Never have my preconceptions proved so foolish like they have with The Punisher‘s “War Machine” arc. When I read the solicitations for the new Legacy issues about the murderous vigilante I immediately wrote the new direction off as a lazy gimmick devoid of any depth. I am so happy that I was so wrong. The Punisher #222 stands as one of the best issues of this incredibly fun story with 21-pages of non-stop savagery while expanding Frank Castle’s mythos to new, international heights.
Writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Guiu Vilanova waste absolutely no time getting to the action of this issue, bringing Frank face to face with newly appointed dictator of Chernaya, Arman Petrov. Within three pages Frank drops a tank onto a crowd of soldiers, incinerates another, and blows dodgeball sized holes through multiple unfortunate Chernayan soldiers.
These sequences of Frank using the War Machine armor to absolutely annihilate his foes will simply never get old. Vilanova’s pencils gruesomely detail each and every kill in such marvelous ways readers will find themselves lingering on each page taking in the sheer destruction of Frank’s warfare. There’s one particularly awesome moment where Frank hoists up some lowly soldier and uses the War Machine’s Gatling gun to completely tear a hole in his torso- and there are many more similarly kick-ass executions.
With so many satisfying panels depicting such grisly kills against a foreign army, it might be easy for the reader to forget that it’s the Punisher inside the armor pulling off such incredibly violent actions. After all, the Punisher isn’t a soldier anymore, he’s a murderous vigilante who is very much still a criminal. Amidst all the destruction, Rosenberg manages to re-contextualize the conflict to remind readers that this is still very much a Punisher story.
Dressing Frank up in a hero’s armor may make him look like a hero, but Frank is still the Punisher- willing to break any and all laws to exact his punishment- and this issue shows the Punisher do just that, only on an international scale. Frank isn’t just breaking American law anymore, he’s breaking international law by invading a sovereign nation to stage avery bloody assassination against its ruler. He ignores all commands from Nick Fury and the U.N. to stand down, continuing his crusade against Petrov despite the massive laws he is breaking.
Rather than craft a story that simply puts Frank in weaponized armor for the sake of the stellar visuals that would come from it, Rosenberg uses this story to expand Frank Castle into a full-blown war criminal. Once the dust settles from this arc, Frank will have made enemies of Nick Fury, the United States, and the United Nations, setting up further conflict for him in future issues. Once out of the armor, I’d expect to see Frank on the run from, well, the entire world.
This issue does read exceptionally fast. That being said, it reads fast because it is literally non-stop action with a focus on the massive firefight while interlacing plot-progressing dialogue in between all the death and explosions. It’s really a good thing that this issue is so fast- had Rosenberg and Vilanova decided to slow things down, most of the dialogue would’ve taken place in far-less exciting stand still moments that would’ve caused this issue to be broken up into less exhilarating, separate issues weakening the whole narrative. The use of breakneck pacing in this issue couldn’t have been better.
I never want the “War Machine” arc to end, but #222 sets up a climatic finish in thrilling fashion. While Guiu Vilanova’s art continues to provide endlessly gratifying violence, Rosenberg manages to elevate the infamy of the Punisher to war criminal status in an intensely satisfying issue. Go to your local comic shop and add this book to your pull now before you miss out on one of Marvel’s top books.