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Brutality is never a quality the Punisher struggles with. As one of the few vigilantes in the Marvel Universe with an utterly pro-killing attitude, it’s in his job description. I’m pleased to see that worldview maintains in the current run, with Frank Castle keeping his war on crime as intense as ever as new threats emerge.
With writer Becky Cloonan, art by Matt Horak, and colors from Lee Loughridge, this book is a kinetic portrait of Frank’s war, and a fun read. Punisher stories can sometimes fall into formulaic street-level crime tales. Not the case here, as the consequences of one of Frank’s recent assaults rears its quite ugly head for revenge.
The stakes aren’t world-ending, but that’s never been the Punisher’s forte, so keeping it within his scope works well. It puts his abilities to the test, yet creates a spectacle that can only happen in superhero comics. Let’s pick through the rubble to find out more:
Self contained, well paced stories are some of the best that comics can offer. In a world of crossovers and long-term stories that can take months to build up to something worthwhile, it’s nice to get a book that packs in plenty of action.
From the recap page we learn Frank recently took down the Condor mercenary group. Their main income came through EMC, a narcotic that grants enhanced strength, speed, senses, and madness. While Frank eliminates the organization, their top operative “Face” survives due to an overdose of EMC.
That’s where the action picks up, and Cloonan pulls no punches in setting up the terror Face presents. Concise dialogue allows for the art to play an equal role in story telling. But when a line lands, it can be both harrowing and hilarious.
No one really thinks about the Punisher as a comedic character (with good cause), but this book delivers one-liners like late 80’s action films. And that’s not a bad thing! As Frank departs to pursue Face, a lone thug that initially survives his onslaught shakes a fist with some weak threats. From his car, Frank simply leans his gun out the window to deliver a “Sure, pal” and finishes the job.
Lines like that help make the book fun, but there’s still room for character development that Cloonan takes advantage of. In pursuit of Face after a cable car crashes into a building, the typically gruff, dismissive Punisher recommends a garage to a motorist with a backfiring car. It’s in exchange for a “which way did he go?” moment, but remarkable in that Frank helps someone without shooting anything.
As much work as the writing puts in to create Frank’s stoic resolve and the madness of Face, the art brings all that story into gritty reality. The opening scene of Face awakening in his hospital bed only to brutally attack the nurse and police guarding him is something out of a horror movie. Blood and violence are in the forefront, so while well done, this may not be a book to recommend for younger readers.
Face himself is pretty chilling as well. Black eyed, and skull faced, his imposing physique and seeming invincibility are captured well by the art team.
It’s a traditional book in terms of layout, but the rapid fire action helps prevent any panel from falling flat. Panels are organized to move Frank along in his journey through the city. Line work from Horak is great in big action and the few splash pages, but those smaller panels do get a little choppy.
Still, there’s a definition to each frame that puts us in the blood spattered world Frank inhabits. Blood in particular gets great treatment whether it be in pools on the ground or exploding from the back of a head. Loughridge’s colors do great service to moments like these. Expert shading enhances the darkness and menace of Face.
Those shadows are juxtaposed against all the explosions and gunfire, which makes for eye popping action scenes. As the book closes, we learn Face has hostages in the theater. His demands? A duel to the death with the Punisher. It’s an over the top, comic book villain moment, but one that will be fun to watch unfold in future issues.
Get to Downtown Comics soon for more action, I know I’ll be there to get back in the swing of weekly reviews!