The late, great Steve Dillon. That’s what the artist is now and this latest volume of “The Punisher” represents the bulk of his final work, with his last issue set to be collected in the next volume. Dillon’s work on the character is iconic with his innate ability to perfectly frame a gunfight, creatively render the violence, and have the perpetual scowl he gives Frank Castle absolutely looks like it belongs on his face. All of his skill is on fine form here as the Punisher finds himself up against a crime ring with a killer new drug in its hands. It’s the kind of drug that will turn the weakest crook into a crazy-strong killer, and the distribution is being overseen by Frank’s old army commander Olaf, and an enforcer who goes by the name of Face for reasons which will be fairly obvious once you get to know him. However, the D.E.A. is also on the case as two of its agents, Ortiz and Henderson, have been surveilling the operation and are just about to move in and start making arrests. Assuming there’s anything left to arrest after the Punisher is done with them.
As good as Dillon’s art is here, the script by Becky Cloonan is only average. Pitting the title character against violent drug dealers has been old hat since the days of his ongoing series from the 80’s. The bad guys aren’t really that interesting either. Face’s proclivities will be quite familiar to anyone who has read the second arc of “Preacher,” while the guy who uses his daughter as bait is a halfway decent setup for one whole sequence. With regards to the D.E.A. agents, Ortiz is the more fleshed out of the two though it’s too early to tell if Cloonan is going to take Greg Rucka’s approach to “The Punisher” and make the series more about her than the man himself. There is some interesting work done with Frank himself as his origin is formally and straightforwardly updated from the Vietnam War to Desert Storm and in a way that’s also relevant to the story at hand. Overall, Cloonan doesn’t do a bad job with the writing it’s just that she turns in work that will come off as old hat to anyone who has been reading the character’s adventures for an extended period of time. It’s worth buying for Dillon’s art, but he’s illustrated much better “Punisher” stories than this one.