I’ll be honest, when Marvel announced Frank Castle would be donning the War Machine armor as part of Marvel Legacy, I wasn’t exactly happy. I’m sure many fans of the Punisher have imagined what it would be like to see him inhabit such a powerful suit, but it never sounded like it would make a good series, just felt like it would be a cheap story with little to it except big explosions. Boy, was I so naively incorrect. The Punisher: War Machine, written by Marvel’s rising star Matthew Rosenberg and illustrated by Guiu Vilanova, is a gratuitously violent and entertaining series that tells a Frank Castle story unlike any before.
Collecting The Punisher issues #218 through #223, this collection picks up right where Marvel Legacy and Secret Empire left off with S.H.I.E.L.D. in shambles and Nick Fury desperately needing of loyal soldiers. Fury needs a ruler deposed in the fictional nation of Chernaya, and Frank Castle is the only man for the job — as long as he has the right tools. The tool in this case? The War Machine armor.
The first issue is the only in this collection that you could call “slow,” but it is necessary since it sets up the entire “War Machine” arc. It’s not even that it’s actually slow, rather it is simply not as batshit insane as what comes after. It boasts some classic Punisher-esque moments of vigilante justice leading right up to him stealing the famous War Machine armor, moments that foreshadow just how violent this series will be.
From that moment on, this series moves at a blistering pace with nearly non-stop action as Frank Castle uses the armor to wreak havoc on the Chernayan army. These sequences feature some of the most graphic, gruesome, and utterly satisfying Punisher kills of all time. Across this six-issue collection readers see Frank kill his enemies in incredibly creative yet gory ways thanks to artist Guiu Vilanova.
Readers can see Frank blast a man’s face of with his shoulder mounted Gatling gun, drop a tank on a crowd of soldiers, blow holes in Chernayan goons using his ion cannons, and, my personal favorite, rip a man in half by the arms. That’s just a taste of what readers will see in this collection — every issue has at least four kills that will leave jaws on the floor.
While the kills throughout this collection are immensely gratifying, writer Matthew Rosenberg also manages to elevate The Punisher to all new criminal heights as he illegally stages a one man coup in Chernaya. Frank’s been a Hydra hitman and atop America’s most wanted list, but he’s never been an international war criminal — until now.
This “War Machine” arc could’ve been nothing more than just an excuse to put Frank in some badass armor as he brutally murders criminals. Instead, Rosenberg uses this idea to push the character to new heights. He’s not the troubled yet justified vigilante in this story, he’s a full-blown war criminal breaking U.N. law as he wages war on foreign soil. It’s a subtle reminder about Frank’s true nature that sets up some serious consequences for Frank in the future.
The biggest surprise of this collection is the subtle injection of humor in certain issues. Nobody thinks about The Punisher and thinks comedy — it’s a dark, gritty series with little room for laughs. Somehow Rosenberg manages to squeeze just the right amount of humor into this series without sacrificing the integrity of the tone or character. There are a few Star Wars references and even a small dick joke that will make almost every reader chuckle.
The only thing that holds this collection back is how fast it reads. While it does feature some fantastic dialogue exchanges between Frank Castle and Nick Fury, it’s very visual heavy, meaning readers can get through most individual issues in 10 to 15 minutes. At six issues total, the average reader could probably finish this collection in under two hours.
I have never been so happy to be so wrong about a series like I am with this collection of The Punisher. Frank Castle in the War Machine armor could’ve just been a cheap ploy to appease fan boys with no real substance. Instead, The Punisher: War Machine is an incredibly entertaining story featuring some of the all-time best Punisher kills while elevating Frank Castle to an all new criminal status.