Greg Rucka's Punisher has been very good. Arguably, it should have been on our Top Ten Marvel Comics of 2011 list, but let's not rehash that again. One of the reasons it's been so good is that Rucka has had no qualms about not focusing on his title character, but rather his title concept. The Punisher #7 is a case in point.
Frank Castle barely spoke in the first few issues of this series, as Rucka was content to build him up as a force of nature while showing us how people respond to the Punisher is as important as the man himself. In Punisher #7, Castle only appears in a flashback from Detective Oscar "Ozzy" Clemons, explaining to his partner Walter Bolt why Castle hurts more than he helps, and why Bolt really better stop feeding information to him. Yeah, he knows. Yeah, Clemons is a good detective.
One of the harder things about writing the Punisher, beyond actually trying to figure out why he'd ever have recurring villains, is cultivating a supporting cast for a guy who works alone and refuses all human connection as best he can. Rucka, however, is getting it done. Not only has he built up Rachel Cole-Alves, the sole survivor of a bloody massacre that was once her wedding reception, into a fighting force with the same goals as Castle, but now, he's focusing on Clemons, showing us why we should think of him as more than a fun but obvious knock-off of Morgan Freeman's Detective William Somerset from the movie Seven. No, I'm still not writing it Se7en. That's Se-seven-en, and it's still not cool, even if the movie itself is good. One wonders if Rucka planned for #7 to focus on the Seven guy.
Anyway, this is all aftermath of last issue's bloodbath,as Clemons and Bolt drive upstate to pick over the mess left by Frank and Rachel as they murdered the hell out of some bad guys. It's almost entirely a conversation between Clemons and Bolt about Castle, while Clemons constantly flicks one of Castle's switchblades and half the time talks to himself.... revealing himself to be a very astute detective, a guy you can't put anything past, and one of the few cops on the force who actually wants to bring the Punisher to justice rather than accept his work as a favor to police everywhere. "Castle doesn't do favors, Walter," he says. "Castle serves himself." Rucka's again proving his chops by making cops talking into quietly compelling stuff. The point could be made that that's what every police procedural show does, but maybe that means Punisher should be an episodic TV series.
Michael Lark's pencils and Stefano Gaudiano's inks make for the kind of gritty, shaded style you see all over comic books these days, but Punisher is where it really belongs. It just creates that messy, dirty kind of underbelly world that Castle and the people whose lives he affects live in, and that's the mood you're looking for - that feeling where you think darkly to yourself that Hemingway once wrote 'the world is a fine place and worth fighting for.' and that you agree with the second part.
Rucka could be writing himself into a corner, delving into how often superhero and vigilante types contaminate crime scenes and thus undercutting much of what superhero fiction is based on, but he's proven he's a strong enough scribe to write himself out of any corner he appears to be in. The Punisher #7 is good stuff.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING: 8.6/10