side of the spectrum. The line work is dynamic, allowing figures to see more expressive, less fixed like statues. Sunny Gho provides colors, which gravitate more towards the washed out and muted, though not as much as others. Select bits of more vibrant color pop up here and there, but mostly it’s Earthy tones. Thankfully this works well with The Punisher, dark and gritty as he is.
So now comes the deciding moment: would I recommend THE TRIAL OF THE PUNISHER #1? To existing Punisher fans, yes. The title puts the character in a place he’s never been in before; a sorely needed development for a property that can often feel repetitive. For readers new to Frank Castle’s adventures, I wouldn’t recommend. While it establishes who he is generally, I don’t think it’s the best introduction to the character. The two flashbacks we get of his exploits were on the crueler end of the brutality spectrum, which can put off people just trying to develop an affinity for him. The concept of a renegade punishing his way through the worst parts of humanity can be difficult to sympathize with, so I’d recommend other stories as gateway into the franchise. To the issue’s credit, it concludes with a two page list of notable collected Punisher stories, like the Essentials and Welcome Back Frank, and the Rick Remendor and Greg Rucka runs, among many others.
Personally, I’ve got enough comics on my plate these days, and I’m still exhausted of Punisher stuff from the Rucka era. The biggest thing to remember about the Punisher is that it’s very easy to get fatigued on a guy basically living everyone’s psychopathic fantasies repeatedly in rapid succession. Between these two, I’m just not ready for another stint with Frank. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying exciting legal action.