I love it when a plan comes together.
Okay, so it’s not something the Punisher would say, but it fits here. Writer Greg Rucka created one of the greatest runs on The Punisher since the inception of the character. He humanized Frank Castle; he made him more than a really pissed off killing machine. The end of Rucka’s run was a sad moment for Punisher fans. Capping off the series, Rucka created a five-issue run titled Punisher: War Zone. In it, Frank would set it off against the Avengers with the life of his imprisoned partner Rachel Cole-Alves in the balance. The first four issues of War Zone were inconsistent at times, and other times just poorly written. It was setting up to be a disappointing last hurrah.
Now comes issue five, the absolute last words Rucka will write about the Punisher, and it is perfection. Cover to cover, page after page, War Zone #5 wraps up Rucka’s run in the exact way it needed to. While the action in this issue is awesome, the real praise belongs in the subtlety of Rucka’s writing. Frank Castle brings it to the Avengers, one man holds his own against the entire team, and Rucka makes it completely believable. How? By having Punisher exploit the team’s egos, not their power.
Castle is held up in an amusement park, which I dig because it brings in shades of the old Parker novels by Richard Stark, but I digress. He’s leading them there not to fight them, but to give Cole-Alves time to escape. Here we have Exploit Number One. Castle knows Wolverine agrees with what he does and sees why Cole-Alves involved herself in the mission. He uses that soft spot to get the mutant leader to assist Cole-Alves in her escape. One down, five to go.
The easy exploit is Iron Man. Castle repeatedly gets the best of old Shellhead not because he can overpower him, but by exploiting his ego. Iron Man thinks that, between his intelligence and his armor, he can only be stopped by huge threats and massive firepower. Castle keeps yanking the rug out from under him with little things. Booby-trapped armor, exact shots to the faceplate of the armor causing the system to freak out.
When Thor attacks, it seems like the end for Frank. Until Frank uses his stolen web shooters to web up Thor’s eyes. It’s an easy target, but effective. Spidey’s rage at Punisher’s continuous use of his web fluid makes him sloppy. Frank uses that and manages to gun Spider-Man down, though only with rubber bullets. Black Widow, he takes down the same way, using her anger and confidence against her.
The only person Frank doesn’t try to attack is Captain America. Finally cornered, Frank is getting beaten down by the Avengers. He continues to fight until Cap addresses him as a Marine and orders him to stand down. It’s a great example of the respect Frank has for Captain America as a solider. It also humanizes Frank, which was the core of Rucka’s original run. In fact, the overall arc of Frank fighting the Avengers to allow Cole-Alves time to run is the most human thing Punisher has ever done. It’s a statement of Frank Castle and not The Punisher.
Punisher: War Zone #5 ends with Castle being held in a special containment center at the bottom of Lake Michigan. There’s also a resolution with Cole-Alves that may or may not lead to a new series. How Frank goes from the bottom of a lake to being tied up where Thunderbolt Ross meets him in Thunderbolts #1 is anybody’s guess, though I seriously doubt Rucka cared when he wrote this. His time on this book is complete and has been incredibly impactful to our understanding of the character.
Sadly I can’t give an entire thumbs up here. Carmine Di Giandomenico’s art still escapes me. His blocky anatomy is hard to get around, which is too bad because I like how he pencils the action here. The inks are also a bit thin, which gives the visual presentation a real lack of weight. Colorist Matt Hollingsworth helps present the action by coloring backgrounds almost uniform and keeping the vibrant colors on the actual characters. It’s a nice counterbalance to the aloof feel of Giandomenico’s pencils.
Punisher: War Zone was a bumpy ride, but Rucka proves with this issue why he needs to be counted as one of the most important contributors to Frank Castle's legacy.
Story: 5 + Art: 3 =