Frank Castle aka the Punisher is at war with the criminal element. He blames criminals in general for his family being gunned down. Now armed with his military training, vast arsenal, and determination, he takes the battle to those who he deems worthy of being punished. No prisoners will be taken.-summary
For those who may not know, Marvel founded their Max line which is an imprint of their company, that features adult oriented comics not meant for the underage or feint of heart. These titles have a reputation for being overly violent and more often than not, dealing with content completely out of the norm from average comics. In 2003, Marvel decided to add the Punisher to their Max line-up, and seriously, there aren't many characters in the Marvel Universe that can fit there without feeling forced. Punisher isn't at all like most superheroes, since he crosses the line by killing his enemies. Also, his world has always been the darkest in comparison to many other Marvel characters, with the exceptions of Ghost Rider, Blade, and Nick Fury. This type of setting is fitting for the character, and writer Garth Ennis has pushed the character to his full potential, by being able to work outside of normal comic code restrictions. This TPB collects Punisher Max issues 1-12.
The first story, In The Beginning, takes place during issues 1-6. Castle pays a visit to his families grave, and remembers the horror he witnessed in great detail. From here, he goes to war with a mafia family and leaves the faction heavily crippled, to the point where a survivor seeks help from an exiled member by the name of Nicky Cavella. To double the threat, another outfit is after Castle for their own reasons and is being lead by someone he knows well. The second story takes place during the last remaining issues and is called Kitchen Irish. Four gangs who were once under the same boss are in pursuit of a fortune he left them in a will. This chase for the gold involves the Punisher, when one of the gangs bomb a restaurant he's eating at killing many people. This begins a five way war that can only end with one winner.
I have been a faithful follower of the Punisher's stories in mainstream Marvel, and I was indeed amazed by the level of violence and gore found here. Nothing will prepare you for the things you will see here; Punisher Max will make the entire Marvel Zombies series look less than nothing. People are shot to oblivion in great detail, as the story heavily examines the ugliness of violence. Once you begin to finally digest the shotgun blasts to the face and exploding craniums, you will then witness the present time effects of terrorist bombings. It seemed almost impossible to grow numb to the barbarism found here.
Normally I would have a problem with a writer who seems to revel in the carnage, as if he's trying to break a record for most gory comic book deaths ever written, but funny thing though, Ennis shows how strong of a writer he actually he is, and the violence isn't used as a gimmick to cover some type of weakness in the story. Ennis does a splendid job in developing the characters, and the reader will indeed feel that these human-monsters deserve what's coming to them. He heavily examines the ugly side of man, who are consumed by things such as wealth and status. The plot is also well paced and covers things in regards to the governments dirty dealings. Another thing worth noting is the consistent tone that never deviates from the grim feeling it originally sets out for. You never forget these people are at each others throats to the death, and whatever comedy you may find here is definitely in the dialog.
Lewis Larosa and Leandro Fernandez are behind the artwork. The first chapter is by far the best with some good character designs. If you read Punisher: Born then you will remember the deal Castle made. Here, there's a moment where he's having a discussion in a dark, dim-lit room, and he has the appearance of a possessed demon with hell in his eyes. The action is sick, you will see half of heads blown away, to brains blown out. I can see action junkies completely sold on the gore alone. This area maintains the feel of Punisher: Born. The second half is slightly weaker at times with the character designs, but the violence is well captured and I think it's best to come into this part completely fresh.
Punisher Max Vol 1. is a very strong volume that introduces you to Frank Castle's world, and you will more than likely want to venture deeper. Although the rest of the series has its pitfalls; I still consider it one of Marvel's more worthwhile reads. Recommended to anyone who has an interest in comics, as well as action fans who take it anyway they can get it.