By: Greg Rucka (Writer), Carmine Di Giandomenico (Artist), Matt Hollingsworth (Colorist), Joe Caramagna (Letterer)
The Review: I’d heard some good things about Greg Rucka’s recent run on The Punisher but didn’t get round to picking the book up outside of the Omega Effect tie-in issue, a short-lived crossover I rather enjoyed. Those cool little ‘War Zone’ teaser images in the build-up to SDCC (all collected here on the cover) had me curious from the beginning while the ensuing buzz around this mini-series proved convincing enough that the title might be an enjoyable diversion. While the opening issue does little more than set the scene for the remaining four, it nevertheless confidently schemes to pull the Ivory-towered Avengers into the gritty world of the Punisher; if Marvel had decided to take this the opposite way it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as compelling.
After all, as much as Frank Castle is viewed as the perennial hard-R vigilante – an anti-hero more likely to dispatch enemies with headshots than pithy quips – he’s also a classic underdog. And who doesn’t love an underdog? Be it against a hundred goons wielding Uzis or an Asgardian god rocking a hammer than can level mountains, Frank should be pretty much-screwed. But tactical smarts, tons of ordnance and a habit of always being one step ahead goes a long way; Rucka seems to have a terrific handle on this, crafting a Punisher who’s at his best when his back’s against the wall and his hand’s webbed to the window of a minI-van. Wait, what?
A neat bit of exposition kicks everything off. A page from the Daily Bugle shows that’s Frank’s been using a stolen Spider-Man brand web-shooter in his recent hits, implicating Spidey in the murders of three cops. This is a big no-no. Your Friendly Neighbourhood thus decides that Frank Castle has gone too far and needs to be stopped once and for all. This first exchange is pretty slick with every effort taken to impress on us that Frank is severely outclassed; Spidey dances around him, and even when he lets Castle land a couple of punches it’s clear that when you’re used to tussling with Juggernaut and the Rhino, a 1-2 combo from the Punisher doesn’t really leave much of an impression. A shrewdly-deployed Flashbang though? Well, yeah…that’ll do it.
Having lost the Punisher in a burst of phosphor, Spider-Man meets with his fellow Avengers over what to do about “the Frank problem” and this makes for some good readin’. Great characterisations all round, ranging from a cocky Tony Stark (who’s always quick to ditch a mission if there’s a party going on down the road) to a nice turn from a Captain America that stands back and quietly contemplates all point of views before deciding on appropriate, decisive action. Rucka leaves the best til’ last with a tense meeting between Wolverine and the Punisher, a warning from one old soldier to another; my money’s on these two squaring off for the finale, and on this evidence it’ll be worth sticking around for.
Carmine Di Giandomenico is not an artist I’m at all familiar with but his style seems well-matched to Rucka’s noir-ish tone; it’s rugged and edgy, at its best in the dark and shadowy moments. The action in the coldly-lit underground car park between Castle and Spider-Man has a motion to it that conveys a Jason Bourne-like sense of choreography and makes for a truly impressive first act. Away from the action the character design, posing and talking heads are all looking good too. I’m sure that the set-pieces and artistic challenges are only going to get bigger for Di Giandomenico from here on out but so far it appears that the series is resting in more-than-capable hands.
Conclusion: There’s been some pretty strong mini-series from Marvel recently – Spider-Men and Daredevil: End of Days spring to mind – and this book certainly carries on that trend. Rucka appears to have a well-judged perspective on how to make his audience believe that The Punisher vs The Avengers is a fight that would last more than 30 seconds. It may be a premise that we’ve seen a few times before, but Punisher War Zone starts out strong in delivering the definitive take.