Frank Castle aka the Punisher has returned to New York City, and he feels it's time to let the scum know he's back in the only way he knows how. After breaking up a drug deal in deadly fashion, he turns his sights on the Gnucci mafia family. He dispatches their top guys, which angers the leader Ma Gnucci, because those were her sons and brother he took out. She wages a full scale war against Punisher in which he's happy to take her up on. -summary
Interesting thing here, Garth Ennis's The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank was such a smash to the point where not only some fans hailed it as the definitive Punisher story at the time, but portions of it was also used for the 2004 live action film. This story actually breathed new life into the character, because during the mid to late 90's, it must be noted that the Punisher was being nailed by bad characterization and was in need of an overhaul. Ennis saved him back in 2000 with this 12 issue story, that skips the whole origin deal and gets straight down to business so fast, it will be awhile before you catch your breath, and your goal will be to run through all 260 plus pages in one sitting.
Punisher means business here, as the story begins with him giving some guy a second chance, so only the guy can renege on his end, and Punisher would return to snap his neck completely all around. From there he begins to take out more guys, which sees the Gnucci Family hiring hit men, and Frank taking them out too in smooth fashion. Castle is the definition of bad-ass here, and although I wasn't new to his antics before this; I still found myself wondering what he was going to do next. One segment sees Castle holding a guy by his ankles inside of a piranha tank feeding him to them, and that is not the sickest thing you will see here by a long shot.
The main plot revolves around Punisher's feud with the Gnucci Family. However, other subplots are injected with copycats influenced by the Punisher, and they deal out what they believe to be justice in their own ways. As well as two detectives who are considered losers by the force attempting to bring Punisher in. The NYPD chooses the worst cops, because they don't want to bring Punisher in to custody. The characters are developed and the story is well paced. There's even a segment between Punisher and Daredevil, and anyone familiar with these two will know, that most of their interactions end with a brawl since they represent different sides of the law. It's rare they see eye to eye on anything.
It is easy to tell Ennis had a great time writing this story, unfortunately, he did let his fun get a bit carried away though. The only down side will be that the story doesn't completely maintain its dark side, and It ventures to that realm of a casual comic book. This occurs when an uninteresting character by the name of The Russian is introduced. If you saw the 2004 movie and you cringed at that ridiculous action scene, well it's actually here too except it's much easier to get through. Thankfully, everything before it and even after it is so entertaining that it doesn't damage the story.
Steve Dillon's artwork delivers the action well. It's really nothing you will see in the Punisher MAX line, but you get a fair share of head shots, and claymore mines tossed into cars creating nice explosions, along with the occasional neck snapping. The violence is well intact. Weapons are drawn with a good amount of detail, to the point M-16's and Uzi's can be easy enough to identify.
Garth Ennis was indeed aware of the Punisher's potential and he comes correct with this series. The action, characterization, fun dialog, and plot all come together for the most part. If you're brand new to Punisher stories and you need a place to start, I advise you to do this; come into Punisher: Year One first, read this book after it, then go to the Max line starting with Punisher: Born. Between these three books you will get to see more than enough of Punisher's world to know if his stories are for you.
Pros: -Solid narrative and characters carry the story
Cons: -Certain story elements could have been omitted
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