Writer Matthew Rosenberg has spent a fair amount of effort over the last few issues of The Punisher exemplifying just how terrible a person Frank Catstle is, specifically using the events of Secret Empire to remind readers that Frank is nothing more than a murderous fascist. Personally, I’ve come to view Frank Castle as a true villain who goes against everything the Marvel heroes stand for, and I’ve been weirdly enjoying it. The Punisher #226, however, sends Frank down the road of redemption in an issue that is equal parts explosive and surprisingly hilarious.
When readers last saw Frank he was being hunted by New York City’s biggest heroes both for his recent actions in Chernaya and his back-stabbing Hydra-allegiance during Secret Empire, ending with Frank finally realizing just how horrible a man he had become. #226 opens as Frank takes his very first steps towards redemption — by hunting down Baron Zemo to rectify the tragedies of Hydra’s reign.
While I have gotten a peculiar sense of satisfaction out of a villainous Frank Castle, this slow bruning sensation of remorse felt like true progression for the character. Frank is finally taking accountability for the countless murders he’s committed, albeit by murdering even more. Nonetheless, it feels like Frank is truly invested in making things right making me suddenly feel empathy for him again.
The road to redemption is a violent one too, as Frank continues to utilize the War Machine armor to inflict massive amounts of carnage on anyone foolish enough to stand in his way. There’s something noticeably different with Stefano Landini’s illustrations, though — Frank is holding back.
Save for two moments of over-the-top gore, Frank seems a lot more reserved this time around as he reels back from the brutally gruesome kills this recent run has become known for. Both the art and story come together in this aspect to show Frank is actually changing, or at least trying to be better.
Along this road to redemption, Frank receives some unexpected help from some of the finest Avengers around: Mockingbird, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and the Winter Soldier. WAIT — Rosenberg has another book with Clint and Bucky together again?! Yes, yes he does. And it’s every bit as hysterical as Tales of Suspense was.
Even in an issue boasting true progression from Frank Castle, the surprise re-appearance from Marvel’s hottest buddy-cop duo absolutely steals the show, especially Hawkeye. His banter with both the Winter Soldier and Black Widow make for some hilarious one liners that inject a steady stream of comedy into this series without feeling forced or unwanted.
Once again, Rosenberg is able to bring humor into the world of the Punisher without compromising the character or the tone of the series. Plus, more Hawkeye and Winter Soldier from Rosenberg is always welcome.
This redemption tour sets up a killer (pun intended) new story arc for Rosenberg to pursue as Frank vows to hunt down and murder the remaining members of Hydra. Only now, he’ll have the help of the Winter Soldier and a recently resurrected Black Widow in his crusades.
I actually muttered “ohhh s--t” like an excited teenager about to see a lunchtime fight as the book concluded, alluding to the Punisher and his new allies teaming up to track down the remaining members of Hydra. It’s the team-up I didn’t enough know I wanted, even if Black Widow’s sudden camaraderie feels kind of forced.
After all, Frank was working for the man that got Natasha Romanoff killed, so why is she so quick to team up with him? If this isn’t addressed next issue, it will leave a slight plothole for fans to poke through while missing an opportunity for Black Widow to lay a deserving smackdown on the Punisher.
Speaking of smackdowns, I’ve been waiting three issues now to see Frank receive punishment for his horrific actions as of late, and #226 finally delivers — only in a much less satisfying way than I was hoping. After being lured into a trap by Zemo, a trio of notable Hydra mercs like Taskmaster lays an absolute whooping on Frank Castle. While it’s definitely a deserved ass-kicking, it felt totally unsatisfying watching the bad guy get beat up by the even worse guys. It was like watching the Red Sox get beaten by the Yankees. Is there a way they can both lose?
With each release, Rosenberg injects something new into The Punisher that leaves me even more excited for the next — whether that be a grand showdown with a fascist dictator, a brawl with a rag tag group of Avengers, or a surprise team up that I didn’t even know I wanted. The Punisher #226 not only entertains throughout with an action packed, hilarious story, but also sets up the series to continue it’s bombastic run with even more great stories ahead.