(The Punisher Max #1-#6)
How do you write The Punisher? Frank Castle’s one man war against criminals has challenged many writers in both screen and page. In the 90’s, Marvel overloaded the character with several regular monthly ongoing series and found them unable to maintain the sales needed to continue. Three attempts at film have been met with mixed reviews at best, none of them capable of generating a franchise.
While an attempt to reinvigorate the character under the Marvel Knights banner led to an ill-advised attempt at turning him to a supernatural bounty hunter, in 2004, the award winning writer Garth Ennis took a shot at the blood thirsty vigilante, creating what is widely considered the definitive run of the character. The Punisher Max series took Frank Castle from the mainline Marvel Universe, to his own little corner of reality.
Garth Ennis created a city that The Punisher drifted through in plain sight but still largely untouched by the law. The Punisher became what had drawn most people to him in the first place. The embodiment of a man uncompromising, who dealt out vicious revenge on those who would profit from the harm of innocents.
More importantly Ennis did what few other writers considered. It was no accident that Frank Castle audience grew largely when he encountered other heroes and became either a supporting player or part of an ensemble. The character is difficult to maintain a story without the narrative feeling repetitive. He has very little, if any supporting cast and his relentless obsession and lack of personal conflict can make Frank seem very one note.
Ennis brought back The Punisher’s longtime friend Microchip, and introduced the shady government operatives Robert Berthell and Kathryn O’Brien, as well as the psychotic mobster Nicky Cavella. These new additions to the traditional cannon, allowed the story to spread out and created a narrative that gave us a view into the inevitable escalation of The Punisher’s one man war.
The Punisher’s ensemble cast added a depth to the story but more importantly they helped to drive the story. The attempts by the CIA to recruit Frank for their own purposes add an element of espionage, while the Mafia’s use of the psychopathic Nikki and his crew keeps the story grounded in the street level superhero genre that the character has always felt at home in.
If you were as impressed by John Bernthal’s turn as the gun-toting vigilante as many were, this may be the first time you have considered looking into this character. If you are a longtime fan of The Punisher and somehow missed this run, I highly recommend you take a look at Garth Ennis’s run. Mister Ennis seemed to figure out the key to writing The Punisher that has eluded so many before him. It isn’t just about the character, but about the effect he has on the world around him and the way he makes us question our stance on what justice really is.
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