Punisher #14: Anti-hero Redefined

Greg Rucka’s Punisher continues to push the envelope of what the character is, was and will be. Much like what writer Scott Snyder has done with Batman over at DC, Rucka is expanding Frank Castle (aka Punisher) without sacrificing what’s come before. The result is perhaps the best stab at updating Punisher in ten years. This is a redefined anti-hero, one that no longer seems to act out of simplistic rage. Rucka’s Punisher is calculated, cold, and has wrapped himself in the notion that what he does is a job, plain and simple. In this world, Frank Castle really is dead and only The Punisher exists.

Issue #14 opens with ex-AIM scientist Stephanie Gerard, who now runs the criminal empire The Exchange, receiving a video from an anonymous weapons dealer looking to sell a piece of Doctor Octopus’s second harness. The video originated from Sergeant Rachel Cole-Alves, the woman whose entire wedding was massacred by the Exchange. Gerard smells a trap and she’s right, Punisher and Alves are gunning for the heads of the Exchange. However, the prize of Octopus’s arm is too rich to pass up.

Gerard sets up the buy and when Alves shows up, she runs down how impenetrable the Exchange fortress is. Her last words barely hang in the air before Punisher smashes through a window and starts taking people out. The last panel is Alves standing above the body of Gerard who she’s just choked to death.

While an action-packed issue, there is one thing that bugs me about Punisher #14. Gerard goes on this lengthy tirade about how the building is covered in a force field that deactivates any shells or explosive devices. When the Punisher comes smashing through the window, there is no clear example of how he got through a force field. There’s an explosion and then he comes in firing. Perhaps I missed a detail, but thus far I’m at a loss to figure out how Castle beat a force field.

Outside of that, Rucka’s work remains outstanding. It takes real talent to humanize the Punisher and layer his character without sacrificing what we love about him. Punisher is still a badass crime slayer, but now there’s a method to his madness, one that allows Alves to come in without it feeling forced. I’m interested in how Rucka winds up the entire Exchange/Alves story arc before he exits the Punisher in a month or so.

Mico Suayan’s art is a major part of what makes Punisher #14 so successful. His style mimics that of a dark action movie. Lots of small movements happening in the panels, thinner lines stroked several times allow a lot of shadow and expression on the faces. Suayan’s Punisher is one of the coolest in recent memories. He’s not the iconic face we all know, he’s darker, more urban and, yes, more human.

When the action kicks in, Suayan jump-starts what he does and brings a lot of motion to it. When Punisher slides across a building and lands squarely in a bad guy’s jaw, you feel it. The panels where Gerard dies by Alves’ hand are gorgeous in their brutality. Punisher #14 continues to give more weight and literary significance to a character that always deserved it.

(4 Story, 5 Art)