When Marvel Legacy launched last November the idea was to return many of the House of M’s greatest heroes to their status quo- Tony Stark not in a coma, Captain America not a Nazi, and Deadpool a full blown bad guy again. The Punisher, however, was taken even farther from his norm than ever before, being dropped into the War Machine armor to wreak murderous vengeance around the world. Every issue leading up to this point has been a blast, painting Frank Castle as a no holds barred beacon of vigilante justice. The Punisher #224 is equally as exciting as the rest, however, forces both readers and Frank to reconcile with the Punisher’s actions over the last year.
Readers of the “War Machine” arc have found a constant barrage of gruesomely satisfying kills within each issue presented in rich detail by artist Guiu Vilanova. For #224, Stefano Landini steps up to deliver even more incredibly brutal death sequences, maybe even more shocking than any in previous issues.
Frank returns to New York from his Chernayan coup d’etat and immediately heads to the Bar with No Name, letting readers know they’re in for a blood bath right off the bat. The ensuing pages see Frank lay waste to a bar full of small-time goons in tremendously bloody fashion. He punches through one man’s face just to shoot another and even stomps some poor soul’s head into a mess of brain tissue. Frank’s no longer dealing with armored ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives, he’s dealing with street-level scum and the resulting carnage is an absolute pleasure for readers to witness.
Writer Matthew Rosenberg offers these few pages before flipping the script on Frank Castle, making him the bad guy being hunted by New York’s finest heroes. While readers certainly expected Frank to face the consequences of his actions in Chernaya, they may be surprised to realize the heroes are far more driven by the Punisher’s role in Secret Empire and his complete lack of respect for James Rhodes’s legacy following Civil War Two.
The “War Machine” arc has such incredible, non-stop action that neither readers nor the greater Marvel universe have been able to stop and reflect on how Frank got here. This issue forces everyone to realize just how much a monster Frank has become, particularly through well crafted pleas for decency from both Captain Marvel and Daredevil.
The two don’t hesitate to call Frank out for what he really is- an authoritarian, fascist murderer who stole the legacy of a better hero to murder hundreds of people. This revelation puts not just this entire series, but the entirety of Frank Castle as a character under a microscope showing just how much a villain Frank Castle truly is. After carefully reading what Carol Danvers and Matt Murdock laid out on page, I couldn’t help but root against the Punisher- he’s simply a bad man who must answer for all the wrong he has done.
The sudden portrayal of Frank as the villain isn’t the only unexpected aspect of this issue, there’s also a surprising amount of humor injected throughout. Moreover, much of that humor is self referential, from roasting the “good guys fighting good guys before reconciling” trope of comics to a quick quip from a D-list villain among a cadre of more recognizable baddies stating just how obvious it is he will be the one who dies so the rest can get away. The Punisher has never been known as a humorous series, and really shouldn’t be, yet these minor injections of subtle humor don’t manage to derail the overall gritty tone of the narrative.
Fans of Rosenberg’s recent Tales of Suspense run will rejoice at the surprise appearance from Hawkeye in this issue, an appearance that is just as enjoyable now as it was when he was teamed with the Winter Soldier. Hawkeye’s funny banter and overall demeanor offers a reprieve from the dark tones of the story (while further proving Rosenberg should write the character full time) however it doesn’t really mesh with the aforementioned gritty tone of the story.
Seeing the Punisher dispatch criminals with maximum authority never gets old, even with a new artist at the helm. What truly makes The Punisher #224 stand-out is how it portrays the titular character in a much, much more villainous hue. It’s a simultaneosuly entertaining and thought-provoking issue that will make readers see the Punisher completely differently, so much so they may even start rooting against him.