The Punisher Vol. 2: War in Bagalia – Matthew Rosenberg, Syzmon Kudranski & Antonio Fabela (Marvel)

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Even though it’s always strangely exciting to see a Punisher book with “War” in the title, I can’t help feeling that a better name for this particular tome would have been ‘Frank vs. Zemo’. After being betrayed by Fury and handed over to the aformentioned Baron following his Hydra focused rampage through the United Nations building on his quest to rid the world of Hydra, Frank finds himself locked in the deepest, darkest dungeon in Bagalia, kept as Zemo’s plaything and endlessly tortured by the minions under his command. Kept captive in Hydra’s hellhole, Frank bides his time while Zemo, between physically and mentally tormenting the Punisher, tries to convince the world at large that Bagalia rather than simply being a Hydra satellite state should be considered, and treated, as an independent nation. As Zemo courts politicians’ and ambassadors, Frank after being beaten senseless one time too many, and with a little help from the inside, plots and executes his escape and proceeds to take Bagalia and its Hydra citizenship apart piece by bloody piece as he inches ever closer to his ultimate target; Baron Zemo.

While the build-up to the final showdown is akin to that of one of the old Wrestlemania main events, and slowly ramps up the tension and excitement, unlike the raslin’ Frank vs Zemo sorry, I mean War in Bagalia actually delivers everything that it promises, and more, in its closing moments. Rosenberg understands Frank perfectly. He knows that if you want to get the most out of the Punisher, you have to let Frank be Frank, which is exactly what he does while constructing a complicated, believable set of supporting players and turning Zemo’s bastard-o-meter up to eleven. Kudranski is the perfect foil for Rosenberg, pouring his soul into the detailed ferocious action and destruction that Frank weaves as pursues his single-minded goal. Ending with a delicious cliff-hanger that leaves you smiling and murmuring “Way to go Frank, they won’t know what’s hit them…”, War in Bagalia questions the nature of fanaticism by allowing it’s opposing sides to collide head on and what it takes to drive an individual to go the lengths that both hero and villain are willing to pursue in order to achieve their objectives. And when the dust settles, and with the bodies piled high, Frank’s pyrrhic, hollow victory, much as it is in any conflict, is measured by what was lost and not what was gained. Because at the end of the day, the more things change, the more they stay the same and the Punisher will forever be what he has always been. An avatar of vengeance loosely disguised as the raw, unrefined spirit of jurisprudence. Long may he reign… Tim Cundle

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