Coming off their five year run on Preacher was probably very hard for Steve Dillon and Garth Ennis. What was running through their minds? Apparently, it was the fact that more blood can be spilled with a little ingenuity, creating a no-rules Punisher series under the Marvel Knights line. Marvel Comics is releasing vol. 2 of the Punisher Marvel Knights run, which houses issues #6, #7, and #13 through #26 — all of which written by Ennis and ten of which are drawn by Dillon. It’s an iconic run for many reasons, not least of which because it showed how flipping good Ennis was at writing the Punisher. I liked this collection so much I talked about it on this week’s comics podcast.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Nobody writes the Punisher like Garth Ennis – and these brutal tales prove it! When ex-marine Frank Castle saw his wife and children murdered by the mob, he began a war on crime! So why is he trying to rescue a Mafia don from angry guerrilla fighters in South Africa? And Frank faces off against Wolverine as the two compete to take down a bizarre underworld predator who’s cutting off crime at the knees! Then, Belfast-born Ennis brings Frank face-to-face with terrorism in Northern Ireland. The Punisher investigates a drug ring -and the cops who are supposed to be dismantling it. Frank helps a social worker who has discovered a dark secret beneath the streets…and does a little dental work in a rarely seen tale drawn by Joe Quesada!
Why does this matter?
There are many good stories and story arcs in this collection. From Punisher stopping two partnered cops (one from working with the mafia and the other from beating his wife) to going toe to toe with Wolverine. There’s something here for everyone. Ennis was a master at dialogue, probing the humanity of the characters while stringing along Punisher on mystery missions that always ended in bloodshed. It’s some of the best Punisher comics out there.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
There is a lot to love in this collection. The opening two issues reveal a story about a man who killed his own family and also has ties to Punisher from Vietnam. It serves as an epitaph to the man as Punisher’s captions drone on, reflecting on the madness of it all. In the next story, there are no words at all (from the ‘Nuff Said month at Marvel) and that suits the Punisher character very well. Of all the heroes in the Marvel universe, he is one who doesn’t need words to show how he really feels. From there is a double shot issue drawn by Joe Quesada all from the point of view of inside the mouth of a mobster. It’s graphic at times (teeth are pulled!) and it’s an example of how comics can do things movies and TV can’t. All very entertaining.
From there the story begins to gain some traction with repeating characters like Soap, a copy who feeds Frank Castle information from the police. This sets in motion a takedown of big crime bosses that take Punisher to South America and a story where a Daily Bugle reporter blackmails Punisher so he can ride along with him for the night. A big mistake.
In a banner example of great storytelling from issues #20 through #23, Ennis and Dillon explore the lives of two cops. They’re both bad but for different reasons. One is working with the mafia to get a little more scratch and the other takes his stresses out on his wife with his fists. Punisher learns who these men are and does what must be done, but not through killing necessarily. There’s excellent dialogue in these chapters that hold up even today about domestic abuse, how the public views police as brutal and unfair, and more.
Then there are the Wolverine issues #16 and #17 drawn by Darick Roberson. It’s fun to see Punisher blast Logan in the face with a shotgun knowing full well he won’t die. Punisher knows he needs to go to the extreme to slow him down and Logan gets majorly pissed about it. For half the story Wolverine’s face is metal due to the skin being blown off. This story also highlights Ennis’ wacky sense of humor involving a dwarf mobster who cuts the legs off men at the knees to make them know what it’s like to be short. Truth be told Ennis infuses his sense of weirdness customary of Preacher throughout this collection in fun and clever ways. It gives the stories a more realistic feel thanks to real life being just as weird and shocking.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
Some of the later issues in the collection remind us Punisher does not live in the real world. Tentacled monsters and a ridiculously large pile of dead bodies are just two elements that are too far fetched. It gets away from Ennis’ more realistic depiction of cops, mafiosos, and Punisher himself.
Is it good?
One of the most enjoyable runs of Punisher ever put to paper. Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon created long-lasting stories here that still hold up to the test of time. Punisher has always been a tricky character to pull off but here he’s resolute, fierce, and entertainingly dangerous.
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