The Punisher #15
Written by: Matthew Rosenberg
Art by: Szymon Kudranski
Colors by: Antonio Fabela
Letters by: VC’s Cory Petit
Last month’s issue ended with the big reveal of an impromptu street-level superteam led by Frank Castle and assembled without his knowledge by Black Widow. That ending was a nice symmetrical counterpoint to issue 13’s cliffhanger ending which revealed that Baron Zemo had resurrected his Thunderbolts team in order to track (and take) down The Punisher. It would not be unreasonable, then, to expect this issue to feature some super-powered fisticuffs. Let’s find out, eh?
The issue opens with a group of Hydra goons (posing as UN soldiers) getting a glimpse of Danny ‘Ghost Rider’ Ketch in all his skull-flaming glory and deciding, not unreasonably, that discretion is the better part of valor. One of them wonders where Baron Zemo is and the comic helpfully answers that question by showing us Zemo and his Thunderbolts tower relaxing in Fisk Tower, waiting for the Hydra grunts to flush Frank out, blissfully unaware that The Punisher has got himself some friends and that it’s Hydra who’s being flushed. This section is okay, but, as with a lot of comics these days, the tone gets a bit uneven.
A key question that writer Matthew Rosenberg seems to be unwilling to answer is: just how seriously does he want the reader to take this story? I do like a bit of silliness and banter in my comic books, but this is all a bit too light for me. (Although the extended gag that riffs on Jigsaw’s porn proclivities did make me smirk.) Throw in some excessive swearing (masked in tried and tested @*$! style) and the suspicion begins to grow that Rosenberg isn’t quite as in control of his characters’ dialogue as he should be. That the punctuation mark-substituted epithet used by Moonstone is used by Kingpin (and indicated by identical ‘random’ punctuation marks) is kind of funny, but, for the gag to work, a third (differently) punctuation-substituted curse word needs to be used on the same page to differentiate it from the repeated one and it just feels a bit too much. By the time we get to the fourth one, we’re definitely into overkill territory.
The rest of the issue proceeds at pace with some enjoyable sequences in which the various members of The Punisher’s team take out groups of Hydra troops, before Zemo in his Citizen V guise finally manages to rally them and takes the fight to Frank and his makeshift superteam. What follows is pretty well done. There are a number of satisfying moments – not least Night Thrasher punching Zemo – and the issue ends on the kind of cliffhanger you’ve seen in countless action flicks, but it’s none the worse for that.
Throughout the issue, Kudranski’s art is impressive, although, as I mentioned last month, the impression that he is better suited to shadow-draped action sequences and garish flame-lit close-ups, as opposed to more straightforward superheroics, remains. The main bugbear is Rosenberg’s script which veers from cheesy to clever to clunky and back to cheesy again with such swiftness that I’m genuinely undecided whether it’s good or not. This is a personal thing, obviously, but sometimes less dialogue is more effective, particularly when the speakers are in combat. If your scripting hits hardboiled sardonic comedy gold every page, then wisecrack all you like; but Rosenberg is straining at times here where a bit more restraint would be helpful.
Despite the somewhat uneven tone, there’s a lot to like here – particularly in sequences in which Frank’s teammates are in action. Kudranski’s art is good and, at times, achieves a kind of moody, atmospheric brilliance; Rosenberg’s script, however, tries too hard at times and the issue is not as tense or taut a read as it might have been. Nevertheless, this is an effective set-up for next month’s story finale.