Sometimes in the comic book industry it doesn’t matter how well-written or illustrated a comic book is, it ultimately comes down to sales and editorial, and if editorial decides to go another way and the sales aren’t strong, it can quickly be the death-knell for a comic. That seems to be what happened with Punisher under Greg Rucka. Greg Rucka set out to tell a very different Punisher story, and he most definitely succeeded. His writing on Frank Castle was often scaled back from what one would expect, at times with him feeling like a guest star in his own book, and this worked to build back up the mystique of Frank Castle, to make him feel more like a force of nature, which is normally a feeling reserved for when he’s making guest appearances in other characters’ books. This collection brings together Punisher #11-16.
The true story of this volume of The Punisher is about Rachel Cole-Alves, ostensibly Lady Punisher, for lack of a better name. This book, in such a short time span, managed to make me really care for this character, as well as other supporting cast members, including Detectives Clemons and Bolt, not to mention reporter Norah Winters, who has never been so nuanced and multi-layered a character as she is in this title. This final volume sees Rachel finally confront the evil responsible for her descent into Punisher’s world, and what happens next shatters her completely and believably. I loved her and Frank’s interactions, and I feel like under an inferior, lesser writer, there would have been some hackneyed relationship develop between the two, which would have been an awful choice. But thanks to Rucka, instead their bond is one of commander and soldier, as Rachel gets swept into Punisher’s world and lifestyle. It’s fascinating to see the toll that it all takes on Rachel, and the ending of the series is tragic and heartbreaking.
The artwork in this volume is handled by three different artists, all of whom bring something unique and interesting to the story visually. One thing I liked was that the change in artists made sense given each issue. Issue #11 is a flashback story about Detective Bolt, and has Colak providing the artwork. Issue #12 sees Checchetto return, with #13-14 showcasing Suayan as he takes the Punisher on a heist to procure important elements needed for the big showdown with the Exchange in issues #15-16, once again illustrated by Checchetto. Frank Castle himself looks phenomenal under Checchetto, and the detail in the artwork is breathtaking. The last two issues are absolutely action-packed, and yet the artwork never feels like it’s cramped or trying to squeeze everything in. The storytelling is simply exquisite.
This final volume of Punisher by Greg Rucka is actually a bit of a misnomer, as it’s not actually the end of Greg Rucka’s Punisher storyline that he started telling in 2011. In actuality the story continues from these pages into Punisher: War Zone, which will be coming out in trade in a few months, and puts a final pin into the story that Rucka was telling with Frank Castle. War Zone does feel different, however, as it’s about Punisher going up against various Avengers who try to take him in, while also showing the final fate of Rachel Cole-Alves, which makes for a satisfying and enjoyable conclusion. If you enjoyed this volume, you’ll want to pick up the War Zone trade paperback to see how it all truly ends. I can’t recommend this volume enough, it’s immensely entertaining, and one of my favourite Punisher storylines in quite some time, if not ever. Highly Recommended!