Friday, September 10, 2010

The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank

A comic book version of the Charles Bronson character from Deathwish, Frank Castle has been a thorn in the side of the Marvel superheroes since 1974. After witnessing his family's execution at the hands of mobsters, Frank became the Punisher, a one-man army who wasn't afraid to take the law into his own hands to handle the bad guys. Originally intended as a throw-away Spider-man villain, the Punisher became strangely popular, reappearing as a guest star multiple times until given his own series in the 1980s. His adventures were even adapted into a 1989 movie starring Dolph Lundgren (not to mention two more films in the 2000s). The 1990s were not as kind to Frank as his comics fell in popularity.

In response, Marvel tried multiple gimmicks to spruce up sales. They teamed him up with Archie,

turned him into an African-American,

and made him into a supernatural avenger,

without success.

Welcome Back, Frank ended all this silliness, returning the character to his dark, gritty origins and adventures. In his return, he has to face a ruthless Russian mafia, various copycat vigilantes who are using his methods for their own purposes, nosy neighbors, and the meddling of police and Daredevil in his activities. It is a violent book, full of blood and guts, but also one that has a surprising number of darkly comic moments and situations.

Originally a series of 12 issues published in 2000-2001, this collection was written by Garth Ennis, an Irish writer famous for works such as Preacher, The Boys, Hellblazer, and Hitman. His stories tend to focus on moral/religious issues, loyalty between friends, war, violence, and the inanity of superheroes. The art was provided by frequent Ennis collaborator Steve Dillon, a British artist who has been drawing professionally since the late 1970s for a great range of publications, including Preacher, Hellblazer, 2000 AD, and Wolverine: Origins. Jimmy Palmiotti, a very accomplished comics artist and writer with tons of his own credits, inked the final work.

These stories were well received, and they marked the beginning of 7 years Ennis would spend writing Punisher stories. Reviewer Michael Deeley wrote that this book was "incredibly violent to the point of being funny" but also added that its punch lay in its compelling supporting cast. Will echoed the sentiment that Ennis created a Punisher "with guns loaded with satire.

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