Despite a triumphant New York homecoming, things aren’t looking particularly great for Frank Castle. Hydra figurehead Baron Zemo has now allied with Mayor Wilson Fisk a.k.a. Kingpin in an effort to get rid of their mutual punishment problem once and for all. Their tools? An army of 400 Hydra strong disguised as United Nations troops, the revived VIGIL anti-vigilante enforcement unit, a group of b-list “Thunderbolts” led by Jigsaw and a public eager to throw an unjustly disgraced and framed Frank Castle under the bus. Fortunately, The Punisher’s bad manners and insults haven’t pushed all his friends away….Black Widow, Moon Knight, Night Thrasher and some other surprise guest allies are showing up to lend a helping fist.
As much as this is a set-up issue focused around The Punisher’s gathering of allies, it’s equally a showcase of the comfort and understanding that Matthew Rosenberg has of The Punisher world and its characters. Despite toning back the combat for yet another issue, Rosenberg succeeds in reorienting the chessboard for the conflict to come with some memorable and hilarious interactions, surprising cameos and real “fuck yeah” moments. Tension and fear over long-form storytelling within a Punisher series comes from past poor experiences and at this point, Rosenberg’s arc building feels earned with his ambition, respect for canon and rich character knowledge. Rosenberg presents a masterclass in Frank Castle’s asshole mannerisms with some hilarious interactions with Moon Knight and Black Widow and balances out the humor with the poignant return of a central figure in Greg Rucka’s excellent run and the epic rise of a past Spirit of Vengeance. This issue is a triumphant reassurance of Frank’s ascension into murderous success and a testament to Rosenberg’s vision for big game punishment.
In paneling and transitions, the cohesion between Kudranski and Rosenberg in translating script to imagery has only continued to improve. While Kudranski has a craft with characters in shadow and stationary objects, his skills don’t translate as well to more fantastic forms such as superheroes, colors and bodies in motion. At times, things are leaning towards the hyperrealistic Tim Bradstreet side of things and at other times, it’s abruptly cartoonish and akin to Archer. There could definitely be improvement in the head & body ratios (see Frank missing a neck at times and Wilson Fisk’s fluctuating mass) as well as consistency in shading and detail. Nevertheless, credit has to be given to Szymon Kudranski for continually evolving and improving in his artwork. His depiction of Baron Zemo and Frank in this issue are among the best of his entire run. Antonio Fabela rounds out the art with some excellent coloring, bringing life especially to the scenes within the convenience store, “undisclosed location” and that epic last splash page.
Earlier this week, cover artist Greg Smallwood stated that issue #16 would be his last work on The Punisher run. With this issue, Smallwood provided an epic three toned black, red and white cover showcasing Frank standing tall against a series of tanks and soldiers. Maybe, we’ll see a bit more of that next month.
Overall Verdict: The root success of Rosenberg’s run has been its aim to honor legacy by looking at what Frank Castle can achieve, rather than retread on familiar obstacles he’s already overcome. Rosenberg’s respect and knowledge of The Punisher services the story with deference to history and character, making homage meaningful and more than mere appeasement and hollow reference. This run truly feels like a part of the original numbering, rather than a reset of canon and this issue is just another excellent marker in Frank Castle’s return to strength.
Next up in The Punisher #15 (out September 4th), Punishment.