Reading through Punisher: Enter the War Zone was a fairly frustrating experience, because I couldn’t for the life of me understand why Marvel had forced Greg Rucka to wrap up his take on the character this soon. Overall, he ended up writing 21 issues of the Punisher, and taken as one large story, it’s one of the finest Punisher stories I’ve ever read. This collection gathers the five-issue Punisher: War Zone mini-series, which wraps up the loose ends from the rest of Greg Rucka’s run, and puts a cap on his take on the Punisher. There is a decidedly different feel this time around, compared to the first sixteen issues Greg Rucka wrote in his ongoing Punisher series, yet they are part and parcel of the same story. The regular series showed the evolution of Punisher’s partnership with Rachel Cole-Alves, who became, for the most part, a female version of The Punisher (but thankfully not called anything as demeaning as Lady Punisher, etc). That series ended with her having carried out her vengeance, but falling apart afterwards, and wanting to be killed, to escape her guilt and pain. She wanted release, and Punisher took it from her, not allowing a good soldier to die that way. At the conclusion of that book, she was arrested, Punisher was in the wind, and that was it.
That sets the stage for this collection, as Spider-Man has had enough of The Punisher, and wants him taken down, for good. This time around, he is upset that Punisher utilized stolen web-shooters to assist him in his murders, and Spider-Man can’t stomach that his inventions were used in such a dark and nefarious way. He attempts to get through to the Avengers, so that they will assist him in taking The Punisher down. First Spider-Man tries to take him down himself, only to be defeated and outsmarted. Captain America sends the Black Widow to hunt him down, only for him to outsmart her as well, and distract her with a situation she has to run to, in order to flee. Captain America next sends Thor, as the two warriors have a conversation, that Thor hopes will get Frank Castle to do the right thing, to save Rachel Cole-Alves, who is losing her trial. Finally, Frank Castle decides that the mission is what’s important, but so is Rachel, and so returns to New York City to free her from captivity, even if it means sacrificing his own freedom to do so.
Greg Rucka is able to take a mini-series that could have been mindless, putting Punisher up against various Avengers, and instead makes it a fascinating tale of how a man like Punisher would actually fight these characters. He’s a brilliant strategist, and that’s how he’s portrayed in this book, particularly when he manages to rescue Rachel Cole-Alves. He’s underestimated by the Avengers a few times here, and as a result he does much better against their superior firepower than one would initially have expected. Rucka’s portrayal of Thor is actually quite fun and entertaining, as Thor appeals to Punisher’s sense of honour, as he sees a fellow warrior. The ending is a satisfying one, although Marvel has almost immediately made it unimportant and inconsequential, as Punisher is already being used in other books currently being published, such as Thunderbolts. But the intent that Rucka has is valid, and I really enjoyed how the series closed off. Punisher sacrificed himself for Rachel Cole-Alves, and I can only hope that she isn’t just forgotten as the years go on, but that instead we see her again. I can only hope that Rucka will get a chance to write her again, as he wrote both her and Punisher as such well-developed three-dimensional characters, when it would have been so simple to make them two-dimensional characters, focused only on gunning down criminals. Their actions may have been to do just that, but there was always more going on below the surface, which is what made Rucka’s tale so compelling and interesting.
The artwork in this series is done by Carmine Di Giandomenico, one of my favourite artists. I don’t have many artists that I want to pick up everything that they illustrate, but Di Giandomenico is most definitely on that rarefied list. His action sequences are brilliantly laid out, his storytelling is superb, and I love his rendition of Rucka’s Punisher, complete with beard and eyepatch. This is thrilling artistic storytelling.
I can’t recommend this book enough, and I can’t stress how important it is to read this along with the rest of Rucka’s Punisher ongoing series (recently collected into three trade paperback volumes). This is immensely entertaining, and quite the thrilling read. Highly Recommended!