I mean, yes, he’s always been popular, but I don’t think anyone saw the most street level of all non-powered people fitting in so well with the mythic madness that comes from smashing all 10 realms together. It turned out to be such a great conceit, Frank Castle got a post-event spin-off continuing to hunt frost giants, in Punisher Kill Krew.
And it all started when a jotun named Kasyckla threw a car on a Manhattan street in War of the Realms: The Punisher #1.
You see, that car had a family in it. By the time Frank Castle was able to climb into its burning wreckage, in a story that should ring familiar, only the father was still alive. Recognizing the Punisher, the man implores him to kill the monster and avenge his family. “There is no place in this universe that is safe for him now,” Castle solemnly replies.
But first the Punisher needs to get this man to a hospital. Too bad they’re all (understandably) overflowing. When a doctor tells him they need to evacuate to New Jersey through the Lincoln Tunnel, Castle knows he needs to help or they’ll all be ambushed and surely slaughtered. With some melee weapons and a conscripted busload of felons, survival will have to first take precedence over revenge.
Where writer Gerry Duggan might have tripped a bit trying to make crazy work in Infinity Wars, he undeniably succeeds in War of the Realms: The Punisher. Even Frank working with the mobsters makes sense; we know he’ll kill them eventually, they know he’ll kill them eventually, and that balance is a major plot point. These three issues are a satisfying, uplifting tale of character growth (for naught?) and a great intro for similar stories to come.
Artist Marcelo Ferreira is just as much a storyteller in this as Duggan is. The continuity of events between successive panels is much more evident than usual, and you’ll find yourself going back to a page several times to pick out the beats and gags you missed before. Rachelle Rosenberg’s colors bring out the fire in the chaos and the darkness of the enemies.
War of the Realms: The Punisher is rounded out with some variant covers, a neat look at Ferreira’s artistic process, and three additional stories, including 10 more Punisher pages from War of the Realms Omega #1 by Duggan, which directly set up Punisher Kill Krew. Juan Ferreya’s pencils and colors almost look painted, covering the mythic stuff more, whereas Ferreira was grittier.
Then, curiously enough, there are two 10-page stories from War of the Realms: War Scrolls #3 that have nothing to do with the Punisher. “A Rose for Victor” is a stellar Dr. Doom story told from two different viewpoints, written by Christopher Cantwell. Doom does not take defeat well, and is even less pleased when his people are threatened. Cian Tormey’s pencils are not very detailed, for the betterment of the story, giving the whole thing a very downtrodden, eastern European vibe, though Dan Brown’s colors are maybe a bit too bright of a complement.
“The Face of a Warrior,” featuring She-Hulk and her Avengers teammates, dips a bit, with Charlie Jane Anders at the pen. There are definitely some good moments here, with a real heart-to-heart between “the Hulk” (not Jennifer Walters) and Freyja, the mother of her sort-of boyfriend, Thor, but some of the other dialogue is really inconsistent and swings the tone wildly. Artist Simon D’Armini has a super cartoony style, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing and is matched by Federico Blee’s vibrant colors, but it’s something you should be aware of going in.
The Punisher shouldn’t be fighting cosmic monsters all the time, but it can be a nice change of pace when he does. War of the Realms: The Punisher is an out-there concept that’s terrifically pulled off by the creative team(s). Even the unrelated supplemental material is fun and worth your time.