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.
Frank Castle aka the Punisher sets up his own capture in order to infiltrate and destroy a crack operation. He learns that the Russians have put a bounty on his head and he intends to retaliate. On the other side of the Earth, an old enemy strikes a bargain with a Russian general Castle angered. This begins a confrontation between the two as they seek to trap and kill each other. -summary
I wasn't too fond of the previous volume simply because it partially abandoned the extremely dark personality of the series, in favor of dark comedy and a certain lack of realism. Garth Ennis returns to form quickly with Man of Stone, a story that heavily resembles his earlier outings; government intrigue, stark character development, well paced violent action, and much better dialog. Plus Lee Fernandez returns delivering the gritty artwork that seems to compliment the mood of Ennis' writings better than anyone. This volume contains Punisher MAX issues 37 - 42.
I remember being overjoyed when I saw Fernandez was behind the pencils for this. His grim artwork is a marriage made in heaven for Ennis' cinematic storytelling. The action panels are again very brutal with barbaric shoot outs resulting in bodies torn to oblivion. The action also plays into the character development, as you learn how cruel and emotionless General Zakharov, a Soviet war criminal can be, as he hurls an infant off the highest mountain cliff in order to make a point. There is an artistic flow going on where certain panels aren't as color heavy as others. I enjoy it a lot, because it delivers this feel of realism not seen in most comics. I'm also beginning to wonder if Fernandez is ex-military, since the weapon designs are so on point to the smallest details. If he is then I'm willing to believe he was a SAW-Gunner at one point. The M-249's are very well drawn with the proper amount of airholes, carry handle in place, sights, and bottom edges of the bi-pod legs. The Stinger-Missiles are awesome looking too.
This story can be considered the true sequel to Mother Russia and Up is Down and Black is White. Ennis reintroduces characters like the living patriot, war criminal Zakharov, the mercenary Rawlins who the Punisher took one of his eyes in their last encounter, along with Kathyrn O' Brien who wants her ex-husband Rawlins dead for betraying her in the worst possible way. It's very interesting how Ennis brings these characters together for the final showdown and ties up all loose ends.
The plot follows all of the characters mentioned as they seek to accomplish their personal goals, but the main story involves Zakharov, as he wants the Punisher captured alive in order to force a confession from him. He wants to prove that America utilized terrorist tactics in order to infiltrate Russia, which resulted in dozens of soldiers and even innocent people killed. Punisher wants him dead because he doesn't like loose ends. It's completely unoriginal and even rehashed yet again on how this story kicks off in the first place, but it's the innovative storytelling on part of Ennis why the story succeeds on a high level. It's difficult to predict what's going to take place; people who you think are going to get even are put into positions where it's just not going to happen. Character development is done very well, as you get to see a different side of Punisher towards the end, but it's Zakharov who stands out the most. Even though it can be argued he's a typical villain, it just doesn't seem that way because the man is all business and soldier to the core.
Man of Stone is an excellent story in the Punisher MAX series, but this is not a place for new readers to begin at. Ennis attempts to develop recurring characters, unfortunately he doesn't do it well enough which makes the previous volumes necessary reads. This really isn't a bad thing though, since 5 out of the 6 books are fantastic. Highly recommended to fans of the series.
Pros: -Fantastic close out, action and artwork
Cons: -Not meant for new readers, Ennis rehashes a little
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