The Punisher #14
Written by: Matthew Rosenberg
Art by: Szymon Kudranski
Colors by: Antonio Fabela
Letters by: VC’s Cory Petit
In pursuit of Baron Zemo, the Punisher has returned home to New York City and now faces an army of Hydra agents disguised as UN troops and a newly re-formed Thunderbolts team headed by Zemo/Citizen V. Has even Frank Castle bitten off more than he can chew? There’s only one way to find out…
The sight of UN/Hydra tanks rolling through Manhattan is a strange one; the sight of New Yorkers cheering them even more so. They must really hate Frank Castle. Needless to say, Frank himself is there to watch the forces of Hydra enter the city, his disguise nothing more than a dark coat, a baseball cap and a pair of sunglasses. Mind you, Frank doesn’t know the troops parading through the city are Hydra. He has to wait for an unscheduled meeting with Black Widow to find that out. (Amusingly, Natasha is wearing an almost identical disguise. These vigilante types aren’t very imaginative, are they?) While he and Natasha engage in a decidedly tense conversation, Zemo and his ‘New Thunderbolts’ are lounging around in their headquarters waiting for the troops to flush Frank out. Mayor Fisk isn’t pleased by this inaction, but there’s not, at the moment, much he can do about it.
Cut to a group of UN/Hydra soldiers threatening a shopkeeper and Frank making his opening move in as dramatic and explosive a fashion as one could wish for. A number of points are worth making here. The first is that, while I get that overconfidence and arrogance are among Zemo’s more notable characteristics, his laid-back attitude here seems a little odd. That said, it does make a certain strategic sense for Zemo to wait for the troops to find Frank before sending in the big guns. What doesn’t make sense, though, is for the Hydra troops to be wearing their Hydra uniforms under their UN flak vests. This is such a ridiculous faux pas that it really pulled me out of the story for a moment. That Fisk goes bananas about it is good, but all it does is amplify the sense that Zemo’s an overconfident idiot who doesn’t really know what he’s doing. As amusing as that might be, it does lessen the sense of threat he represents.
That quibble aside, Rosenberg’s script is at times deliciously dry. The observation of the young kid watching the Hydra goons threaten the shopkeeper that their “ride” is “on fire, bruh” is, for example, perfectly played and paced. When the New Thunderbolts finally show up, it takes an assist from a mysterious costumed character to rescue Frank and the rest of the issue is taken up with Frank meeting and somewhat reluctantly forming a supergroup of his own out of a decidedly unusual collection of characters. I’m not going to spoil their identities here, but I will just say that this was probably my favorite part of the book. Next issue should be a lot of fun.
On the whole, this was a well-structured, quite busy issue. Rosenberg and Kudranski take us from the Hydra troops entering New York to the excitement of Frank leading his own team of vigilante counter-insurgents in a quick-paced series of scenes that advances the plot very effectively. Along the way, we’re treated to some crisp dialogue (the Natasha/Frank conversation’s my favorite), explosive action and (mostly) on the money characterization. That Frank spends most of the final section of the book having to be talked into working with the team that Natasha has assembled for him is not only true to the character’s driven self-sufficiency, but also highly enjoyable in its own right. This kind of fun is why I got into comics all those many moons ago!
There are one or two small flies in the ointment. The characterization of Zemo I’ve already mentioned, although it’s worth pointing out that, in Kingpin, Rosenberg is showing us a man who wants to enjoy the power he’s accrued and is demonstrating a proprietorial sense of responsibility to the city on which that power is based. Kudranski’s art continues to work best when he’s dealing with shadows and those heightened moments of tension and violence that take place on New York city streets and in dingy convenience stores. He appears less sure when dealing with brightly-costumed superheroes/villains who are rendered with almost vestigial detail at times.
This was a fun issue: the action sequences are exciting; the plot zips along at a brisk pace; the dialogue crackles with tension, drama and the kind of dry situational humor that this reviewer always appreciates. The cliffhanger is, probably quite deliberately, a mirror image of last issue’s – and that’s all to the good. Put bluntly, this issue provides plenty of reasons to look forward to next month’s. Good stuff.