Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank (Marvel)
Written by Garth Ennis, drawn by Steve Dillon
Collects Punisher #1-12
I have a confession to make, something I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone before. I actually liked Michael Golden’s weird demon-hunter version of Punisher. Whew, that feels good. At the time that that miniseries came out, I had little-to-no experience with the character beyond a few random Marvel comics, his appearances on Spider-Man: The Animated Series and maybe the Dolph Lundgren movie. In other words, I didn’t have a huge connection to the character. I also had a thing for new takes on old characters, after all that’s what got me into Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and all the main Marvel books (during Heroes Reborn).
It wasn’t built to last, of course and was soon replaced by a run on the book that is considered one of the best of all time: Garth Ennis’. This Marvel Knights series (hey, remember when that was a thing?) was actually my first introduction to both Ennis and artist Steve Dillon who had already created one of my favorites comics of all time, Preacher, though I didn’t know it at that time. (If you’re curious what I thought about Preacher, check out these three posts) It was also one of the first comics I ever read that really dove into some pretty intense, over-the-top violence.
I was actually pretty focused on violence when I got this book in from a Swap as it was shortly after the tragedy in Connecticut. I mean, who wants to read about a crazy man running around killing hundreds of people who also happen to be bad guys? Well, I picked the book up and started flipping through and landed on the intro that Ennis wrote in which he directly addressed that exact topic. As he makes the point through the entire intro, I won’t quote from it, but he essentially compares the book to a cartoon and says that no sane person would really take Frank Castle seriously. He’s nuts and so is the story, but it’s supposed to be and therein lies the entertainment value. Fiction gives us a way to explore aspects of life without actually having to experience them, it’s okay to let yourself go and jump into stories filled with characters, events and situations you would never want to actually join in on.
So, with that in mind, I tore through these 12 issues. I think I might have actually read the whole thing in one night even. I don’t think I really grasped the satirical or parodic nature of the story when it came out because I wasn’t as experienced with such things, but they were in the forefront of my mind this time around, which was fun. I also really like how Ennis handled that whole “used to kill demons for angels” thing. Basically Frank sum up that series and then says that he told the angels to take a hike and now he’s back. This is all done in voiceover boxes while Punisher’s out there doing his dirty work. It’s a great way to handle continuity without getting too deep into it and actually holds up really well. Anyone taking over a continuity-heavy book or character should read that first issue, take notes and do their best to copy that.
Anyway, the actual story follows Frank as he tries to get the mob to remember how dangerous he is. His main target happens to be a mob run by Ma Gnucci who sends a real badass by the name of The Russian to take out Punisher who happens to be living in an apartment building with a trio of characters who play their own roles. There’s also Detective Soap, a loser cop who’s tasked with tracking the Punisher down, a job that most of force doesn’t actually want completed. The great thing about this series is that each of these elements get their own beginning, middle and end, all of which are pretty satisfying.
The only part of the book that didn’t make a lot of sense for me though involves another subplot and the ending, so this graph contains SPOILERS. Several pages an issue are given to these other vigilantes who pop up in the wake of Punisher’s return. There’s the priest who wants to kill sinners, the rich guy who kills undesirable elements in his neighborhood (read: poor people and non-whites) and a guy who attacks big business folks. We see them do their thing and even band together but then by the end, they just get murdered by Punisher after they swear their allegiance to them. On the one hand, I get the idea that Ennis is showing how crazy Punisher is by comparing him to these guys. Is there really that much of a difference between focusing on murdering criminals and murdering poor people? I mean, we like to stand behind the criminal-murderers because it sounds more altruistic, but both characters have something deeply wrong with them that drives them to kill people on a regular basis. On the other hand though, it seemed kind of pointless aside from making that point. Does that make sense? Plot-wise there wasn’t much/any strength purpose to it, so that was kind of a bummer.
But, that’s a small quibble, really. I still love this book and reading Ennis’ first arc on the book really makes me want to go back and read his entire run. I bought probably the majority of that series when it was coming out but lost track in the mid to late 2000s when I was working at Wizard for whatever reason. I’ve got all the singles somewhere, but I’m working on getting the trades because I love me some trades.