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Punisher MAX by Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon (Review/Retrospective)

This March, to celebrate the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’ll be taking a look at some classic and not-so-classic Avengers comic books. Check back daily for the latest updates!

“This was the only way Frank’s story was ever gonna end,” Fury remarks in the closing issue of Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon’s Punisher MAX run. Picking up the threads from Garth Ennis’ celebrated run, Aaron decides to offer a definitive account of the end of Frank Castle’s one-man war on crime. It’s interesting that this is a story that had never really been told before. Even Ennis’ The End was set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future to write an allegorical conclusion to Frank Castle’s campaign of terror.

Aaron might not have as firm a grip on Castle as Ennis, but he has a pretty compelling hook. More than that, though, Aaron’s irreverent and playful style suits the book quite well. Aaron has a tendency to write cartoonish and larger-than-life characters in his mainstream superhero work, and Punisher MAX is decidedly cartoonish and larger-than-life. That’s part of the appeal. In many ways – and not just in his choice of artistic collaborator – Aaron’s Punisher MAX feels rather like Garth Ennis’ Marvel Knights: Punisher run written with the sex, violence and brutality of his Punisher MAX work.

It’s a potent cocktail.

Very armed and very dangerous...

Very armed and very dangerous…

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Garth Ennis’ Run on Punisher MAX – Hardcover, Vol. IV (Review)

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, this month we’re going to take a look at Northern Irish writer Garth Ennis’ run on that iconic Marvel anti-hero, The Punisher. Check back every Friday and Wednesday for a review of a particular section.

I don’t know. It seems like, at times, I run hot and cold to Garth Ennis’ Punisher MAX run. It’s frequently cited as one of the great runs of modern comics, and there are moments when – if I squint – I can see hints of that masterpiece everybody is taking at. At other times, it seems I’m wandering in the desert, staring at a perfectly functional comic book, trying to figure out what everybody is making such a big fuss about. This penultimate collection of Ennis’ run contains two great examples of this. On one hand, the collection opens with the incredibly pedestrian Man of Stone, while it closes with the smarter-than-it-appears Widowmaker. Neither story is a masterpiece, but the latter has a lot more insight than I’ve come to expect from the series, while the former takes an interesting premise and does nothing with it.

The Punisherette?

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Garth Ennis’ Run on Punisher MAX – Hardcover, Vol. III (Review)

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, this month we’re going to take a look at Northern Irish writer Garth Ennis’ run on that iconic Marvel anti-hero, The Punisher. Check back every Friday and Wednesday for a review of a particular section.

I think I’m finally getting the hang of Ennis’ run on Punisher MAX. It seems that it’s pretty much positioned between two extremes: bleak nihilistic cynicism and depressing absurdist black comedy. I don’t think that any collection of Ennis’ work illustrates these two extremes quite as well as this one, collecting both The Slavers and Barracuda – the former undoubtedly Ennis’ darkest work on the title and the former probably the most ridiculously cynical comedy the writer has drafted for the character (at least on the MAXline). It certainly makes for one weird cocktail.

Frankly my dear...

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Garth Ennis’ Run on Punisher MAX – Hardcover, Vol. II (Review)

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, this month we’re going to take a look at Northern Irish writer Garth Ennis’ run on that iconic Marvel anti-hero, The Punisher. Check back every Friday and Wednesday for a review of a particular section.

There’s a dream I have from time to time. And in the dream I don’t stop. I kill the soldiers and the hitmen, the extortioners and racketeers, the dark old &%^@s who send them out to fight– I hold the trigger down until they’re all gone–

But I don’t stop.

The innocents are just watching, like always. The slack jawed thousands, gazing at the beast. My family lie red and shredded in the grass. I face the crowd and bring the weapon to my shoulder. If my world ends, I tell them, so does yours.

The recoil starts and I wake up.

It’s  just a dream, I always tell myself. It’s just a dream.

It’s just a dream.

– Frank Castle, Up is Down and Black is White

You know, I’m not entirely sold on the format of Garth Ennis’ Punisher MAX. It seems a strange thing to say, given how I’m slowly starting to appreciate what the writer is doing with the character, but I’m not convinced that the rigid six-issue structure that Ennis is adopting fits the character particularly well. Don’t worry, I know it’s a very strange and irrational complaint to have – partially because there’s so much else going on that merits discussion, and also because six-issue arcs have become the industry norm (because they fit the size of a trade paperback). That said, I think may have figured out why it bothers me so.

Gun play...

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Garth Ennis’ Run on Punisher MAX – From First to Last (Tyger, The Cell, The End) Review

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, this month we’re going to take a look at Northern Irish writer Garth Ennis’ run on that iconic Marvel anti-hero, The Punisher. Check back every Friday and Wednesday for a review of a particular section.

It’s interesting. Collecting three one-shots from writer Garth Ennis involving the Punisher, this collection manages to skilfully capture everything I love and loathe about the Northern Irish writer’s take on the Marvel character. The three stories collected here – The Tyger, The Cell, The End – run the full range from the early years of Frank’s life, to his early career as the Punisher, through to the end of humanity itself. That’s a pretty huge scope for a writer, and it’s telling that Ennis can cover all that range in so few pages, so smoothly. There’s a lot of good clever stuff here, but there’s also the insanely juvenile stuff that so often seems to knock me out of Ennis’ Punisher just when it looks like I might start enjoying it.

To the ends of the Earth...

Note: This review is going to contain spoilers. In each case, it’s probably best you know as little as possible about these three stories heading into them. So, if I had to offer a quick recommendation, I’d suggest that they are essential for fans of Ennis’ take on the character, and capture and expand on his core ideas well. However, if you aren’t familiar with the character, there are better places to start (ironic, given two of these three are origins, after a fashion). If you can’t stand the Punisher… well, this won’t convince you.

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Garth Ennis’ Run on Punisher MAX – Hardcover, Vol. I (Review)

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, this month we’re going to take a look at Northern Irish writer Garth Ennis’ run on that iconic Marvel anti-hero, The Punisher. Check back every Friday and Wednesday for a review of a particular section.

It’s Omaha Beach. Wounded Knee. Rorke’s Drift, The Killing Fields, the first day on The Somme. World War Three in North Jersey. And only now, pouring automatic fire into a human wall — do I feel something like peace.”

– Frank Castle, In the Beginning

I don’t like The Punisher as a concept. It’s not some out-dated “heroes don’t kill” or “I need a good guy to be morally straightforward”, it’s more that the character is extraordinarily childish. This is the very embodiment of the nineties anti-hero explosion, the bubble in the mid-nineties which say Wolverine become even more outrageously (and inexplicably) popular, turned Ghost Rider into a major player in the Marvel Universe, and saw The Punisher hold down three (yes, three) monthly comic books. This is a guy who wears a skull on his T-shirt and kills criminals… that’s his schtick. And somehow, he became “uber-kewl”.

Armed and dangerous...

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Garth Ennis’ Run on Punisher MAX – Born (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, this month we’re going to take a look at Northern Irish writer Garth Ennis’ run on that iconic Marvel anti-hero, The Punisher. Check back every Friday and Wednesday for a review of a particular section.

There are comic book characters that are so closely tied to one particular writer that you pity anybody trying to write them. The X-Men have Chris Claremont (although I do love Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run), Daredevil has Frank Miller (although he also has Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker), Hulk has Peter David and (I firmly believe) Green Lantern has Geoff Johns. Somehow, through some fluke, occasionally comic book characters manage to stumble across a writer who fundamentally understands them. I’d argue that this is the benefit of having these characters survive in print – none of these runs were by the original authors. Anyway, to get to the point, the Punisher has Garth Ennis.

The last Castle...

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