WARNING: This article contains spoilers for The Punisher #226 by Matthew Rosenberg and Stefano Landini, in stores now.
When Frank Castle first put on the War Machine armor, he took it our for a spin in a foreign country torn by war and a dictatorship. There, Frank could do what he did best, without any fear of reprisal. When his mission was finally accomplished, he decided to take his War Machine-heightened war on crime back to New York City, his old stomping grounds.
However, New York isn't exactly the same as a foreign Eastern country. Before long, Frank had rattled many cages, and the heroes of the Marvel Universe showed up to put a stop to his bloody rampage.
But these heroes didn't just want end The Punisher's killing spree, they wanted him to answer for his actions during Secret Empire, which saw Frank willingly join forces with Hydra. While he managed to escape Captain Marvel and the rest, even Frank soon recognized that he needed to atone for what he had done. Naturally, for him, that means finding Baron Zemo and any Hydra soldier he can get his hands on and killing them all. What Castle probably didn't expect, however, was to have help from Natasha Romanoff, aka the Black Widow, and Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier.
When Frank Castle finds Zemo's location, he hits the Hydra compound with everything in the War Machine arsenal. After all, Frank truly believes that he can redeem himself for choosing to side with Hydra by killing them all, as twisted as that may be. The only problem is that Zemo knew in advance that the Punisher was coming, which leads him to bring in some extra muscle in the form of Taskmaster and Crossbones. Together, the three villains manage to gain the upper hand against Castle, stripping the War Machine armor off of him. They aim a gun at his head... but before they can pull the trigger, they are interrupted by Hawkeye, Mockingbird, Black Widow and the Winter Soldier.
This is not a small gesture, considering that only a few issues ago the heroes of the Marvel Universe were all after Frank Castle. Now, they help him survive, and fight. But that's when things get even more surprising: As soon as the fight stops, Natasha stuns both Hawkeye and Mockingbird, leaving only Frank, Bucky and herself standing. "What's Fury's play here?" Frank asks. But Natasha answers, "That was my play. Now pack up that armor. We've got men to kill."
Natasha has even more reason to want Hydra's blood. After all, she attempted to assassinate the evil Steve Rogers during Secret Empire, something that led to her death. In fact, her assassination attempt was prevented by Frank Castle himself, which means that her saving the Punisher is all the more telling. Now that she's back, Natasha clearly has a bone to pick with Hydra, and she isn't the only one. Frank Castle is after the same thing she is -- to make them pay -- and the same can be said for Bucky, who was almost killed by Zemo during Secret Empire's opening salvo.
All three characters have more than their just reasons to want to take the fight to Hydra, and now all three are set to team-up against Zemo. Almost a year later, it appears as if the Legacy volume of The Punisher is the unofficial sequel to Secret Empire, a story that examines the fallout of Hydra's reign on a more personal level.