Here’s a strange beast: a “Secret Invasion” crossover that has neither the word “secret” nor the word “invasion” anywhere on the cover. Instead, we get Alex Maleev’s haunting image of Frank Castle behind bars and not even the slightest indication that a Skrull might rear its freakishly green head. Yet, this issue is absolutely full of Skrulls, and as much as I’m ready to take a break from the shape-shifting aliens after reading about them in every Marvel comic since the Spring, “Punisher War Journal” #24 teaches an important life lesson: Skrulls are okay, folks. Especially when they’re in the line of fire and Frank Castle is holding the arsenal.
I didn’t realize Matt Fraction was still co-writing this title after the Jigsaw arc, but here he is, credited as one of the writers, along with the soon-to-take-over Rick Remender. The team did a very good job with the intricately layered Jigsaw story, but I think this unbilled “Secret Invasion” crossover is even better. It evokes some of the feel of the best Punisher stories — most notably Garth Ennis and Richard Corben’s “Punisher: The End” — while setting Frank Castle loose in a world overrun with Skrulls.
Fraction and Remender also bring a long-running subplot to a climax here, as Punisher sidekick, and former supervillian, Stuart Clarke, finds out what Castle did to his girlfriend and makes an overt move toward revenge. So it’s Punisher vs. the Skrull invasion with one of his only friends in the world trying to kill him. That’s the kind of escalated conflict that works for this character.
It’s also great fun to see Howard Chaykin cut loose here, whether it’s a two-page spread of Skrull ships bombarding the cityscape or the Punisher running down Skrull infantry in a four-by-four with alien skulls dangling from the rearview mirrors. Chaykin’s Skrulls look awkward and goofy — perfect fodder for a Frank Castle guerilla assault. And you know how all of these “Secret Invasion” crossovers feature at least one wonky Super-Skrull concoction? Well, what could possibly top the one we see here, which seems to be Kingpin meets Hammerhead meets Silvermane? Just the idea that the Skrull super-scientists would bother coming up with such a mash-up is delightfully silly, but seeing it in action vs. the Punisher is pretty much the epitome of what “Secret Invasion” is all about: old-school, ridiculous sci-fi fun, with a lethal edge.
This series exists to show the Punisher re-engaged with the Marvel Universe, and “Punisher War Journal” #24 is a perfect example of that. And it’s an absolute blast, from cover to cover.