Mayhem is a tricky thing to enjoy when it’s being conducted by a so-called hero. Like any good story, it requires build up and meaning to matter. It’s a big reason why Matthew Rosenberg and Szymon Kudranski’s very violent Punisher series has worked so well. Give Frank Castle enough reason to murder with impunity, and you’ve successfully pulled off a Punisher book. This latest volume is no different.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
The Punisher is extradited to the worst place imaginable: Bagalia, Hydra Nation itself! Frank Castle has been in jail before, but never one like this — on an island country packed to the gills with super villains! But just as the Punisher enters the lion’s den, Baron Zemo makes his move! Zemo plans to turn Bagalia into a legitimate nation, but what chance does the rule of law have in a land of outlaws? And can Zemo’s lofty goal withstand the Punisher’s determined fury? Frank gets loose on the streets — but even for someone as notoriously hard to kill as the Punisher, an entire island of villains just might do it. And desperate times for Zemo call for some truly desperate measures! Prepare for open war on the streets of Bagalia!
Why does this matter?
The Punisher is very angry, having been duped by Hydra and all. He’s now in a Hydra prison thanks to Baron Zemo and being framed by a false faced Punisher lookalike, so the world thinks Punisher is a maniacal villain. A reckoning is coming.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This volume splits quite well into three parts. It opens with Frank as a battered but still resilient prisoner who has little purpose, then the big plan to break free, and finally total unabashed violence and revenge. The structure gives the read a complete feel that’s enjoyable even if you haven’t been reading the series. It builds up Frank’s punishment and desire for revenge so that when he’s mercilessly slaughtering Hydra you’ll relish in it with him. This is important when Kudranski’s art goes full throttle with the blood and gore. Permeating throughout is some of the best writing of Baron Zemo I’ve seen in some time. He’s a leader of a country and trying to keep important folks’ faith in his leadership steadfast even when things are falling apart around him. He orders folks around to keep the peace and when he’s pushed too far he goes to the evil well and just murders folks.
The eighth issue collected here is one of the best heist-like prison break comics I’ve ever read. Rosenberg does a good job establishing Frank’s buy-in to work with inmates and Sister Mercy and then proceeds to use Frank’s captions alongside the plan actually taking place to keep you on the edge of your seat. It works well since you’re not exactly sure the plan will work since the captions are being said before the plan even starts. It’s fun to see how Frank knows this prison so well and how his mind works, too. It all builds to one hell of a full-page splash cliffhanger.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
The last few issues and all that mayhem are fun, but the stakes seem low with random Hydra agents dying off like they’re nothing. Baron Zemo pops up but he’s never really threatened. With so much action the story loses its cleverness and surprising turns. It becomes almost too loud with its approach as it races to the finish.
Is it good?
The Punisher is a hard nut to crack, but this series has proven over and over Rosenberg and Kudranski totally get this character. A prison story with an excellent prison break and action to follow makes this a huge success.
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