After sixteen issues, plus an annual and "The List" one-shot, this Rick Remender "Punisher" series has established itself as one of the most insane, absurd, delightful, engaging comics in the Marvel line. It didn't start out slow, but it started out in slightly-heightened Punisher fashion with a man with heavy armaments taking on a politically-connected supervillain. And then it escalated: To the Hood and his resurrected Gruenwaldian cronies. To Frank Castle scorching his resurrected family with a flamethrower. To dismemberment and death. To FrankenCastle. To the Frankenstein Punisher riding a dragon in his battle against evil monster slayers and their master, a steampunk robot with a skull in a jar as a head.
"Punisher" has come a long way in a short time, and it's been ridiculously fun for the last year.
And this is another good issue, with crazily-detailed Tony Moore artwork capturing the pain and pathos and superhero/monster insanity in -- I don't want to say nuance, because it's not the type of story that lends itself to subtlety but let's say -- all of its hyperactive splendor.
But with this issue, "Punisher" feels a bit exhausting. Not stale. Or dull. But like the music has been so loud for so long that it's not as much fun to listen to anymore. Or the ice cream at the bottom of the five scoop banana split that you eat just because its there, and you know it tastes good, but, seriously, you've had enough ice cream already and the enthusiasm has worn off.
That's a bit how this issue feels, and its partly because the series has escalated exponentially from issue to issue before this, and its partly because "Punisher" #16 gives us the man to man (or monster to monster) showdown between Frank Castle and Hellsgaard, and even with the deranged mise-en-scene of Tony Moore, it still ends up being a guy kicking and punching another guy in the end.
But Remender throws in a few nice moments, even if it's kind of an obligatory showdown issue. Manphibian, in particular, has a moment of tragedy that turns into something else. And Hellsgaard doesn't just grunt and sweat his way towards FrankenCastle annihilation. He nails the Punisher with some incisive dialogue like, "This isn't about giving meaning to our families' deaths! We're killers. We'd kill under any pretense."
Which leads to a skull-crushing punch to the head from Frank Castle, but that's what kind of comic this is. It's one of the reasons it's so entertaining.
I don't know where this series is headed next, but it's supposed to officially change its name to "Franken-Castle" with issue #17. The monsters are here to stay. Now it's just a matter of keeping it so that we continue to care. And don't become numb to the joys of the series.