Page 45 Review by Stephen
Highly recommended, PUNISHER MAX (each one reviewed) is by far the finest run on Frank Castle to date, finally given a socio-political bite by Ennis' decision to swerve the Punisher's targeted sights from superheroes to real-world pricks worth punishing like international sex-slave traffickers.
It's a very different beast to PREACHER team Ennis and Dillon's PUNISHER: WELCOME BACK, FRANK which was a burlesque played more for laughs.
There's certainly not a lot of high camp 'Widowmaker', although the mismatch of the titular widows does have its moments, and Garth can't resist giving one of them a lisp. Instead Ennis takes a look at what it might mean being "married to the mob": knowing what their men do, how they earn their money, and who pays the price, yet sticking around to enjoy that wealth by keeping their guys sweet, even if it means sacrificing their little sisters by matchmaking them to monsters.
Over the years Frank Castle has set his sights on one thing only: killing those who hurt innocents. Not out of revenge for the death of his family, nor to seek solace in self-justified violence, but quite simply to prevent them from hurting, maiming, torturing or slaughtering again. His verdict is final, and his sentences always end with a full stop.
High on his hit list has always been the mafia, but what of the widows he's made in his wake? Some of them are tougher than others, and these five are out for vengeance, gathering round their finest china to take down the man who killed their husbands, and using one of their own as bait. They do it quite cleverly too, but what they haven't figured into the mix is that there's another widow close to home for whom The Punisher proved a saviour; a liberator from a life of constant marital torture and violence. She's also out for revenge, but not on Frank Castle - on them.
Ennis' stories are invariably self-contained, wisely ignoring the idea of an extended saga that won't let new readers in, so you can pick up his best without the rest. There's an uncommon variety in his tones and approaches as well, keeping it fresh for those who do follow the series as a whole.
Lan Medina delivers in every aspect as well. He's the sort of artist who, like the venerable John Buscema, never seems to make the headlines, but thoroughly deserves to when you take a closer look and realise just how solid and engaging it all is. It's not "look at me" art; it's "look at them" art, which is what great storytelling is all about.
Before all that we have Leandro Fernandez illustrating 'Man Of Stone' and Gorlan Parlov on 'Barracuda' which will provide some of the comedy you may crave.
If you thought British Gas was underhand, try this group of corporate energy fraudsters, prepared to do anything to hike up their profits. One raped man's squeal leads the Punisher on a trail of blood, most of it in the water and swimming away from the mouths of sharks. Equally primal is the Barracuda himself, reinvented by Ennis as a gold-toothed mutha with an almost contagious zeal for black humour and slaughter, and who - in true Ennis fashion - is relieved of several body parts along the way.
He's cackling to the end, though.