Written by: Karla Pacheco
Art by: Andy Gorham and Andy Owens, and Szymon Kudranski
Colours by: Matt Milla, and Erick Arciniega
Letters by: VC’s Cory Petit
Annuals are funny things. Being one-off issues, they represent an opportunity for experimentation and the kind of off-the-wall storytelling that doesn’t always present itself in regular monthly titles. Marvel has deliberately embraced that opportunity this summer with a number of annuals grouped together under the ‘Acts of Evil’ banner, a (perhaps half-hearted) homage to the Acts of Vengeance storyline from the early 90s. The premise is simple: take a hero; take a villain they don’t ordinarily encounter; put ’em together and see what happens. This time it’s Frank Castle’s turn. Let’s find out who he’s drawn in this month’s Punisher annual match-up.
Aaaand it’s the Brood. The Brood? Erm… okay. This will necessitate getting Frank into space, then. Not that difficult. He’s been there before, after all. Throw in J Jonah Jameson and things get… interesting. The basic set-up is that JJJ is being given a guided tour of Kennedy Space Centre just prior to the launch of a private shuttle mission being financed by a guy called Drake. To find the astronauts to man his shuttle, he’s been running a competition via a reality TV show for the last year. And he deserves everything he’s going to get in this issue.
The reality TV show has been infiltrated by Russian (obviously) agents (but not, curiously, of the Russian government – they’re Russian ‘separatists’, whatever they might be) intent on stealing the shuttlecraft for their own purposes. Frank is in the process of killing them when JJJ arrives and, in the ensuing chaos, he accidentally starts the shuttle’s automatic ignition process. Well, that can happen, right?
What follows is fun enough, I suppose. The Brood show up and don’t really do very much. Frank gets to ride a space cycle which is inexplicably being transported in the shuttle’s cargo bay. JJJ gets chosen as a potential mate for the Brood Queen, which precipitates a series of vaguely amusing innuendos. The pair save the day (well, JJJ’s blushes, at any rate), return to Earth and the whole thing is wrapped up in the Kudranski-drawn coda.
It’s not the worst comic I’ve read (its story is well-plotted and reasonably entertaining), but it is pretty insubstantial. Why exactly Frank is even interested in the space flight and is prepared to make the trip down to Florida in order to deal with the situation is never really explained. What the Russians want to do with the shuttle is never really explained either. The whole tone of the issue is considerably lighter than the regular book, including the quite surprising revelation that the Punisher wears Punisher-branded underwear and a Punisher-branded spacesuit. JJJ is mostly played for laughs – as is the bad guy, until the end of the book, when suddenly he isn’t.
It’s not all wacky off-the-wall hijinks, though. Writer Karla Pacheco’s attempt to develop the relationship between Jameson and Frank mostly works, although I think Jameson is perhaps a bit too ready to see Frank as a ‘friend’. The art is pretty good middle of the road stuff – not showy, or overly stylized, but clear and effective as far as story-telling goes, and the script arguably suffers from a little too much flippancy at times.
As annuals these days are increasingly becoming, this is a one-off, throwaway issue, whose value to the individual reader will depend upon how open they are to a more ‘light-hearted’ Punisher tale set in space that plays fast and loose with the laws of physics and presents a fairly stereotypical version of their favourite anti-hero. The story is diverting enough and may raise a few laughs, but, in the grand scheme of things, it’s all too lightweight to be memorable.