After spending the last issue recovering from his fight with the Vulture, Frank Castle is back in action as the Punisher in Issue 6, albeit with one eye still bandaged. Castle is now ready to resume his crusade against the Exchange, a criminal organization led by former AIM scientist, Stephanie Gerard and her partner, Chris Poulsen. Castle isn't the only former Marine gunning for the Exchange, however. They're also the target of Rachel Cole-Alves, a woman who lost thirty of her friends and family, including her new husband, in an attack on her wedding day. Much as Frank Castle himself was when he first became the Punisher, Rachel is angry from the loss of her loved ones and out for revenge.
Castle and Rachel have both discovered that members of the Exchange will be present at a lodge in North Creek, New York, and both of them, unbeknownst to the other, have traveled there in order to take out the Exchange. The comic flips back and forth between Castle and Rachel, highlighting the parallels between them. We see Castle on the outside of the lodge, luring the guard dogs away and taking out the armed guards placed by the Exchange. At the same time, Rachel is bribing her way inside, and killing a few members of the Exchange herself. We also see her don her own sort of "Punisher" costume for the first time — black tactical gear that, while lacking a giant white skull, definitely brings her closer to the kind of vigilante Frank himself is.
Rucka sets Rachel and Castle up like bookends, two people with similar backgrounds, on similar missions, but in two different stages of the mission. It's still raw and fresh for Rachel, and this is her first large act of vengeance, and specifically against the group who wrong her at that. Whereas for Castle, this is something he's been doing for so long that it's no longer about getting the people who murdered his family, but about taking care of what he sees as the root cause of the problem. He's looking at a bigger picture now, while for Rachel, it's still personal. The color choices serve to really set them up as two sides of the same coin, with Castle donning a snow-gear version of his costume, in an atypical white, while Rachel remains in black. They finally come together in a full-page spread with white on one side, and black on the other, while, moralistically, they both seem to be inhabiting a gray area now.
Rucka's careful characterization of Rachel Cole-Alvez throughout his run on this book is really starting to pay off, as we see her as a fully-realized character and not simply a Punisher copycat. Even with all of the obvious parallels between the two characters, she comes across as more than just a Frank Castle 2.0, but as someone who the reader can connect with and empathize with her plight. Where Castle seems to no longer have a lot of personal emotions attached to what he does, Rachel still does, and it's that difference that makes it very compelling to watch them operate side-by-side.
With tight, strong plotting and visually compelling art by new artists Matthew Southworth and Matthew Clark, The Punisher #6 continues a streak of great comics in this most-recent incarnation of the character.
Sara McDonald started reading comics in the third grade, and now puts her English degree to good use talking about them on the Internet. She currently resides in Western Massachusetts with a roommate, three cats, and an action figure collection and spends the time she isn’t reading comics working for a non-profit. You can visit her blog at Ms. Snarky’s Awesometastic Comics Blog.