WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for The Punisher #228 by Matthew Rosenberg, Guiu Vilanova, Lee Loughridge and Cory Petit, in stores now.
The Punisher #228 finally brings to a close a storyline that saw Frank Castle come into possession of the War Machine armor and use it to wage war on criminals in a way he was never able to before.
It all began when Nick Fury Jr. leaked the location of the armor to Castle, with the understanding that he would use it to deal with a precarious situation in Eastern Europe. However, once his mission was complete, Frank opted not to return the armor to Fury, taking it back home to New York instead. The War Machine's impressive firepower and capabilities made Frank an entirely different type of killing machine, one who didn't waste a minute filling the city's streets with blood.
The Avengers swiftly stepped in, of course, both to stop his current bloodbath and to make Frank pay for siding with Hydra during Secret Empire. In a bid to atone for his actions, Castle united with the Winter Soldier and Black Widow to hunt down the evil version of Steve Rogers, aka the Hydra Supreme Leader. However, once they got to the prison, all hell broke loose, and Castle's War Machine came face-to-face with the man who invented the suit: Tony Stark. The stage seemed all but set for Iron Man to be the one to pry Castle out of the armor in #228's finale -- but then, things took a twist.
While the issue does see the end of Frank Castle's reign of terror under the War Machine helmet, it's not Tony Stark who ends it. Instead, it's the original War Machine, Colonel James "Rhodey" Rhodes.
The fact is, Castle only got ahold of his armor because Rhodey died at the hands of Thanos in the opening salvo of the 2016 event, Civil War II. After the armor was placed in storage, Fury would leak its location to Castle. And while Rhodey was still dead when the Punisher's current tear started, he was brought back to life in May's Invincible Iron Man #600. There, thanks to Stark's genius, Rhodes' was resurrected, and was next seen at his long-time friend's side in Dan Slott and Valerio Schiti's new series, Tony Stark: Iron Man.
In Tony Stark: Iron Man #2, Rhodes realized that after enduring so much trauma in the War Machine suit, he simply couldn't keep flying around inside of it. Instead, he found a new armored vehicle to pilot: the Manticore. This brings us to this week's The Punisher #228, where Rhodey appears in his Manticore vehicle, interrupting the brutal brawl between Iron Man, Frank Castle and Baron Zemo.
Though the Manticore's raw strength is enough to match Castle's armor, Rhodey tries a different way. He doesn't want to beat the Punisher, he wants Frank to give up the armor willingly. Instead of fighting, Rhodes talks with the former Marine-turned-vigilante. He tells him that the suit is bigger than the both of them -- that it means something to a lot of people. It's not a vehicle for murder, but heroism, a distinction Frank doesn't always understand.
It's due to his and Rhodey's shared background as military men that the culmination of the storyline ends in such an unexpected way. Rather than a knock-down, drag-out fight, Castle disengages for the armor, steps out of it, and surrenders himself to the proper authorities. A man's legacy has value, especially a good one like Rhodey's, and Castle demonstrates a rare moment of genuine heroism by giving himself over willingly to uphold it.
Thus comes to a close the Punisher's run as the War Machine, a story where, at the end of the day, Castle wasn't "defeated" by anyone. He gave the suit up willingly, to help maintain Rhodes' good name and reputation. Now, it's time to get back to basics.