The interior art for “Punisher: Frank Castle” #68 looks nothing like Dave Johnson’s bold cover. Michel Lacombe isn’t a bad artist by any means, but his stiffly illustrated pages don’t have anywhere near the energy of the cover. Lacombe’s Frank Castle stoically marches through a corrupt world, and even Val Staples’s moody colors can’t inject much emotion into the story. Staples does such fantastic work on “Criminal,” but the same colors don’t work the same way when matched with Lacombe’s more fully-rendered art. The starkness of Sean Phillips’s pages invite expressionistic coloring. Here, it just looks gaudy.
This is a completely average Marvel MAX comic all around. You’ll get your swearing, your moments of bloody violence, and your amoral characters. It’s a tamer version of a Garth Ennis story, even though the premise of this arc sounds like a sure winner. Frank Castle has “Six Hours to Kill,” according to the title, and the clock is ticking. He’s been injected with a toxin, and the antidote is his carrot for completing a mission. Except Castle doesn’t like to be manipulated, and he’s not in any hurry to save himself. Instead, he’s cutting a swath through the Philadelphia underworld before his six hour lifespan is up.
Duane Swierczynski doesn’t seem particularly interested in building the tension within this scenario. In this issue, he shifts the focus away from Frank Castle to give us a glimpse of the past and present of a few of the key bad-guy players. The problem here — and it’s a problem that Swierczynski tends to have in his comic book work — is that the pacing is too lethargic. The best thing Swierczynski’s written for Marvel so far has been a single-issue “Immortal Iron Fist” story, set in the future. That story was crisp, and fast-moving, and packed with detail. In his Punisher work, and in his “Cable” series, Swierczynski plods along, and while some of the details may be interesting, they just drift in front of our eyes like a sad parade.
Perhaps Swierczynski’s experience as a novelist has given him a fondness for slowly-developing stories, or perhaps not, but there’s little doubt that pacing is main the weakness in “Punisher: Frank Castle” #68. It’s not that every Punisher story has to zip ahead rapidly from beat to beat, it’s that this particular story doesn’t have any major beats at all. It’s just all murmurs, like a made-for-tv crime drama, but with more cursing.