Although The Punisher's name may be in the title, the character doesn't really make an appearance in the comic until nearly halfway through the issue. By no means should that deter you from getting this comic book this week, however, since it's an absolutely phenomenal second issue to this mini-series. The issue opens with a focus on Rachel Cole-Alves who has been imprisoned for the murder of a group of people. If you hadn't read Rucka's previous run on PUNISHER you may not really understand what's going on as the events that transpired in that series led up to the PUNISHER: WAR ZONE book. In a nutshell, Frank Castle helped Rachel Cole-Alvez enact vengeance on the people responsible for the murder of her husband. Now, Frank Castle is on the run and Cole-Alvez has been imprisoned and is taking full responsibility for the crimes.
If you're looking for a thriller and a suspense story that will leave you wanting more, then look no further than this series. The story starts with a focus on Cole-Alvez and swiftly moves to center around Black Widow and her search for Frank Castle. The way the story unfolds is really great because of the way that Greg Rucka plays to the strengths of each individal character. While it's clear that Frank Castle may be stronger physically than Natasha, she's still faster and more agile than he is and can therefore put of a serious fight. I also think that Rucka does a solid job portraying the character in a more serious light. She's been asked by Captain America to find Frank Castle (not the easiest man to locate and take in) and she demonstrates she can do that effectively. It think there's definitely something to be said for the portrayal of Natasha's character in this issue, and I wish that we could see more of this in other comics.
Yet, this isn't a comic about Natasha, it's a comic about The Punisher vs. The Avengers and Rucka makes that very clear, not only in the way that he introduces other characters into the story (the scene with Wolverine and Black Widow, for example), but also in the way he closes the story, which teases the reader with who Castle will have to go up against in the coming issue.
Aside from a few moments where I didn't feel the art was very polished, I'd say this is another incredible issue that is absolutely worth a look by anyone who is a fan of either the Punisher or the Black Widow. Or if you're just looking for a great story.
I love this series, and I definitely love Rucka's take on such a complicated character like Frank Castle. There is no black and white with him, and the tone of this story is far more serious than other stories at Marvel right now. I think that Rucka balances suspense and thrill with the superhero genre very well, and that's what makes this comic and this series so interesting and fun to read.