Staring Death in the Face (Punisher #17 Comic Review)

Frank is about to have his final showdown with his new nemesis, Face. The bad guy has taken a theatre full of hostages with the demand of a fight to the death against the Punisher for the lives of the captives. It’s been building since issue #1 and we’ll finally see who comes out on top.

Punisher Staring Death in the Face #17
Writer: Becky Cloonan

Artist: Matt Horak
Cover Artist: Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire
Colorist: Lee Loughridge
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
Editor: Jake Thomas

Publisher: Marvel Comics

What You Need to Know:

Frank was on a mission to take down Condor, a mercenary company expanding into the drug trade. They were about to release a new drug EMC, giving the user enhanced strength, agility and pain tolerance. Directly behind him, every step of the way was D.E.A. Agent Ortiz, set on bringing down the operation herself.

One of Condor’s lieutenants, a psychopath named Face, came to blows with Frank and Ortiz on a number of occasions. He got this moniker as he likes to skin the faces off of his victims and display them, pegged to boards on his wall. This eventually cost him his hand and his own face after he overdosed on the drug EMC. Now what remains is a super enhanced, skeletal-faced monster. After escaping custody from the hospital, Face went on a rampage to get the Punisher’s attention and battled him around NYC. Now Face has a theatre full of hostages with one demand, the Punisher!

(Warning, spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the issue)

What You’ll Find Out:

Surrounded by police in Times Square, Frank and the rest of the crowd watch as Face appears on the jumbo-trons demanding the hostages for the Punisher. For every minute the Punisher delays, Face will kill a hostage and he starts with one of the leading actors. Amid the shock and horror of the live execution, Frank is able to slip away to one of the back entrances, subduing the policeman guarding the door.

After entering the theater, Frank finds the director and an actress hiding out in one of the changing rooms. While the director is eager to document the action on video, the actress shows the Punisher Face’s bloody handiwork. With the two cast members in tow, Frank makes his way to center stage, as Face executes another hostage.

As the director still films the action, Face leaps down to attack the two tag along cast members with the Punisher quickly intervening. Now the real fight begins, Face takes all the bullets Frank can fire and throws him around like a rag doll. With a little assistance from the actress, Face is trapped under the stage and the Punisher pursues into the dark depths.

Just when Face has Frank on the ropes (literally hanging by his neck), he makes a comment about how the two of them love to kill, alluding that they are the same. Castle’s reply clearly settles the difference between them, giving him the chance to break free. He then proceeds to show Face just what the gears of war can do to a man.

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What Just Happened?

This is the conclusion to the story Cloonan has been developing over the past 16 issues. With the sad passing of artist Steve Dillon last year, I’m sure it wasn’t easy to keep focused on the task at hand and continue the plot as planned. Also on that note, the artist’s that stepped in to fill Steve’s role didn’t have the easiest job but kept the style cohesive and comparable to what Dillon had started. This issue, in particular, had an interesting concept of showing the camera’s point of view, using blue tinted hues as opposed to the warmer ones for the natural view. They kept the blood flowing and even though this is not a MAX title, it’s definitely not for children. As always Cory Petit’s lettering continued to bring the story to life, making the actions more animated.

The penultimate battle seemed a bit short, but seeing what we got in the last issue, it was smart not to repeat a lengthy fight and rehash the same thing. You definitely have to read this issue as a direct continuation of the last. To be honest, Cloonan’s whole run needs to be taken into context for this fight to be more than just another good guy versus bad guy battle. The development of Face as a new original character has the potential to be the next Jigsaw for Frank. That’s a big call I know, but I sincerely hope we haven’t seen the last of him.

We saw the Punisher lose civilians, but we didn’t quite get that reflection in his determination in the end. It was his main motivation for getting inside and while he was eager to trade himself for the hostages, his anger didn’t seem to escalate. Maybe he was already at his peak, or maybe his cold demeanor had taken over and he was focused on the kill. In the end, he walked away cool and calm, his job done. Even if the death’s haunt him, we know that Frank Castle doing what he does, punishing those that deserve it.

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Rating: 8/10

Final Thought: With the violent final showdown between Frank and a new enemy, we saw the kind of brutality we expect from the Punisher. The one thing I felt that could have improved the fight was more adversity placed on Frank. A few more injuries and handicaps just to show us he is the tough mother we know and love. Despite all odds, he keeps on kicking back. With a fitting conclusion to Becky Cloonan’s exciting run, I dedicate this review to the memory of Steve Dillon.

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