Written by: Matthew Rosenberg
Art by: Szymon Kudranski
Colors by: Antonio Fabela
Letters by: VC’s Cory Petit
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: July 3, 2019
Having caused mayhem in Hydra-controlled Bagalia, our man Frank returns to New York. Not because he’s feeling nostalgic for his own stomping grounds, you understand. No. This homecoming is because Frank’s got some unfinished business with Baron Zemo, the ruler of Bagalia who’s fled to the Big Apple. Not the cleverest of ideas from Zemo, perhaps. Let’s see how this all plays out…
The issue opens with a well-paced and atmospherically rendered sequence in which our titular (anti)hero saves a woman out walking alone at night from a knife-wielding slasher. So far, so clichéd. The twist, though, is that the woman is who Frank is hunting. The knife fight is stylishly done, mostly in close-up, which makes it claustrophobic and extremely compelling. The woman is a Hydra agent and Frank wants Zemo’s location. His target doesn’t know (well, it is only the start of the issue, after all) but she knows people who do. You know the score.
We get to see Zemo before Frank does, though. He’s in City Hall, waiting for an audience with the Kingpin. This is a little on the long-winded side. The insight into the two characters and how they relate to each other is welcome, but, after the action of the opening section, this feels like the story’s spinning its wheels just a little bit. It’s interesting enough, though – and the sight of Fisk standing behind Zemo giving him a shoulder rub is weirdly disturbing on a couple of levels.
The story continues to alternate between Frank and the Fisk/Zemo combo and ends with an almost bizarre revelation that I’m not going to spoil here but can doubtless be discovered by looking at advance solicits for future issues. The overall impression I came away with, though, is that Rosenberg knows exactly where he’s going with this story and is weaving its different elements together very skilfully. A small but nonetheless telling example is the Hydra agent (Ms. Fischer) Frank fights at the start of the book. She spills the beans on the shakiest of assurances that Frank will let her live. (“If I tell you, you’ll let me live?” “You know what happens if you don’t.”) The action shifts to City Hall before the question of her fate is resolved. We don’t find out what’s happened to her until Frank’s encounter with the beat cops later on in the issue and even then it’s so understated, you almost miss it. This is writing from someone who knows what they’re doing. Even though the Fisk/Zemo dialogue can be a bit overwritten at times (okay, okay, they both love the sound of their own voices. I get it), it remains tightly-plotted, immensely entertaining stuff. And there is, to be fair, a certain amount of fun to be had seeing Fisk and Zemo chatting in the tunnel of Yankee Stadium just before Fisk goes out to throw the first pitch.
Kudranski’s art is, on the whole, good. I’ve been a fan of his work since first encountering it in Spawn. My only slight gripe is that, at times, the line work is too heavy and shadows on, for example, faces or arms are a bit too blotchy for my liking. His action work is excellent, though, and Fabela does an equally good job of keeping things mean and moody.
Moody, atmospheric, violent and surprisingly funny in places, this is an intriguing start to a new story arc for Frank Castle. Rosenberg crams a fair amount into this issue and the sense of things already beginning to escalate is palpable by the book’s end. That ending, borderline bonkers in its boldness, might not be to everyone’s taste, but this book is not going to be boring anytime soon.