War is on the streets! Last issue, Black Widow set up a team to help Frank consisting of Moon Knight, Night Thrasher, Ghost Rider (Danny Ketch) and surprise long-standing ally/trainee Rachel Cole Alves (see Greg Rucka’s 2011 run) in his fight against Baron Zemo and his B-list Thunderbolts. With this issue, Matthew Rosenberg unleashes all those players in the battlegrounds of New York. While some characters like Ghost Rider and Ghost were a bit under shadowed, surprise characters like Night Thrasher and Moon Knight had enough time to shine in this comic second only to Frank. Overall, this issue delivers in action and character interactions.
We’re in the penultimate game now. Given Baron Zemo’s longstanding legacy with other heroes, I still don’t know where this match up will leave Frank. Nevertheless, we cannot deny the momentum, build-up and planning so far and hope for a justified kill. Rosenberg is leveling out Zemo’s prior threat levels (and plot armor) in a humorous way with delusions of grandeur, slapping away his ill wielded confidence with failure, incompetency and terrible leadership. With Frank after him after all these issues and still standing, one wonders if Zemo’s laid-back nonchalance and lack of direct action is really masking cowardice and fear.
Matthew Rosenberg continues to shine in dialogue with this issue ripe with some funny circumstances.
While humor can be generally welcome and indicative of overwhelming triumph and victory, there are moments in this issue that made me wonder if the humor had degraded the spirit and feeling of The Punisher to areas too left field. Aside from these occasional tonal jumps, praise be it’s a Punisher comic. It has a lot of action and violence. Punisher fans love a good story, but historically also love copious amounts of blood and death. There’s great fighting scenes between Frank and Zemo with Night Thrasher given particular attention in beating every Thunderbolt member…with sticks on a skateboard. Given the history between them running between three Punisher writers at this moment (a rare instance for any Punisher ally), it was nice to see the chemistry between Frank and Rachel. Balancing character moments, page space and plot in a manner that gives respect to every character is not an easy task and this issue was very well played by Rosenberg.
Szymon Kudranski and Antonio Fabela’s work was outstanding. In my opinion, this issue is the most consistent so far. The splash scenes are great and the colors really fits the tone of this comic as usual, with expression not overrun with colors and some strong black in the shadows. I don’t know if this was the most challenging issue for Kudranski and company throughout this run, but the art team were up to the task. The cover from Greg Smallwood is excellent as usual. For old school fans, this cover just emanates epic 80’s and 90’s vibes. The only detriment is the exclusion of Rachel Cole-Alves, but I guess she was part of the surprise Rosenberg prepared for us.
Overall Verdict: Despite the promises of “World War Frank” and the slim promises and narrative momentum that Frank Castle would finally evolve to punish the greater Marvel Universe, I really don’t know how this run is going to end. Matthew Rosenberg built up this Punisher storyline in a wonderful fashion through 26 issues up until this point and aimed the Frank Castle death missile straight at Baron Zemo. Despite operating off of what happened to Frank in Secret Empire, Rosenberg mostly succeeded in turning all those nonsense of that linewide event into an choice opportunity to propel Frank to greater heights, giving us the wonderful arc that was the War Machine run. Even if Frank doesn’t kill Zemo, it’s been mostly a blast…but he better fucking kill Zemo.