So here we have it. This is the conclusion of Greg Rucka’s run on Punisher, the second cancellation of Marvel’s Big Shots Initiative. Technically. Punisher: War Zone will by all rights be a continuation and true end of Rucka’s run, but this is the end of the ongoing series. It is also the end of the road for Rachel Cole-Alves, who has been a central figure in the series.
Having unintentionally shot and killed NYPD detective Walter Bolt, Rachel is pushed to her breaking point in what has already been a long string of emotional traumas. She has gotten the revenge she wanted on the Exchange for their massacre of her wedding but found no solace in it. Even worse, it has cost even more than she knew she could lose. She has worn the Punisher’s skull. Now, she realizes that she can’t, or won’t, be a Punisher. She’s not Frank Castle.
And this is why Rachel has worked so amazingly well as part of this book. As much as it has all seemed to be about her, it’s really not. It has always been about Frank. Her whole journey has really been a character study on Frank Castle. The fresh pain she goes through because of the tragedy of her wedding is a window to what Frank had to deal with when he lost his family. Her struggles to be like Frank shows everything Frank has had to become in order to be the Punisher. And ultimately, her failure is a testament to how remarkable a man Frank is for being able to carry on like he has.
Frank’s final act for Rachel is really a great emotional moment for this series as well. That’s partly because it’s such a reversal for what the Punisher is usually known for doing. He kills. He doesn’t show mercy or compassion. None of that is what happens here, but it doesn’t come off as an out-of-character thing for him to do. He may not have put Rachel on this path, but he did take a measure of responsibility for leading her along it. And here, he shows he takes that responsibility seriously.
Another thing I appreciate quite a bit about this conclusion is the situation Rucka has put Frank and Rachel in, which will no doubt serve to set up Punisher: War Zone. The way Christian Poulsen got his revenge on them for their assault on the Exchange is really kind of brilliant. It’s self-sacrificing without being particularly heroic. It’s an interesting parallel to them on top of that. Much like them, someone he loved was murdered, and he took drastic action for it. He engineered a chaotic massacre that Frank would take the blame for. So even though he died, he did so knowing he just put a target on the Punisher that not even the superheroes could ignore. That’s some good stuff right there. I’m going to love seeing this play out in the upcoming limited series.
And as an ironic bonus, the lynch pin of this public tragedy is the death of Walter Bolt, a hero to the public of the Punisher’s own making. He basically created the tool that is going to be used to crucify him.
And holy crap. Marco Checchetto. This art is fantastic. He really kills it with the final scene too. The atmosphere created with the woods and the winter weather is just nuts. I’ve rarely seen anything quite like this in comics. I understand that he’s currently dealing with some family tragedy, and I hope for the best there. But I also hope Marvel has plenty of work lined up for him when he feels up to coming back.
These 16 issues of Punisher have really been one long story. Now, it’s been a great story that I have really enjoyed. But that’s also probably part of the reason Punisher did not succeed in sales. It has not been a quickly paced series. This has really been a book where if you didn’t get on board at the beginning you’re not getting the full story. That’s not conducive to healthy sales. And so like Moon Knight, Punisher comes to an end. The whole Big Shots Initiative thing may have spawned three great books, but it sure didn’t succeed to improve their readership or sales. That’s a pretty sad commentary on the state of the industry. There’s a good debate to be had on whether this is just how the majority of today’s readers are or if the current gimmick and event-driven atmosphere is burying the fringe books.
Punisher ends on a powerful note and a compelling setup for the upcoming Punisher: War Zone limited series. Rucka succeeded at creating an interesting little world for the Punisher in the Marvel Universe, complete with three-dimensional characters who meshed perfectly as a cast. Far as I’m concerned, this series should now be considered essential reading for the Punisher.