Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto's "Punisher" run was a lot of fun, but with the Marvel NOW! titles putting the character in a different direction, that title came to a sudden and abrupt conclusion. Well, except for a "Punisher War Zone" mini-series intended to wrap things up while keeping the main title available for other creators. As Rucka and artist Carmine Di Giandomenico wind Rucka's stories to a close, it's getting to the point where one may almost wish to pretend that "Punisher War Zone" didn't happen.
"Punisher War Zone" #3 isn't a bad book, but it's lacking a lot of the spark that made the previous "Punisher" series so good. Even though "Punisher" was set in the Marvel Universe, it always felt like it was off on the sidelines and in its own little pocket. That's clearly out the window now, with the Punisher tangling with all sorts of other heroes, and this month's special guest star being Thor.
The idea of a conflict between Thor and the Punisher on the surface sounds utterly ridiculous, with two characters about as far from one another in terms of style (and power levels) as you can get. It's to Rucka's credit that he finds a common ground in the idea of a shared understanding of honor, and plays off of that. The actual "fight" between the two is understandably short, with Rucka instead splitting most of the time between either a conversation between the two characters, or a moment where the Punisher uses his being pursued to pull Thor into a different conflict. Both of these are absolutely in character with what we've seen the Punisher do in the past, and it's good plotting on Rucka's part.
The problem is that watching the Punisher interact with Thor feels jarring. This doesn't mesh with everything prior to "Punisher War Zone," and it's a shame that this guest-star jam-packed mini-series is how everything winds down. With multiple "let's catch the Punisher" scenes only three issues into the mini-series, this feels a bit padded and going through the motions.
Di Giandomenico's art isn't bad but it isn't right for this story. It reminds me at times of artists like Simone Bianchi, with its jagged lines and slightly crushed faces. Every now and then it just looks odd, like a stationary Thor's cape flying up at a 45 degree angle, or that final image of Rachel Cole-Alves on the last page, which seems strangely pulled to one side. Compare it to the beautiful cover by "Punisher" artist Checchetto and you see a style that is much more suited to what Rucka had achieved on the title.
All in all, I'm starting to feel that for fans of the Rucka and Checchetto "Punisher" series, it's best to pretend that the book ended back in September in "Punisher" #16. "Punisher War Zone" isn't a bad comic, but it's one that feels like it's missing its heart. That's a problem that the last series never had.