I’ll admit, part of the reason you haven’t seen too many reviews of The Punisher popping up lately is, I lost interest. Though the book opened strong, a detour featuring the Vulture was too campy to keep up the tone of the book, and a tightening financial situation made me decide to drop it. But I like Rucka and Lark too much to stay away for long, and with sales on the title dropping like a rock and a bit of Christmas cash in my pocket, I decided to dive back in and see where things stood while I still could.
When I wrote last year about The Punisher #1 and #2, Greg Rucka’s relaunch of the venerable Marvel anti-hero, I described Castle as the slasher from an 80’s horror movie, a silent killer whose lack of personality was (ideally) made up for in the people he was hunting down and gutting. It was through his relationship with the supporting cast – and by ‘relationship with’ I mean ‘impact on’ – that we truly get an idea of who he is. I think that’s why the Vulture issues bored me so; it was all about the Punisher being tough, beating something up. And while, sure, some of that’s to be
The Punisher #6 picks up four months after the Vulture fight. The Punisher, gravely wounded, has been largely side-lined as he recovered, while Rachel Cole-Alvez, the Marine whose wedding-day massacre has inspired a lust for vengeance to rival Castle’s, has spent it in physical therapy. Together – though neither knows the other is also targeting the outfit – they decimate the Exchange’s meeting place, nailing a bunch of high level criminals and meeting each other for the first time.
The Punisher #7, titled “The String,” follows the aftermath of their assault, as detectives Clemons and Bolt are called upon to investigate the massacre. It’s the kind of bold, ballsy move that I so enjoyed about the book in the first place, a departure from the Punisher and an examination on the impact the Punisher has on the people around him. Clemons and Bolt investigate the crime scene, trying to figure out what went down, while Clemons relates why (unlike many of his coworkers, partner included) he so badly wants the Punisher caught and imprisoned.
Rucka’s current take on The Punisher is not without problem. From the terrible cover art for the issue – perhaps the most generic Punisher cover ever crafted – to the lack of a clear narrative hook in some issues, this one included, the book almost dares readers to jump over to the more ambitious, bloody Punisher MAX. But I like what Rucka is trying to do here. The scope of the story is fairly grand, and though the execution is occasionally lacking, he’s still using a notoriously difficult character for writers to tell vibrant, relatable stories about real people caught in tough situations.
It hasn’t made the leap from good to great that I’d hoped it would after those first two issues, but it also hasn’t made the fall from good to mediocre I feared it would after the Vulture’s appearance. Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s The Punisher is an essential read for fans of the character seeking something a little different, a little more serious. From Lark’s dark, memorable art – I don’t think any artist has made Castle scarier – to Rucka’s offbeat scripts, it’s an engaging book, albeit an occasionally frustrating one.