by Greg Rucka (writing), Michael Lark (pencils), Stefano Gaudiano (inks), Matt Hollingsworth (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: Clemons and Bolt take a long, awkward drive up to the chalet that is the site of the Punisher’s latest massacre.

The Review: Another issue of Greg Rucka’s Punisher with no Frank and despite this, it’s excellent once again.

Once again, the success of this comic hinges on the strength of Rucka’s supporting cast, with the focus this month on Clemons and Bolt.  The point has been hammered home, but perhaps more than ever, this month really hearkens back to Rucka and Brubaker’s fantastic Gotham Central.  There’s a strongly procedural tone to the book, with Bolt and Clemons driving to crime scenes and looking at bodies and evidence.  It’s a down-to-earth look at a world dominated by superheroes from the perspective of the little guy, or cops specifically.  The result is a comic that feels both realistic and human despite the lingering background of spandex.

This only makes things more interesting when Bolt and Clemons run into an actual superhero; the result doesn’t feel surrealistic at all, but rather completely natural.  When Bolt and Clemons encounter Daredevil, it feels like we readers are looking at Murdock through a different lens.  It’s engaging and fresh.

But really, it’s the procedural nature of this issue that keeps it going.  Rucka crafts a comic with a heavy emphasis on details and detective work and the result is a fine-tuned, focused, and smart comic.  Once again, the Punisher leaves a mess and these average Joes are the guys that are charged with picking up the pieces.

Naturally, Rucka gets to do some really great character work as well, particularly with Ozzy.   Ozzy’s obsessiveness with respect to the Punisher, his meticulousness and skill as a detective, are combined with a complete and utter social ineptitude.  The result is an earnest yet abrasive character.  Rucka begins to paint Ozzy as a kind of counterpoint to the Punisher.  Frank is representative of vengeance and violence incarnate, but Ozzy is representative of “the Law.”  Busting out the law school jargon, Ozzy is, more specifically, “legal positivism,” the belief that law is authoritative and worth being followed simply because it is “the Law,” which flows from authority.  The morality or success of that law is not Ozzy’s concern, only that the system operates, the wheels keep turning, and the rules are followed.  As such, Ozzy is, himself, a kind of machine, just like Frank is, but he’s a machine representative of an entirely different sort of justice.  It’s a really excellent dichotomy that Rucka provides.

While this is really showcase for Ozzy, there are some major developments in his relationship with Bolt, as well some hints as to what happened after that cliffhanger last month that bode for interesting things for Frank, as he may have found a new partner.  And really, that’s another sign that Rucka’s supporting cast is the lifeblood of this book: the relationships between the characters and their twists and turns are just as, if not more compelling, than the actual plot with the exchange.

As for the art, it’s Michael Lark, whose art naturally lends itself to a crime comic.  It’s pulpy, gritty work that feels hard, tangible, and real.  There’s a lot of skill in the artwork, but there’s a rough feel to Lark’s work that rejects any attempt at gloss.  In other words, it’s just like Rucka’s script and, really, Rucka and Lark are a creative team that naturally have a lot of chemistry.

Conclusion: Another fantastic issue of the Punisher.  If you’re not reading this, you really should be.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans