As you may recall, I’m a big fan of Greg Rucka’s recent Punisher run. With the last issue of the War Zone miniseries out today, sadly we’re farewelling Rucka, Checchetto, Hollingsworth, Di Giandomenico, and the other talented creators who’ve worked on this incarnation of Frank Castle. And what a send-off #5 was! From the get-go Punisher: War Zone was a great display of Rucka’s talents as a character writer; the set-up of the Avengers attempting to take Castle down gave him ample room to showcase both his great grasp of voices and character idiosyncrasies and his command of fast-paced action plots. His original character, Sergeant Rachel Cole-Alves, pops up again in the miniseries to great effect, and I’m sure most readers were happy to see her on the final page in skull gear.
All the Avengers featured ultimately become quite invested in the Punisher’s saga: Thor and Natasha smash against Castle Rock with varying degrees of success, Spider-Man has strong feels about the Avengers’ ethics where Frank is concerned, Wolverine aids and abets, Iron Man wants to spank him for fiddling with Stark Tower’s electronics and ganking a suit of armor, and Cap–well, Steve is ever the moral compass of the team, for better or worse. Whether he and Spider-Man are correct in their assessment of the Punisher is up to the reader (Natasha, at least, has a sense of humor about these things, if a fatalistic one–masquerading as a member of a group dedicated to getting rid of the death penalty in order to talk to Rachel Cole-Alves at Rikers is so on point).
Incidentally, Frank’s final quest–to take down an international organization of criminals–is a bit similar to another of my favorite Rucka stories, the “Question: Pipeline” arc from Detective Comics, and it suits the Punisher just as well. The necessary Punisher element, to highlight a man who commits crimes to defeat criminals, is fully present and obvious in such a plot, as it’s hard to say boo to a guy gunning down human traffickers.
As has been the standard since the beginning of this run, the art in War Zone is gorgeous. With previous interior artist Marco Checchetto providing covers, Carmine di Giandomenico doing the panels, and the inimitable Matt Hollingsworth on colors, War Zone is a frankly beautiful series. Di Giandomenico highlights the great balance between Rucka’s intimate character moments, such as a staredown between Captain America and Wolverine, and the big smash-up moments that naturally accompany a man with a firearm fetish.
Studded with fun Easter eggs (Punisher super-fan Janna O’Shea writes for The Daily Bugle! Of course Matt Murdock is Rachel’s lawyer!), full of pitch-perfect dialogue, and fantastically illustrated, Punisher: War Zone is an elegiac conclusion to this portion of Frank Castle’s journey…and a nice lead-in to what may come next. My only complaint is that there isn’t more.