This is the best issue of the new "Punisher" series so far, and much of its gritty charm lies in the artistic skill of Jerome Opena. I don't understand why it has taken this long for Opena to do a regular series for Marvel, because his "Fear Agent" pages showed the compositional talent of a Lenil Yu mixed with the rendering prowess of a Mark Shultz. I won't go so far as to say his "Punisher" work is his best yet, but that's only because Opena is so consistently good. Except for one strange choice with Frank Castle's right knee on the credits page, Opena's art is perfect for "Punisher" #4. He draws Frank Castle standing over a pile of bodies as elegantly as he draws the Hood screaming for action. His fight scenes are dynamic, but so are his "quieter" panels. Much of this issue involves characters cautiously walking right into devious traps, and Opena's use of light and shadow gives the appropriate sense of dread and the blunt physicality needed to make this stuff feel grounded in reality.
When you're talking about scenes involving a supervillain in a too-bulky grizzly bear costume, that's an impressive feat.
This comic looks like what so many Marvel comics wish they could look like: textured, moody, expressive, thick with the grime and sweat of the hard work that is required to be a hero during the Dark Reign.
I invoked "Fear Agent" in my opening paragraph, and it's an appropriate comparison for more than just Opena's visual style. "Fear Agent" has been Rick Remender's baby for years, and while Remender brings a different tone to "Punisher," he still does a nice job balancing the whimsical with the tragic. In "Fear Agent," Remender contrasts the potential silliness of time travel and oddball space aliens with genuine human sorrow and pathos. He has been pretty serious with this "Punisher" series, but in issue #4, Remender's darkly humorous side makes a vivid appearance. And the avenue for his wit: the Hood.
Brian Michael Bendis has taken the Hood from a being an overlooked Brian K. Vaughan character and turned him into an important cog in the Marvel machine, but for all that Bendis has done to raise the Hood's profile, Remender is the one who has given him some personality. Remender's Hood is no Kingpin, as the text of this issue makes clear, and he's unlike any of the other crime bosses in the Marvel Universe as well. His Hood is caustic, sarcastic, mentally unstable, and ruthlessly determined. Remender has turned him into a young Al Pacino, chewing up the "Punisher" scenery from page to page.
The inevitable confrontation between the Hood and the Punisher will have to be an anticlimax, because their cat-and-mouse gamesmanship is more fun than any direct meeting would ever be.
While the MAX series stumbles around in the wake of Garth Ennis's departure, this Marvel Universe-centric "Punisher" takes confident aim at its target. In the hands of Remender and Opena, this series knows what it needs to be, and it's very good at being just that.