The Punisher #220 is a feel good story about a regular guy in a powered suit of armor killing every single bad guy he can get his hands on.
There will be spoilers…
I think characters like the Punisher are popular because they represent simple solutions to complex problems. Rampant violent crime is not an issue that’s typically solved purely with violence, but for those who live in terror of such crime, it’s cathartic to imagine that violence turned back on the criminals. There’s also a bit of throwback escapism inherent in such a notion, that sometimes we need bad men in order to tame various frontiers and make civilization possible; it’s part of the attraction of the Old West, regardless of how true it might be, and very much part of America’s mythic identity of rugged individualism and self-sufficiency. As bad a man as he might be, Frank Castle is also an American ideal. And make no mistake, Frank Castle is a bad man. He kills without mercy, and has no time for finesse or the niceties of civilization. He’s simply there to punish the wicked, and this issue celebrates that mission with a smorgasbord of sanctioned violence.
“Punisher: War Machine” is the aptly named title of this arc, and this issue picks up with Castle in possession of the War Machine armor, directed by Nick Fury to destabilize the rogue Eastern European state of Chernaya, led by General Petrov. Petrov was able to seize power with the help of former S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and technology. So not only is Frank Castle punishing bad men, but he’s doing so under direction of Nick Fury, rather than operating as a lone wolf. It’s a bit of a fish out of water story, as Castle has to learn on the job how to properly control the suit while operating well outside his normal milieu. But it works, because writer Matthew Rosenberg doesn’t let the armor dominate the story. The main character is still the Punisher, he just has a much bigger gun than normal, and uses it to devastating effect, despite not having read the owner’s manual.
The art by Guiu Vilanova and Lee Loughridge holds up well, although it’s doubtful any artist on this title will ever surpass the talented Steve Dillon, who became synonymous with the character due to his solid visual storytelling and distinctively realist style that incorporated suitably gory depictions of blood and violence. But Vilanova has no problem showing exactly how brutal a suit of powered armor can be in the hands of someone as focused and unworried about casualties as the Punisher. And Loughridge’s monotone brown and grey palette subtly underscores the middle zone that Castle occupies between the angels and devils. Plus it’s a nice touch that Castle strongly resembles John Bernthal, who plays the character on the Netflix series.
Castle works his way through various armed camps and garrisons in Chernaya, efficiently killing and maiming the various soldiers and guards who only have standard armaments to fall back on. Petrov has been imprisoning the outcasts of society, and we see his men threatening grandmothers and innocent prisoners on more than one occasion, which makes it easy to relax into that comforting narrative of violence against the violent as the Punisher tears through them like so much tissue paper. And unlike most Punisher stories, there’s very little in the way of shades of grey here. Petrov and his men are committing war crimes, and Castle has official sanction for his brutally effective violence.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper Punisher story if things are too easy for Castle, and soon enough he walks into an ambush by former S.H.I.E.LD. agents with their own suits of powered armor. They patronizingly comment on his age and lack of experience with new technology, which leads to one of the best Punisher lines I’ve read in a long time: “You young guys never learn. Equipment doesn’t matter. Only thing that matters is a willingness to do what the other guy won’t.” The fact that this line is delivered as Castle jabs his thumbs through the eye sockets of one of his antagonists drives home the point, in case it was too subtle.
Castle’s brutality and violence work well for him, but only take him so far when he’s outnumbered and outgunned, leading to an anxious and taut cliffhanger. Bottom line? This is a solid Punisher story, with all the violence and dogged determination that makes the character resonate so well with readers. While I prefer to see Castle on the streets of urban America, this is a nice diversion. And damn, that skull logo looks sweet on the War Machine armor.
The Punisher #220, published 1/10/18 by Marvel Comics, features writing by Matthew Rosenberg, letters by Corey Petit, and art by Guiu Vilanova, Lee Loughridge, and Clayton Crain.