Bagalia is in ruins and Baron Zemo has retreated to New York to break bread with THE criminal mastermind himself, Wilson Fisk a.k.a. Kingpin, for assistance with their soon-to-be mutual Punisher problem. As the wacky criminal duo are trading verbal smoke and butting administrative heads, Frank Castle is collecting intel in the manner he knows best…killing, torture, interrogation and more killing.
This issue walks back on the action to deliver on set-up. With Frank back in New York and clear with where he stands as a “hero” again, there’s finally a sense of thematic wholeness to the series that previous issues could not deliver. By doubling down on the run’s Hydra conflict by involving Kingpin, there is now a sense of momentum for a fruitful endgame. The dialogue and interactions between Zemo and Kingpin play out classic, humorous and epic. There’s an oddball couple energy to their shared panic as they continually bargain and plan for the conflict to come that is matched beautifully with Frank’s “investigation”. It all comes to a head with the revival of a long-time iconic, left field antagonist, the anti-vigilante organization, VIGIL…prominently featured in the Suicide Run storyline.
It’s a hallmark of the comic (OG to MAX) that Frank’s heroic actions and black humor cool are contrasted against cautionary background commentary. From Frank’s conversations with the farmer in the War Machine run to his harsh dealings with Hydra to Sister Mercy to this issue’s controversial Frank Castle vs. law enforcement encounter, Rosenberg carries that spirit with a respectable level of moral consideration, invoking the Taxi Driver vibes of Mike Baron and Chuck Dixon.
Szymon Kudranski has been steadily improving throughout this run and delivers his best artwork in this issue. The first few pages are absolutely beautiful in detail, shading and atmosphere. Kudranski’s anatomy and sense of movement are increasing in visual and spatial sense. While later, weaker panels show that he needs to improve in consistency and detail, this issue shines with cinematic framing and has been a strong case for Kudranski’s residency on the book. Of course, Antonio Fabela’s wonderful coloring also backs up the improved work here. The return to the drab dark blues, purples and blacks of New York are most welcome after last issue’s bright tropics. Greg Smallwood’s covers continue to be a highlight of the series. For the Kingpin’s hefty presence, he dedicates the whole cover to him…diabolic white suit and diamond cane and all.
Overall Verdict: With twenty four issues under his belt (as of #13), Matthew Rosenberg is now the longest-tenured The Punisher writer of the past decade. Despite taking Frank Castle to the murky, superhero forefront of the 616, Rosenberg has injected a fresh spirit of legacy, moral grayness and self-seriousness to the comic by grounding his run in the spirit and history of the original 1989 ongoing. For the first time in a long while, Frank Castle’s adventures feel dangerous and compellingly unpredictable. Along with his surprising presence and heroism in War of the Realms and Cosmic Ghost Rider’s continued existence, it is now genuinely unclear as to how much, rather than how little Marvel is willing to allow Frank Castle to punish. Issue #13 presents a case for optimism on that note with sharp plotting and classic execution. Let’s hope that the downfall was worth the ascent.
Next up in The Punisher #14, out August 7th…Moon Knight?!?