When you think of creators who have worked on The Punisher, Garth Ennis is maybe the gold standard. His work on the character in the Marvel Knights line, as well as more recent runs, have defined the character. Ennis’s Frank Castle is gruff, no-nonsense, and kills without batting an eyelash. It’s a big reason why dipping back into his Marvel Knights run with newly released trades is a hell of a lot of fun.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
The Marvel Knights era of Punisher comes to an explosive close! First, guns meet blades as Frank faces perhaps the only person more deadly than he is: Elektra! Next, the Punisher heads to the Lone Star State for a high-noon showdown on the streets of Laredo! Then, when Daredevil, Spider-Man and Wolverine join forces to finally bring Frank’s killing spree to an end, can he make three of Marvel’s greatest heroes look like a confederacy of dunces? And how does the Hulk figure in to it all? Finally, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s sequel to their classic “Welcome Back, Frank” sees the resurrection of Ma Gnucci turn the Punisher’s world into a war zone — which is just the way he likes it!
Why does this matter?
This book collects Punisher (2001) #27-37 and Punisher War Zone (2008) #1-6, running a hefty 396 pages. Contained here are five stories, ranging from a one-shot Elektra tale to a six-issue run with Steve Dillon involving twisting and turning narrative with many players. This is primo Punisher storytelling.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
Ennis is a master at getting at what it means to be a terrible human being. These awful people permeate his stories, popping up as preachers, gun runners, and cops. They can be the main target for Punisher or bastards who end up tying into his missions and get popped. Ennis makes you despise these people while also reminding us terrible people do walk this Earth and maybe they deserve to be wiped off the face of it. It’s a big reason why his Punisher stories work so well, since it’s a hard sell for most heroes to kill and have the audience cheering. This collection continues where Ennis left off with Punisher, and before that The Preacher, and he’s at the top of his game.
There’s a wide range of stories collected here. It starts off with an Elektra one-shot drawn by Tom Mandrake focusing in on how Punisher can’t kill any of his hits as Elektra is beating him to it. It delves a bit into the killing nature of both and how they might be right for each other romantically.
From there the collection dives into a four-issue arc about Punisher stopping gun-runners in Texas, dealing with a gay sheriff (which comes up a lot), and having to deal with a Preacher who has way too much hate in his heart. This story is drawn by Cam Kennedy and does a good job establishing how Punisher’s planning is a big part of why he’s so good at what he does.
Next up is a one-shot all about police detective Soap and how he lives a life of bad luck. The poor sod is a lovable loser, which is probably why he’s put on Punisher detail to bring him in. This is also drawn by the late, great Steve Dillon, and he does impressive work here.
Following this is a five-part story weaving in Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Wolverine. This is a fun story as it connects to previous stories of Punisher messing with the other heroes’ lives. They want to get Frank off the streets partly because he kills, but also because he’s embarrassed them in the past. Ennis shows his comical side with this story as features a wacky super-fan who gets punished for his obsession. This story is drawn by John McCrea and Crimelab Studios.
Finishing off the collection is the six-part Punisher War Zone story with art by Steve Dillon and colors by Matt Hollingsworth. This story is a bit more layered than the previous chapters, involving an insane woman who seeks revenge, and the journals of a kid who also wants Frank’s head on a plate. This story goes to show how Ennis’ weird side was capable of lifting an otherwise conventional crime drama to new heights.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
Some of these tales show their age, like Ennis’ approach to the gay sheriff in an earlier story. Ennis is trying to show how being gay doesn’t make you less tough, but it also feels a bit insensitive at times. The characters are crude in the story, but the way it’s approached feels off.
The superhero filled story arc with Spidey, Daredevil, and Wolverine, can at times be way too silly for its own good. Ennis is sort of lampooning these other heroes, but the way they are drawn and the stuff he puts them through is way too much, especially for a darker line of stories like Marvel Knights. It’s too silly.
Is it good?
I liked this collection quite a bit, even if it showed its age here and there. That said, this is the primo Punisher well worth a look.
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