What If? The Punisher #1

Writer: Carl Potts
Artist: Juanan Ramírez
Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg
Letterer: VC’s Travis Lanham
Cover Artists: Chris Stevens & Rachelle Rosenberg (after Mike Zeck & Phil Zimelman)
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Review by Nico Sprezzatura

Back in the day, Marvel regularly published an ongoing series called What If? which posited various hypothetical scenarios  — e.g. What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four? Though less frequent than they used to be, Marvel still puts out new additions to the What If? line from time to time. This week’s What If? The Punisher #1 is the third of six new What If? Installments being released this month, asking the question: What if Peter Parker became The Punisher?

I’m not actually sure if this has been the subject of its own What If? issue before, but it definitely feels like it would’ve been. Spider-Man’s popularity is evergreen, while The Punisher has had streaks of omnipresence in the comics since his introduction as a Spider-Man villain. In any event, this issue is exactly what you’d expect it to be.

We get the start of Spidey’s usual origin story: Uncle Ben is killed, launching Peter Parker into a one-man crusade to fight for justice. In this version, however, Peter’s methods aren’t as kid-friendly as we’re usually shown, and he becomes known as the Punishing Spider in the media. Sure enough, he lives up to the title, and doesn’t futz around when the Sinister Six inevitably come calling for him. But with the Green Goblin still active and kicking, Peter’s job isn’t quite yet done.

As an issue of a comic book, What If? The Punisher #1 is a bit busy. Writer Carl Potts burns through a lot of territory in these twenty-two (give or take) pages but given the premise and limited space given to its story, that’s to be expected. Issues of What If? generally aren’t breezy reading experiences, so it wouldn’t be fair to slight this one for being as dense as it is, but I do think a large chunk of this issue could’ve been covered in a double page spread, i.e. Spider-Gwen’s origin in Edge of Spider-Verse #3. Because that issue got all of its origin busywork out of the way immediately, it was able to tell a story that stood on its own, and eventually spin-off into its own continuity with the Spider-Gwen title. You kinda have to imagine that What If? issues — either in name or function — are meant to serve as possible backdoor pilots for new titles, and I’m not so sure What If? The Punisher #1 makes an especially great case for itself on that basis.

Juanan Ramírez’s art, though, is very good, and does a lot of the heavy-lifting in Potts’ script. The Sinister Six bit I mentioned earlier looks great in the issue, detailing how Peter quickly disposed of the super-villain group in an economic splash page. There are moments of interesting developments throughout the issue like that one, but as a whole, What If? The Punisher #1 kinda spins its wheels a bit too much for it to gain any traction.

The Verdict: Skip it.

Unless you’re a completist of Spider-Man, The Punisher and/or “what if?” stories, you can probably skip What If? The Punisher #1.

Nico Sprezzatura
Nico Frank Sprezzatura, middle name optional. 24. Schrödinger's writer.

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