"Punisher #16": is the final issue of the series high explosive or firing blanks?

Writer: Matthew Rosenberg, Artist: Szymon Kudranski, Colours: Antonio Fabela, Letters: Cory Petit.

"Punisher #16" cover by Greg Smallwood

The last two and a bit years have been a busy time for The Punisher title.

During his hunt for Hydra leader Baron Zemo, Frank Castle has jacked a suit of War Machine armour, murdered his way across two continents, set an entire country on fire, broken out of prison, and painted New York red with the blood of his enemies, all whilst continually bamboozling the efforts of super-spy Nick Fury Jr to stop him.

Now Zemo is finally cornered, but the streets between the Punisher and his target are crawling with Mayor Wilson Fisks V.I.G.I.L anti-vigilante squads and an army of Hydra goons. To make matters worse, Zemo has also abducted one of the few people Frank might consider a kindred spirit: Sgt Rachel Cole-Alves, the "Lady Punisher".

If that wasn't bad enough, most of the Punisher's ad hoc super team aren't as comfortable with the idea of murdering literally hundreds of people and shooting prisoners in the back of the head as he is, and so have presented him with an ultimatum: "You do it our way, or you're on your own!"

"Punisher #16" internal art by Szymon Kudranski

Presented with a choice between playing by traditional good guy super-hero rules, or brutally killing lots of bad hombres, Frank of course decides he doesn't need a team so much. But with 25 blocks worth of heavily armed evil henchmen between him and Zemo, and a need to get there quickly in order to save the life of Cole-Alves, he does need a ride. Fortunately one of the most qualified people in the world to get someone from A to B in a hurry is already on site - Ghost Rider - but he's not of a mind to let people ride for free. Like any good demon, Ghost Rider demands a bargain be struck in return for his services, the manner of which will remind readers that whilst Frank Castle is a mere mortal, he is no mere man.

Price paid, the pair need wheels, but they're not taking Ghost Rider's Hell Cycle. No, the Punisher has something slightly different in mind... something a little more comfortable, and spacious, and deadly...

One glorious splash page later the Punisher confronts Zemo at Fisk Tower, with his captive Sgt Cole-Alves displaying that everything she ever learned about hostage negotiations was apparently gleaned from the 1994 movie "Speed", allowing her to remove herself from the equation and leaving Castle and Zemo to engage in one final brutal fight, with no guarantee that either one of them will make it out alive!

Punisher #16 represents the final chapter of writer Matthew Rosenberg's two and a half year long, 27 issue run, that has seen Frank Castle relentlessly pursue Baron Zemo across the globe in order to punish him for his crimes, as a key part of the evil Steve Rogers' plan to conquer the world during "Secret Empire".

Whilst it's been a consistently solid and appealing read with no shortage of dramatic moments during that period, and it's a volume that will probably go down as one of the better runs on the title in recent years, this final issue comes to an end that can only really be described as anti-climatic.

The issue does manage to maintain a high tempo in terms of action and excitement, but the fact that Frank never really manages to get the revenge the last twenty seven issues seemed to be building up to, nor is he able to truly redeem himself and erase the shame of being a more willing participant than he might wish to admit in a Hydra regime that committed all manner of atrocities, means that Rosenberg ultimately fails to pull the trigger when it matters the most.

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