Review: The Punisher #2

Frank Castle is back and true to form - and that form is kicking all sorts of ass, thanks to Greg Rucka.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

The Punisher #2

It’s nice when things happen you don’t expect. A card from an old friend, money in the pocket of an old coat, that girl you never thought you’d see again calls, or, in my case, the fact that the Punisher is kicking ass. Punisher #2, the Greg Rucka shock-and-awe kick-start to Frank Castle’s legacy, is some of the best work done with the comic icon since his inception. I know I stand in the lonely end of the dance hall when I say I loathed what Garth Ennis did with the Punisher, but I did. Call me crazy, but making Frank Castle (aka The Punisher) a jock frat guy with a trigger finger just isn’t the character I love. I also wasn’t crazy with the whole Frankencastle thing. Rucka has purged the series of that which didn’t work, hopefully for the long haul.

When we last left out psychopathic vengeance-obsessed hero, he had wiped out an entire squad of soldiers responsible for the mass murder of twenty-nine guests at a wedding. In a move that seemed odd in issue #1, Frank let the ringleader live, which was decidedly non-Punisher of him. In issue #2, we discover Frank’s tracking this guy to find out who’s paying the bills. Rucka keeps a lot of that in the dark, showing us only a few shadowy figures deciding that the squad leader must die and that a new path is needed for eliminating the Punisher. Meanwhile two cops, one a decorated veteran, the other a new-jack with secret, are trying to find out why the wedding guests were killed and how Frank Castle fits in.

Rucka is pitch-perfect here, every single page is absolutely on point. I love the fact that the Punisher hasn’t uttered a word in two issues, Ennis always had him yapping too much. I also love how cold and unfeeling this Punisher is. In one particularly haunting scene, the Punisher guns down a woman involved in keeping prostitutes hooked on drugs. No special treatment because she’s a woman. She’s guilty, she dies. Rucka keeps the Punisher focused, but also makes him fallible, such as when he walks into a trap at the book’s end. Just wait until you see the surprise villain hired to take the Punisher out. It’s so out of left field that I let out an audible “oh shit” when the reveal came.

Punisher #2 is one of the most well paced comics I’ve read this year. The writing feels like little beats, edging the story along. Rucka builds tension and mystery, plus he has no qualms with hyper-violence and bloodshed. It’s the ability to not get carried away with the violent aspect that makes this new run so good. It seems like Rucka wants to build characters, people who play the back for Punisher’s story but aren’t one-dimensional. Storytelling can be hard with the Punisher, it’s easy to think you’re pushing the envelope by overloading the carnage. Rucka keeps the violence necessary and not sadistic, something I couldn’t get past during Ennis’s run.

Helping Rucka tell his tale is artist Marco Checchetto, who also bats it out of the park.  His style is softer than you’d expect, not a lot of hard lines or edges. By using that technique, Checchetto brings in a feeling of low budget 70s exploitation films. Think Taxi Driver or The Panic In Needle Park. Helping Checchetto achieve that vibe is colorist Matt Hollingsworth, who uses shadow and light, deep colors and blurry backgrounds to set up a very urban scene. Punisher #2 is a breath of fresh air for those of us tired of seeing Frank Castle stuck in bad stories with writing that was beneath him. If Marvel leaves Rucka alone and doesn’t screw it up, this might be a new dawn for a character long overdue for a reboot.