Rucka’s go at building a “Punisher” series around the title character’s supporting cast continues in a fairly readable fashion here. It’s not to say that this approach isn’t panning out, but it does feel remarkably subdued for a story involving Frank Castle and I imagine that some of these issues must’ve pretty slow when read on a monthly basis. Still, read together here, there’s some good stuff here with the writer’s approach. I’m personally more interested in the plight of Detective Bolt who owes his promotion to detective to the vigilante and has been passing him police info ever since. He gets called out by his old-school partner here, and the fact that I can’t tell how this thread is going to go is exciting. Less exciting, but still interesting is the transition of Rachel Cole-Alves from being a widowed victim of violent crime into the Punisher’s partner.
Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous. Suspending one’s disbelief to allow for the fact that Castle hasn’t been gunned down by now is built into his character; however, it’s quite another to allow for this. The Punisher has been written as someone who views his mission as a solitary one for so long, aggressively so in some cases, that it makes you wonder what Rucka was thinking. He does manage to get away with it, barely. Cole-Alves doesn’t set out to be the man’s partner, she just happens to come .45 to .45 with him after they both hit an upstate meeting of the Exchange -- the criminal organization of which the men who perpetrated the massacre at her wedding were a part of. They don’t team up then, that comes afterward when they use the info to independently hit another of the Exchange’s strongholds. While she proves her worth there, it’s ultimately her background as a marine, and the same ultracompetence she displays in her actions, that allows for the partnership.
That new partnership is immediately put to the test in the book’s high point, “The Omega Effect.” This was a three-part crossover between “Punisher,” “Avenging Spider-Man,” and “Daredevil,” which flows naturally from the issues collected here after Castle finds out about the Omega Drive -- which has information on all of the major criminal and terrorist organizations in the Marvel Universe -- and that it’s currently in Daredevil’s possession. After Spider-Man is clued into its existence, he winds up getting involved in the fracas too. Once the ninja assault is taken care of (because there’s always a ninja assault going on somewhere in the Marvel Universe, it just happened to be here this time) a deal is struck between all parties to wage a non-lethal assault on all of the organizations who have data on the drive. Attacking megacrime on its home turf? A team-up between three heroes who have trouble getting along in the best of circumstances? What could possibly go wrong?
Co-written with “Daredevil’s” Mark Waid, the crossover is a lot more action-packed and filled with costumes than the issues that have preceded it. This could’ve come off as a jarring tonal shift and that it doesn’t is due mainly to the focus it puts on Cole-Alves. It’s her first major mission with the Punisher and represents a point of no return for her. Daredevil picks up on this and tries his best to convince her not to go down this path. Rucka and Waid get some good mileage out of this thread, especially in the conversation between the two near the end. It’s also clear that they had a lot of fun writing Spider-Man’s dialogue, especially in the opening issue and his, “So I see you’re finally dating again?” Great stuff, and I won’t mind re-reading this too much as these issues will also be collected in the next volume of “Daredevil.”
Art comes from five different artists, Marco Checchetto, Michael Lark, Mirko Colak, Matthew Southworth and Matthew Clark, most of whom do a pretty good job with the “grim and gritty” look that characterizes just about every “Punisher” book. The sole exception is Colak, who is a decent artist but has a style that is too clean for the story being told here. Checchetto handles the majority of the issues here, and while he continues to be a good fit for the material I’m also sure that he enjoyed the chance to cut loose with “The Omega Effect.”
All in all, it’s not a bad collection of stories featuring the title character, his supporting cast and two other street-level superheroes. If you liked the first volume, then you’ll find more of that to appreciate here. I can’t say that Rucka’s run here is as good as his best stuff (see “Whiteout” and “Queen and Country” for proof of what he can do at the top of his game) but it’s worth a look.