by Greg Rucka (writer), Mirko Colak (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: The Punisher’s team-up with Rachel takes a different turn as Frank hears something about something called “the Omega Drive.”

The Review: In my mind, this is one of the very best series currently put out by Marvel.  As such, it’s a shame that this issue falls prey to “filler” syndrome.

The Punisher #9 occupies an odd position in that Rucka doesn’t seem to want to really commit to diving into the next big plot involving Rachel and the Exchange, nor can he really do much more than introduce the Omega crossover next month.  So, this ends up feeling like an issue that’s just committed to killing time.  You get an extended action scene, someone mentioning the Omega Drive to Frank, and Rachel and Frank cementing their partnership.  That’s it.  Suffice it to say, not very much happens this month and the result is an issue that just isn’t very satisfying.

A lack of plot progression isn’t necessarily damning.  After all, there have been several issues of Rucka’s Punisher that were slow but great due to awesome dialogue and character-work.  But that doesn’t really happen either.  It’s as though Rucka is happy where the characters are right now and doesn’t really want to muck about until the crossover is over with.  So the result is that there isn’t a lot of character-work either.  The bulk of the issue is just one big action scene.  That also leads to this comic taking about five minutes to read.

Certainly, the action scene is fun enough and feels true both to the Punisher comic and Rucka’s experience writing action scenes and gunfights, but the problem is that for it to be the centerpiece of an issue, it needs more compelling antagonists.  All we’ve got here is an ex-SHIELD agent working for the Exchange whose never really been distinguished or developed, alongside a bunch of faceless Black Spectre goons.  Said ex-agent is meant to be really intimidating, but we’ve just not gotten to know him well enough and he hasn’t been built up enough yet for there to be any real significance or emotion in the action sequence here, as visceral as it may be at times.

Not helping the “filler” vibe that this issue gives off is fill-in artist Mirko Colak stepping in.  Having read his work on Secret Warriors, it’s clear that Colak is doing his best Marco Checchetto impersonation here, aided by the consistent colors of Matt Hollingsworth.  The problem, however, is that while there’s nothing to really complain about regarding Colak’s work, which is competently executed, it’s not really anything more than competent.  Colak simply isn’t as good as Checchetto – the work is less detailed and more workmanlike, with a lot less flash and style.  Hollingsworth tries his best, but it’s a somewhat forgettable performance.

Conclusion: There really isn’t much to say here.  This isn’t a bad issue by any means and it’s competent in both art and script.  But it’s not anything more than that.  It felt as though Rucka was running in place here.  This is the first stumble this series has had but, given that this issues entire problem was a lack of significance or real meat on the bones, I imagine it’ll be quickly forgotten.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans