By Rick Remender (writer), Jason Pearson (artist), Dave Stewart (colors)

The Story: Letha and Lascivious, in a desperate bid to maintain their newly acquired leases on life, attempt to draw Punisher out into the open by killing a group of vets.  When they fail to take down the Punisher, they turn to Spider-Man to help them finish the job.

The Good: Remender was definitely the right man to inherit this title, and in my opinion has done a far better job penning the Punisher’s exploits than Fraction ever did.  Under Remender’s control, Frank Castle has become a delightfully witty bastard who sprinkles his staccato bursts of dialogue with enough black humor to make Spider-Man and Deadpool stand up and cheer.  This Punisher is a raging bull who’s armed to the teeth and relentless in his pursuit of homicidal justice, and I like that about him.  Come on, how could you not?  Chances are if you’re a fan of Punisher, you read this comic to see him stalk the streets of New York and find new and excruciating ways to whack villains.  That’s all I really want out of this book, and Remender delivers the goods.  I also really enjoyed the hell out of Pearson’s art.  As much I liked Tan Eng Huat’s art on Ghost Rider, I absolutely hate it on Punisher.  Pearson’s art is largely entertaining though, and I wouldn’t object to seeing more of his stuff in future issues.  Highly illustrative, but with a slightly exaggerated appearance, he does a wonderful job of amping up the emotion in faces to degrees that are at times even more intense than the story itself.  Punisher has never looked more terrifying and stark raving mad than he does when illustrated by Pearson, and that’s a rare quality in an artist handling a 30 year old character.

The Not So Good: I remember a time when Annuals used to be big deals, crazy event comics full of extra pages and mayhem.  Sadly, those days are a distant memory, and we are now left with issues like this, culled from the Big Book of Generic Plots, a tedious tone that too many creators seem to be drawing their inspiration from.  Remender’s a solid writer, but on every page it feels like he phoned this one in, right on down to the fight with Spider-Man that of course ends in a stalemate.  In fact, as I think about it, that’s all this annual amounted: fights that don’t go anywhere or achieve anything.  Punisher, Spider-Man, Letha and Lascivious, they all fight, nobody wins, everybody walks away to fight another day.  Yes, Punisher has great character moments through it all, but not nearly enough to justify paying $4 for.  And while I enjoyed Pearson’s interpretation of Punisher, I’d love to know why the hell Castle looks like he went overboard with the mascara in every single picture he appears in.  I mean, Jesus, it’s ridiculous.  I’d like to think Pearson was trying to make Punisher look grim and gritty, but there must be better ways of getting the idea across than this.

Conclusion: An incredibly average issue by an otherwise excellent creative team.  Longtime readers of the title will find much to like here no doubt, but it’s not a strong enough issue for me to recommend to the new reader.

Grade:  C

-Tony Rakittke