By: Greg Rucka (writer), Carmine di Giandomenico (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: The Punisher makes his move to break out Cole-Alves, but are the Avengers one step ahead?

The Good: This was one of those rare Greg Rucka Big Two comics that reminded me of his days on Queen and Country.  This is purely due to the heavy emphasis on subterfuge, bait and switch, and constant twists that pull the reader along as one party is constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the other, each side trying to plan for all eventualities.  The result is an intricate cat and mouse game between Steve Rogers and the Punisher, one that closes with a pretty badassed conclusion.  The reader is always left guessing who is onto whom and who is ahead of whom, leading to a winding, engaging read.

Better still, with the issue largely focused on a prison transport of Rachel Cole-Alves, there is a really thick atmosphere of tension in the issue.  The Avengers, and we readers, all know that Frank is going to strike, we simply don’t know when or how.  But we know it’s inevitable.  What’s left is an issue where we, and the characters, almost jump at shadows, waiting for the axe to fall.  This only makes Frank’s bait-and-switch routine all the more entertaining, as it plays with our expectations to maximum effect.  That air of tension is something that Rucka has done so well throughout his Punisher run, so it’s good seeing him fall back to his strengths here.  Better still, as his plan is unveiled, that tension also once again shows Frank to be a cerebral predator.

I also enjoyed Rucka’s admittedly brief examination of Wolverine.  I like how Rucka is drawing attention to what fans have been saying for years: there are inherent contradictions to Wolverine being an Avenger given that, well, he stabs people.  It’s a nice acknowledgement of Rucka that Logan may have as much, perhaps more, in common with Frank than Steve Rogers.

The Not-so-Good: Unfortunately, the artwork really does sap the strength from this issue.  Di Giandomenico’s artwork is quite simply unimpressive and unremarkable in the utmost.  Nothing is particularly eyepopping and, more often than not, things look muddy and indistinct.  It’s just not particularly gripping artwork.

The end result is that for all the tension of Rucka’s script, di Giandomenico sort of mutes everything and tamps it down, making action sequences seem less remarkable than they should be and the tension not quite as nailbiting as Rucka’s script would have it.  Di Giandomenico’s work is just so understated and underwhelming that it doesn’t have the necessary oomph behind it to fully do justice to Rucka’s script.  Without a doubt, this is a solid issue from Rucka, but I’m left wondering just how much higher my grade would be for this were it drawn by Marco Checchetto.

The other problem with this issue doesn’t necessarily have to do with this issue in itself, but rather frustration borne out of this miniseries as a whole.  Specifically, yes this issue is great, but it’s a little shocking in retrospect that it took us FOUR ISSUES to get to this point.  Yes this is solid stuff, but that it is entertaining sort of irritates me when I look back, as it leaves me wondering just what the hell we’ve been doing for the last three months.

Conclusion: The best issue of War Zone thus far, but it’s still completely undercut by thoroughly unimpressive artwork.

Grade: B –

– Alex Evans