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

The Story: It’s a somber Thanksgiving for Frank and friends, as if there’d be any other sort.

1.  A good supporting cast goes a long way

In making the Punisher a silent force of nature, Rucka has had to create a strong supporting cast to do the heavy lifting and this is the first issue where we get a big picture view of that cast as a whole.  Put simply, it’s fantastic and gives this book the realism and the kind of pure heart that pulls you into a narrative.  Each of these characters is distinct and brings their own unique dynamic to Frank but more than that, each of them also feels truly human.  All are fully realized, with their own personalities, lives, and relationships and all are unique and engaging while also coming across as real people.  It’s fantastic character-work that makes for a comic that feels all the more likable and intimate, things not usually associated with a Punisher comic.

2.  The Punisher is kid-friendly?

Rucka seems to add another member to this supporting cast this month, a young boy who unwittingly runs into Frank and starts visiting him regularly.   The dichotomy is amazing and the result is a character dynamic that is so emotionally genuine and sincere.  As polar opposites, the dynamic between the human horror that is Frank and the innocence of the kid is such a treat to read.  This is highlighted by the kid’s chattiness and Frank’s very few words.  While Frank’s words speak volumes, it’s as though he is buoyed by the waves of the kid’s happy chatter and the juxtaposition between Frank’s guarded silence and the kid’s completely trusting disclosure is striking.  Better still is the end of the issue, which shows again the difference between Frank the man and the legend of the Punisher: one the kid likes, the other alienates him.  Again, this highlights the burden that the Punisher mantle places on Frank as a human being and how it stops him from developing much of anything as a person.

3.  Marco Checchetto is amazing.

We’ve seen Marco do cityscapes… we see him execute a snowy, windswept rural landscape.  The result a continual atmosphere of sadness and melancholy, a feeling of isolation.  In other words, it’s absolutely perfect and truly an emotionally evocative experience.

Checchetto also does fantastic work illustrating the wounded Frank.  He looks more vulnerable and more…human.  Furthermore, Checchetto’s work on Frank is so subtle as well; while he says little, he looks more tender, if not nicer, when around the kid.  Unlike previous issues, he’s just a man here, and a very lonely one at that.

4.  Who doesn’t like a holiday issue?

Rucka does well in making Thanksgiving a related event/theme for all of these characters, but rather than be the heart of the story, it’s merely a surrounding circumstance that links them all.  However, the real magic here is how Rucka uses the holiday as a way to shine a light on the different personalities and situations of these characters.  Each character’s way of “celebrating” Thanksgiving is a reflection of their character.  That my friends, is writing.

5.  Corporate Crime

Rucka really nails down the Exchange this month and finally develops them into something special.  On the one hand, they’re a very grounded foe for the Punisher with a “real-world” vibe, which works well in keeping the comic grounded as well.  In another sense, it’s a witty take on America’s current focus on white-collar, corporate criminals.  The Exchange behave like, and appear to be, a corporate entity.  They have board-meetings, positions, etc.  Basically, they’re a corporation whose business really IS brutal, violent crime, as opposed to ponzi schemes and insider trading.

Conclusion: This is among the best single issues of the year.

Grade: A

-Alex Evans