Punisher #16, the beginning of the end for writer Greg Rucka’s triumphant run on the iconic character, is a little uneven. I chalk it up to two things. The first is the rush Rucka has been under to get his last issues done before Marvel screws it all up by having Punisher join a team. The second are growing pains. Rucka has been trying to humanize and define who the Punisher is and the what his true mission is. By and large, Punisher has been treated like a wrecking ball. He blows in, kills everybody, and blows out. Rucka is trying to make him a bit more human. He understands what his mission is and why this life is not something cool or romantic. In attempting to inject some humanity, Rucka steps into the world of sentimentality.
The two main drawbacks to Punisher #16 have to do with the plot. Not 24 hours after Punisher is accused of going on a killing spree that resulted in the deaths of a dozen bystanders and three cops, including his former informant Walter Bolt, Bolt’s partner and longtime Punisher critic Ozzy Clemons convinces the NYPD that Punisher didn’t do it and was set up. That entire scene plays out way too fast and way too easy. Meanwhile, Frank Castle and his partner Rachel Alves are on the run, trying to clear the city before New York’s Finest descend on them.
Punisher decides they should split up. Alves, wracked with guilt over accidentally killing Bolt, calls reporter Norah Winters and goes on a long diatribe about what she’s done and what she’s turned into. The cops trace the call and an entire SWAT team shows up to take her out. Thankfully, it’s raining, so none of the officers see Punisher swoop down and incapacitate them. The book ends with a stand off between Clemons and Alves, who wants to die. She pulls the trigger, but the gun doesn’t fire – Castle took the firing pin out. Watching from the darkness, Punisher makes certain Alves is okay before slipping into the night.
While I appreciate that Rucka was trying to show that the Punisher understands that his life is a lonely, painful and solitary one, and that he cares enough for Alves to keep her out of it, the end was too sentimental to believe for Punisher. He may have removed the firing pin and then left her to be captured by the police, but watching her from a distance in the rainy park was just a bit too much. I was also confused at why Punisher was disarming cops if the whole point was for Alves to be taken in to get help. I’m not sure if Rucka is trying to play a sympathy card for the upcoming War Journal series or if he just overshot the bounds here. Regardless, it doesn’t work.
Ironically, Marco Checchetto’s is at it’s best during the rain park scene. His use of shadow, the way he pencils rain to make it look heavy and thick, it adds so much to the feeling of despair washing over Alves. The rain is a purifying metaphor and Checchetto drives that home. The man has always known how to draw and has always had his own dark style, but these pages at the end of Punisher #16 are some of his best work. It’s too bad the story fell just short of the mark.
(3 Story, 5 Art)