For anyone who isn’t sure that they really get the Punisher, this is the issue to read, because this is the issue where Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto explain it to you. They explain it through the character of Rachel Cole-Alves as she embarks on her own mission as a Punisher. The problem is that she doesn’t understand what it takes. Enter Frank Castle to make that clear to her.
Boiled down, the message of this issue is that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. If Rachel really wants to take on the Exchange for the massacre on her wedding day, she can’t continue to hold onto her old life at the same time. It has to be one or the other. Her mission will fail if she makes herself vulnerable and distracted by holding onto her life as Rachel Cole-Alves. Alternatively, going through with her war against the Exchange will make it impossible for her to ever resume her life. She can’t have it both ways, and that’s Frank’s message to her in this issue.
I think the reason we have had so many writers do less than stellar jobs with the Punisher comes down to Frank being the victim of writers overthinking him. He really is such a simple and straightforward character that it seems like some writers can’t get a handle on him and end up trying to make him more like your typical protagonist. Your typical protagonist has it both ways. They have their mission, and they have their life. So the typical drama of their stories comes from their struggle to balance those two things. That’s not the Punisher, though. He’s a bit outside of the box.
Greg Rucka gets this. He states it in the opening of every issue. Frank Castle died with his family. The tragedy of the character is that he doesn’t let himself live. He is only his mission now. He won’t allow himself love, friendship or comfort. He will wage his war until it does finally kill him. It’s as much about punishing himself for surviving as it is punishing the criminals. Punisher is survivor’s guilt pushed to an extreme. He can’t get over that he lived when his wife and children did not, so he will never let himself live.
This is explained to readers through Frank explaining to Rachel how she needs to be if she wants to walk his path. He frames her options for her and forces her to choose. She can either have died with her husband or survive and move on without him. It’s about a choice that Frank has already made.
Another part of the strength of this series is the supporting cast Rucka and Checchetto have populated it with. Rachel is a huge reason this series works as well as it does. What better way to explore how Frank became the Punisher than by putting someone else through similar circumstances? This issue more than shows what a great addition Rachel is to Punisher’s world. Also, leave it to Greg Rucka to nail it when it comes to strong female characters. And I know Norah Winters is a character who has been around for a few years already, but this is my main exposure to her here. Rucka does an excellent job of portraying her as a smart and resourceful reporter all while not making her seem anything like Lois Lane. That’s a feat. Detectives Bolt and Clemons are also in this issue, though not in roles as major as some previous issues. Still, we get to see their partnership start to evolve after Bolt came clean about his connection to the Punisher.
If there’s anything to criticize about this issue, it’s the lack of plot progression in what has already been a slow-paced series. This issue is basically just a big character moment, though an extremely good one. But there is a little disappointment that we aren’t moving very far along with the plot against the Exchange. We don’t really even see any more of the Exchange in this issue. The Exchange is a concept I would really like to see Rucka develop further, because I think it is great new idea for a criminal organization in the Marvel Universe.
I really don’t know what to say about Checchetto’s art anymore. This guy consistently produces some really amazing artwork. There’s no exception here. This is a future superstar artist right here. I’m telling you that now, and I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t reach that status within a year from now. But hey, let’s no ignore Matt Hollingsworth’s contribution on the colors either. This particular issue has some really excellent rain and lighting effects going on that do huge job of establishing the atmosphere of the story.
After this issue, I really can’t wait for the day the omnibus for this Punisher run comes out, because as far as I’m concerned, that will become the definitive Punisher book to get. This issue specifically will be one of the strongest of the run too. This is the Punisher. This is how you make a character like the Punisher work, without apology or overcomplication, in the context of the Marvel Universe.