by Greg Rucka (writer), Marco Checchetto (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: The Punisher has marked his prey, tracking a poor, hapless goon back to his masters while Bolt and Clemons are left to pick up the bodies.

What’s Good: For the second issue in a row, the Punisher doesn’t utter a word, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  This silent Frank Castle is as fresh as the first issue and his silence makes him all the more monstrous and inhuman, if not mythical.  In many ways, Frank’s silence actually opens opportunities for Rucka to make him even scarier, particularly in one scene, where Rucka perfectly illustrates the Punisher’s uncompromising mercilessness.  The Punisher has never been more predatory.

The result is a comic where Frank hunts this thug and follows him, always just in the corner of the poor guy’s eye, haunting him like a vengeful spirit.   The Punisher plays the hunter through and through, the thug in question the hapless deer.  Franks silence and the way he manipulates his unwitting prey to run from safehouse to safehouse, allowing the Punisher to rack up the bodies, is utterly brilliant and makes Frank appear to, on some primitive level, possess an awareness, calm, and intellect that his prey lacks.  He leads the guy, tracks him, nudges him, all without saying a word.  Frank is so menacing and so coolly calculating that in many ways, as this unrelatable hunter of people, we come to experience “the Punisher” legend just as the criminal underworld does.

Rucka also manages to pull in a couple of major Spider-Man characters this month in Norah Winters and the Vulture.  This hammers home the fact that Frank is indeed in the main Marvel universe, which has been a sticky situation for writers in the past.  However, Norah fits right in with Clemons and Bolt and the Vulture appears more terrifying than ever in this darker, grittier vision of 616 NYC.  Not only does it feel totally natural, but the Vulture serves as a really cool villain for Rucka’s Punisher.  In making Frank something ominous and not quite human, it makes perfect sense for him to take on a fellow monster, also of few words.  There’s a sort of leveling of the field after seeing Frank hunt poor thugs and had me looking forward to next month a great deal.

Meanwhile, Marco Checchetto and Matt Hollingsworth’s art is as excellent as last month.  Frank is ghostly, the Vulture grotesque, and Checchetto maintains his dark depiction of New York.  The bride, now widow, also awakens this issue and Checchetto’s illustration and pacing of her gradually recollecting the massacre is elegant and really excellent storytelling overall.

What’s Not So Good: We didn’t get quite the same level, or amount, of character development out of Clemons and Bolt this issue, which is a bit unfortunate given that they’re the two major new characters of the series.  I was hoping that we’d get to experience the comic a bit more through their eyes.  Nonetheless, Clemons’ conversation with Norah was excellently written.

Conclusion: Having a great first issue is one thing, but in many ways, it’s the second issue that counts the most when it comes to getting idea of how things are going to go long-term.  After this issue, it’s clear that Rucka’s Punisher is the real deal.

Grade: A-

-Alex Evans