By: Greg Rucka (writer), Mico Suayan (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story:  Frank and Rachel plan and execute a daring attack on Exchange HQ with their leader, Dr. Gerard, firmly in Rachel’s revenge-fueled cross-hairs.

The Review:  Talk about a white-knuckle issues.  If you want a nice, easy read to relax you, this isn’t it.  This entire issue just drips with tension.  Every page feels impossibly heavy, with all the characters clearly clenched with stress and tension.  If I could give a prize for “most stressful issue of the month,” it’d be this one.  I cannot overstate the tension that Rucka has injected into this issue.  It’s almost like you have to grip the comic extra hard or something.

Part of that is because of Rucka’s brilliant narrative structure.  In the opening of the issue, we get very subtle hints of what Frank and Rachel’s plan is.  The thing is, those hints are near incomprehensible until the plan gets rolling.  At that point, everything comes together.  Before then though, we’re left wondering what each hint actually is: what’s that thing attached to Rachel’s watch supposed to do?  Why’s Frank dressing up like a janitor?  As the plan gets rolling, these questions become all the more pressing.  Better still, as Gerard reveals the counter-measures she’s taken, we’re left thinking, based on our guesswork, the Frank and Rachel’s plan might be foiled.  This only makes it all the more satisfying when Rucka reveals that certain parts of our guesswork is incorrect.  It’s a wonderful brain-teaser of an issue; we’re left with our hypotheses of what Rachel and Frank are up to, and then growing increasingly concerned as Gerard perfectly counters what we THINK Rachel and Frank’s plan of attack is.

Of course, when it all comes together, it’s elegant and beautiful.  Every little hint and teaser we got in the opening of the issue becomes significant and everything flows together.

Much credit is also due to Mico Suayan who is the first fill-in artist on the series to live up to Marco Checchetto’s work on the book.  I think a large part of it is that unlike prior fill-in artists on the book who attempted to ape Checchetto, ending up as poor-man’s versions of him, Suayan forges his own path.  His work is very different from Checchetto’s but no less suited to Rucka’s Punisher.  Suayan’s work is perfect for such a tension-laden script, as he gives the book a very strong “spy-thriller” feel, with lots of shadows, fantastic facial work, and constant, unrelenting, stressfulness.  Honestly, I’d love to see Suayan pull off a heist story.

I really enjoyed Rachel’s pay-off this month.  It’s an old story, but Rucka very subtly (and hasn’t “subtlety” been the story of his run?) delivers the age-old tale of the questionable worth and lackluster satisfaction in revenge.  He does this brilliantly – Rachel’s revenge isn’t depicted in a glitzy, Michael Bay action high style.  Instead, it’s ugly, vaguely underwhelming, and very mundane.  Rucka doesn’t pretty it up and it’s very blunt.  Again, credit is due to Suayan here: his work on Rachel’s face, showing the emptiness in her expression, is what really sells this scene.

Conclusion:  A really, really fantastic read that manages to pull the reader in and get him/her truly involved.  Issues like this only make me more upset about this series’ cancellation due to poor sales.  Seriously, what’s wrong with you people?

Grade: A-

– Alex Evans