"The Punisher" #12 is the first book I would hand to anyone who asked me why I like Greg Rucka's writing so much. While this is a very solid twelve issues into Rucka's work on the series, this comic is a shining example of a great shared universe adventure and everyone in the Punisher's sphere of influence gets some panel time.
The issue opens with NYPD Detectives Walter Bolt and Ozzy Clemons staking out the apartment of Rachel Cole-Alves. On the run from the cops and the Punisher, Cole-Alves reaches out to Norah Winters who happens to be shacking up with Phil Urich. Within the first seven pages of the story, we don't see the Punisher, but his influence is felt and the characters mentioned above clearly illustrate that this title is strongly grounded in the main Marvel Universe.
When Rucka does finally bring Punisher into the story, he gives Frank Castle more dialogue than he has had throughout the entire previous eleven issues combined. That may be a slight exaggeration, but Castle is a man of few words and the ones he uses in this issue have that much stronger an impact. It's classic Greg Rucka storytelling. Most writers do a good enough job to give each of their charges distinct voices, but Rucka gives each of the characters a distinct personality, psychological profile and motivation in everything he writes -- especially so in this issue. These are characters cut from whole cloth and transcribed into a story.
That fullness of character certainly makes life easier for Marco Checchetto. The regular series artist returns with this issue and the book has never looked better. Like Rafael Albuquerque on "American Vampire," you don't really realize just how much Checchetto brings to "The Punisher" until he returns from an absence. In addition to the characters mentioned above, Checchetto proves to be up to the challenges Rucka writes for him: a tense seven-page, dreary rain-drenched fight between Cole-Alves and Castle, Cole-Alves wrestling with an emotional decision and Castle exuding the Marine Corps equivalent of tough love. Colorist Matt Hollingsworth makes this book sparkle, as clearly evidenced by the rainy fight scene. Rain can ruin movie scenes and comics panels, but here it visually expresses the conflicted emotions Cole-Alves feels as she struggles against the man who could be her mentor. Plain and simple, this book is as beautifully drawn as it is masterfully written.
Everything you need from "The Punisher" is right here, absolutely everything. This is what a zero issue, a Point One, a new starting spot for a great book should be. You should be reading this book if you've ever -- ever -- had any interest in the Punisher or his place in the greater Marvel Universe. Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto have found a groove and they're doing a damn good job sharing it right here.