Outfitting The Punisher with the War Machine armor to overthrow a war criminal on foreign soil may sound like the most questionable Punisher story since making him a guardian angel of vengeance, but writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Guiu Vilanova continue to create an unforgettable story that stays true to Frank Castle while providing some of his most satisfying kills in recent memory. The Punisher #221 is arguably the best issue of Rosenberg’s new run on the character with classic Frank Castle moments and even more creative ways for Frank to maim enemies with the War Machine armor.
This issue initially removes Frank from the armor, allowing for more classic Punisher sneaking and stealth kills. Frank’s actions outside the suit reminded me of the recent Becky Cloonan run where Frank stalks his prey from the shadows before dispatching them with swift ferocity. Colors courtesy of Lee Loughridge elevate the intensity of each kill by contrasting bleak blacks, whites and grays with stark red flashes. Longtime Punisher readers will feel right at home in these scenes, as Frank ruthlessly slays opponents with extreme efficiency.
Rosenberg also manages to squeeze subtle humor into these moments that don’t feel forced or out of character- like Frank unknowingly making a prime Star Wars reference to Nick Fury or holding-up a urinating goon with a knife pressed against his skin-flute rather than against his throat. In these small moments, Rosenberg put his own flavor on Frank Castle’s world without making Frank into something he isn’t- a joke.
Shortly after the accidental Star Wars reference, there’s a tongue-in-cheek exchange between the former director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Punisher that acknowledges the inhumane tendencies of each character. Without coming off heavy handed or preachy, Rosenberg points out neither Frank or Fury are particularly good guys. Frank accuses Fury of covering-up his morally inept messes on foreign soil while Fury reminds Frank that he kills people for simply pick-pocketing. It’s a refreshing change from attempts to make either character out to be straight-up heroes and another instance of staying true to the character of the Punisher who, in all actuality, is a cold-blooded murderer.
I also have to mention how well Rosenberg writes Nick Fury. It’s nearly impossible to not to read Fury’s lines in Samuel L. Jackson’s voice, not because of Jackson’s MCU portrayal, but due to how naturally Rosenberg writes his lines.
The pacing of the issue is nearly perfect, only breaking from the killing for a few pages to advance the plot. There’s a moment in particular where I steeled myself for multiple pages of unnecessary armor repair documentation while Frank waits for his suit to be repaired, but those pages never come. Instead, Rosenberg opted to describe Frank’s plans over Vilanova’s panels of ruthlessly murdered henchman to advance the story rather than slow the book down. Rosenberg is not out to show off his ability to write scientific explanations of how to repair Stark technology, he’s here to give readers one helluva good time.
Speaking of Frank dispatching anonymous henchmen, Villanova and Rosenberg continue to have the War Machine powered Punisher take out his enemies in ways that will make every reader’s inner 14 year-old squeal with joy. He throws packed cars through trees, drops men from thousands of feet in the air, and yanks them into frozen lakes. All this before executing a man in the most brutally awesome way possible- by effortlessly ripping him in half like he were a fresh baguette. It is the most satisfying Punisher kill I think I have ever seen, which I feel like I’ve said multiple times throughout this arc.
The Punisher #221, like the issues before it, continues to be an insanely satisfying and fun Punisher story unlike any seen before. This issue has it all- classic Punisher stalking and killing, unexpected humor that doesn’t interrupt the darker tone of the series, and unbelievably brutal kills that will have readers grinning from ear to ear by the time it ends. Whether you’re a die-hard fan of The Punisher or a newcomer, this issue is pure joy.