"The Punisher" #16 is the end of the line for the tenuous partnership between Frank Castle and Rachel Cole-Alves. It's also the final issue of this series. Greg Rucka manages to put a bow on his work here, but leaves just enough to the readers' imaginations as the final image is definitely not the end. However, Rucka's narrative is complete and this act of the drama is over, but he leaves the characters with a huge amount of untapped potential.
Frank Castle doesn't kill anybody in this issue, but that's a key part of Rucka's game plan. While Punisher is still able to scramble and prepare for the fight of his life, this issue illustrates what Rucka has been working so hard to do: evolve the Punisher from a one-dimensional killer to a man with depth and conviction. Until the bitter end, Punisher stands beside Cole-Alves seeing her off on her new journey to a place he'll never be able to find for himself.
Rucka transformed Cole-Alves through the course of the series from a character desperate for revenge to a competent killer who could go toe-to-toe with the Punisher to a cop-killer. Granted, killing Walter Bolt in the previous issue was unintentional, but the NYPD do not see it that way in this issue. Through Cole-Alves journey, which is completed in "The Punisher" #16 with the Punisher as the witness and jury, Rucka has transformed the Punisher from a one-note character to a much deeper and more intriguing person who, while still true to his mission, has grown in conviction and compassion. Rucka throws some surprises in this issue, which shape both the character of the Punisher and the course of this story.
Marco Checchetto's linework melts nicely into the colors of Matt Hollingsworth while Joe Caramagna's lettering shines the visual up to a nice polish. At times, this run of the Punisher's battles has been gorgeous, other times painfully brilliant. Checchetto has consistently produced visual highlights for this series with every issue he has worked on and this one is no exception. Moving forward, Checchetto's design of the Punisher clothed in a black shirt with the hastily screenprinted ghostly version of a skull is the quintessential one. His look for Frank Castle has pushed the iconography further and made it more stylized. Checchetto's storytelling is fantastic and his characters are actors frozen in time.
Rucka makes "The Punisher" #16 a story that celebrates the history of this series. The more you know going in, the more you gain, but prior knowledge need not preclude you from reading. This issue certainly would deserve a perfect score when put in the context of the entire run, but with this issue, a little more background is needed to provide testimony to what Rucka has accomplished with the transformation of Frank Castle. That's an interesting spin for the final issue of a series. So many final issues struggle to cover all of the dangling subplots and many of those issues just cut bait and run. Not "The Punisher."
"Punisher: War Zone" is on the horizon with bombastic promises of the Punisher gunning for the Avengers (and yes, I guess I am including Spider-Man and Wolverine in that "Avengers" label). While that series is sure to offer up a different, louder level of excitement and adventure, I'm going to miss these characters. I've grown to really enjoy reading about Norah Winters hounding Walter Bolt and Ozzy Clemons as she plays coy to their questions about Rachel Cole-Alves while the Punisher brings hell down upon the villainous. Rucka and crew have done what no one has ever done before: they've made me a fan of the Punisher.