WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Punisher: Soviet #1, from Garth Ennis, Jacen Burrows, Guillermo Ortego, Nolan Woodard and Rob Steen, on sale now.
In the Marvel Universe, and comics in general, it's hard to find a vigilante more cold, calculating and ruthless than Frank Castle. Since his creation in the '70s by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr., Ross Andru, the Punisher has been as relenting as he is unforgiving, taking down villains from street-level crime bosses to big-name villains like the Mandarin as part of his crusade.
His war on crime stems from his family being killed in New York, gunned down in cold blood, and that's why Punisher has sought to protect innocents across the world, even if his peers don't agree with his methods. And now Frank has bigger things to worry about, because he's just discovered there's a Punisher out there in Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows' Punisher: Soviet who may be even deadlier than him.
While this Punisher isn't rocking the skull symbol, he simply has the same philosophy as Frank, but executes (no pun intended) it in a more accurate, stealthier manner. Frank has no clue who this ghost is, or if legendary Punisher writer Garth Ennis has given Frank his newest ally or his greatest rival yet.
We never find out the killer's name in the first issue, but when Frank investigates a slaughter at Sheepshead Bay, he discovers bodies with clean, precise headshots -- admitting they were taken out better than he ever could. There's no wastage, not a stray bullet in a wall, and none of the thugs even got chance to draw their weapons. He senses the assassin used an AK-47 so to be this accurate with such a high-powered, high-caliber weapon, well, Frank even sounds a bit scared.
He quickly deciphers from a government contact the Russian mobster, Konstantin Pronchenko, is the target as he's trying to go legit, focusing on money laundering only instead of guns, drugs and human trafficking. The powers-that-be are cool with this, since they simply want the mafia boss off the grid, but Frank, as we'd expect, wants him six feet under for his sins.
What impresses Frank is how quietly the Punisher 2.0 has weakened Pronchenko's empire, attacking strongholds across Europe to Central America to the U.S., even hitting the thugs in civilian areas without collateral damage. It's something he's never been able to do with such subtlety, and while he's in awe, Frank's still wary as he's never experienced someone so clinical, even in his years of military service.
This all comes to a head with a high-octane chase that sees Frank torturing the Outriders, Pronchenko's goons, to get to the boss. Shockingly, he discovers he's been blamed for a spate of murders that he had no part in. He knows the next Punisher has been cleaning up the town, and Frank wants answers as to the why and how. As the issue ends, he runs into a mass shooting at an Odessa nightclub, one of Pronchenko's joints, and he finds more of the gangster's thugs dead in pools of blood there. But this time, the new Punisher remains on the scene.
We know future solicits revealed him to be Valery Stepanovich but just like Frank, his true motivations and intentions remain unclear. All we know is that he's smiling amid the bodies and having a drink at the bar, indicating he's enjoying the wait for Frank and getting ready for a team-up that could go south if both men don't ultimately have the same agenda.
Punisher: Soviet #2 goes on sale Dec. 11.