At the heart of this story, there's no denying its general silliness. The Punisher being cut to pieces by Dark Wolverine, only to get sewed back up together a la Frankenstein? Ludicrous, right? What's a little surprising, then, is that Rick Remender isn't playing it for laughs. Instead, he's creating his own version of the Morlocks underneath New York, with the Punisher as a new guardian for the outcast and forgotten.
Most of this issue actually focuses on the Legion of Monsters and the previously hidden Monster Metropolis. It's the new home of the disenfranchised, just trying to live their lives in general peace even as they're shunned and feared by the rest of the world. In many ways, "Punisher" #12 feels like an excuse for Tony Moore to draw all of these crazy looking monsters; some modeled off of old Universal pictures characters, others with their own and special unique looks. I love how he takes care to draw markings on the Manphibian's scales, or the heat slowly kicking in with the burning lava form of the monster priest. Even Morbius looks more interesting than normal here, with thin stringy hair and especially pointy ears.
As for the story, it's not bad even though the reset button hanging above it all is hard to ignore. Once you accept that the Punisher will be turned back to normal at the end of the story, most likely using the item that everyone's trying to get their hands on, you can smile and nod your way through its improbable premise. Although, to be fair, smile isn't perhaps the best choice of word. This is a surprisingly grim story in places, with innocents getting massacred left and right. Sure, it's the ultimate trigger to bring in the Punisher, but none the less it's a little startling in places to see the amount of violence being paired with Moore's cute visuals.
This certainly isn't the direction I'd have expected for "The Punisher" but then again, Remender seems to delight in turning up some surprises for his readers, and this is no exception. It may be a little sillier in places than the grim "Punishermax" title, but at its core, don't write it off as being a joke. "Punisher" is still delivering the goods.