‘By the time he’s done, I've passed out half a dozen times, the bullet is almost bitten through, and I'm holding the forty-five so tight the barrel’s dripping blood.’
Like the colours of the logo emblazoned on Frank’s chest, a lot of writers tend to make their Punisher stories black and white when it comes to motivations. They see the character as either a troubled victim lashing out at the world that created him or as a hopelessly violent sociopath who enjoys what he does and cares little for anything else. Both of those perspectives are in fact true but there’s much more to Frank Castle. There’s a psychological depth that can be explored, and when that happens the stories take on a second life.
With that in mind, it made sense to hire writer Garth Ennis to bring Frank back to Earth. Prior to this reboot Frank had been working for a group of angels, killing sinners with ridiculous supernatural weapons. Something had to be done before he disappeared up the ass of incredulity forever. Ennis’ love of violence and black humour, and his dislike of traditional ‘superhero’ stories, seemed like he’d make a perfect fit, but it’s not as perfect as it should’ve been.
It’s disappointing that he ignored the potential and instead went all out to make his début on the character as explosive and as violent as possible. Not content with just one vigilante killing people he added more and butchered dozens. It certainly helped wash away the memory of what came before but it’s far from his best work. His usual black humour is there but it’s smothered under the brutality.
The first half of the book is filled with awful dialogue. Here’s an example: “Well, don’t just stand there! There he is! Get him!” It’s uninspired bad guy stuff, and henchmen are dumb cannon fodder. I struggled on and the second half of the book saved the day. It had secondary characters worth caring about and when all was said and done it delivered a decent conclusion for everyone involved. Ennis had taken baby steps (in puddles of blood) toward a more interesting Frank.
The art is something else that could’ve been better. Artist Steve Dillon worked with Ennis years before on the British comic 2000 AD, and together they’d created the controversial long running series Preacher (1995 - 2000) for Vertigo. The problem isn't his pencils but Chris Sotomayer’s bland colouring. There’s a good chance he was working to Marvel’s brief because a lot of their output around this era was similarly boring and lazy but it doesn't make it any easier to ignore.
The book collects together The Punisher Vol 3, issues 1 – 12.
3 or more limbs removed out of 5