Greg Rucka’s 16 issue run on “The Punisher” can already be considered an all-time classic run in the character’s history. It was a sleekly-told and intimate character study of an honorable man who has the capacity to do brutal things. By the end, the principle characters grew and changed and readers came away with a different idea of what the Punisher stands for.
So, just what are we supposed to take away from “Punisher: War Zone”?
Written by Greg Rucka
Illustrated by Carmine di Giandomenico
– Kings take Castle. Now its his move!
– It takes more than bullets to take out the Avengers’ biggest guns.
The issue opens on Rachel Cole-Alves, Frank Castle’s companion through the previous series, being questioned by a member of an anti-death penalty association. This is a stellar character moment for Cole-Alves, who had been scarred over the course of “The Punisher” and is now a shell of her former self. This scene features an unencumbered and emotionally honest speech on the part of our heroine, which highlights why Frank Castle is a man worthy of admiration, to a point. It is also the last really resonant moment of the issue, as it all takes a turn toward the “blockbuster action film” side of things.
The “biggest gun” alluded to in the solicitation just so happens to be Black Widow in issue #2 of Greg Rucka’s wrap-up miniseries. Last issue it was Wolverine (sort of) and Castle’s opponent for next issue is revealed in the final panel of the issue. And outside of a couple character moments, that seems to be what this miniseries is all about. “Let’s throw The Punisher up against each Avenger individually.” It’s a shame, because the character moments that we do get feel wasted, because this miniseries just clearly doesn’t have time to bother much with them. The most important aspect of Rucka’s “Punisher” was watching Castle dish out punishment as a defender instead of a revenge-driven tortured soul. Here, we don’t really see much of Frank at all. “Punisher: War Zone” ceases to be about the Punisher and more about the war, at a certain point. Here he’s just a man being hunted by Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, so we don’t get to see any of the payoff on the character growth from that ongoing series. With Castle soon becoming a member of Daniel Way’s “Thunderbolts” team and fully out of Rucka’s hands, I wonder if we ever really will.
The art is, however, easily the biggest problem with the issue. In “The Punisher”, Rucka and artist Marco Checchetto worked in sync to create poetic action scenes with an air about them. The mood was always appropriate, the action was always clear, and the payoff was always present. Carmine di Giandomenico’s work doesn’t show as much give and take with Rucka’s script. When Rucka puts narration over a brutal shootout late in the issue, he makes it sound far more cold and brutal than di Giandomnico’s art makes it look. The character linework is not as sharp and attractive as Checchetto’s was, which can be fine on its own, but becomes a problem when considering that this is a continuation of the same threads from Rucka’s ongoing. It’s hard to identify these as the same characters visually, when the art doesn’t hit the iconic notes laid down by Rucka and Checchetto in the earlier series. This fact becomes even more problematic when you consider the Avengers characters have now been thrown in. There is a particularly problematic coloring choice made with Black Widow’s hair. One of the main characters from the “Punisher” ongoing has a distinctly orange-red shade of hair, while Black Widow’s traditionally leans toward a more decidedly red shade. Here, they are virtually the same color. What makes this even more troubling is that their facial features and body types are practically the same as well. They could easily be mistaken for twins. This simply shouldn’t happen in a comic book with only a handful of characters with very distinct looks to juggle.
There are some really nice choices made in the action as far as pacing and punctuation is concerned. Sound effects with particularly huge and plain lettering are used to punctuate the shots that are fired in the climactic battle of the issue. They put large visual space between panels that highlight the drama of the gun duel. But the art fails again when the characters get a little closer. The Punisher and Black Widow wrestle one another in a series of moves that feature unrealistic contortions, problematic perspective choices that make the characters’ sizes look comically different next to one another, and non-chronological choreography that doesn’t flow from one panel to the other one in a sensible way.
This book smacks of Marvel interference, because it is clear that Greg Rucka is a better writer than this. His 16 issue story is so masterful and introspective that it could not have possibly been meant to end like this. This is impersonal. This is messy. This is out of left field. This is a writer with a character arc that deserved a better art match, or a maintaining of the talents of Marco Checchetto. This is Marvel wanting The Punisher dragged back into the fold by the Avengers and slapped on a team book. Fine, they got him. And we, the readers, got the short end of the stick.
Final Verdict: 5.0 – Pass. Your collection can officially end with “The Punisher” #16.