My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank was my first exposure to the wonderfully twisted and violently deranged mind of Garth Ennis. The Punisher was always a character I wanted to like, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. All I could picture forever was Dolph Lundgren’s corny ass. That monosyllabic version of Frank still gives me the shits. Frank always fell at least a little short of the hardcore killer I wanted him to be. Dirty Harry wouldn’t use rubber bullets. Rubber bullets are for pussys. I thought I had forever labeled Frank Castle as a B-list character with sporadic glimmers of potential greatness.
Garth changed all of that. As far as I am concerned, Garth Ennis created the Punisher. A merciless, unrelenting soldier that is single mindedly focused on his mission to kill as many criminals as possible by any means necessary before meeting his own fated end. Warms my heart.
This was the seed that ultimately blossomed into Ennis’s defining run on Punisher Max. While this book, much like Garth’s work on Preacher, has more of a dark comedic feel to it than the Max series, Castle’s inner voice clearly started out here.
Ennis resets the clock again and puts Castle back where he belongs. In New York, taking down the Gnucci crime family with any and all tools at his disposal. Garth introduces a bunch of fun characters in this one. Many of whom continue to appear throughout his Marvel Knights Punisher run. The luckless Detective Soap, the unstoppable Russian, the thoroughly pierced Spacker Dave, and the Bloodthirsty Ma Gnucci to name a few. I really appreciated the way that Garth resisted using Marvel heroes extensively throughout his run on this title. Wolverine, Hulk, and Spidey all make brief appearances down the road, but not in any kind of regular manner. In the first 12 issues only Daredevil makes an appearance, but it’s a doozy. That, along with Frank taking on Ma Gnucci’s hit men in unsophisticated ways, jackin’ a polar bear’s jaw, and steppin’ to the Russian mano a mano made for just a couple of my favorite moments in this collection.
This is NOT a serious book. In fact it’s often funny. But Castle always remains straight faced and true to character. Never cracking a smile or changing course regardless of the bloody craziness that ensues. Frank is also starting to show his age a little. He’s not invulnerable and is forced to rely more on his cunning than brute force. His meticulous planning and execution of the mission are part of what makes him so fuckin’ cool.
Steve Dillon does a good job here. I’ve never been a huge fan of the man, but he works well with Garth and I’ve grown to appreciate his simple cartoony style. Tim Bradstreet’s covers for the series are the shit.
Fans of Ennis’s irreverent and black comedic style will almost certainly find something to enjoy here. Welcome Back Frank is what started this fan-boy on his pilgrimage towards seeking out all of Garth’s extensive catalog of work. While most probably recognize Preacher as his highest achievement (and it is awesome), I would respectfully disagree and point towards the vast majority of his work on this character as being the high water mark of his career to date. Start here and ease into his more serious Punisher Max series. Hands down some of the best stuff out there. This is the place where Garth started to cut out his own little corner of the Marvel Universe. As for Welcome Back Frank, it’s deliciously violent ridiculousness and the start of something really, really special.
I would like to dedicate my 100th crappy review on Goodreads to the only Marine I like more the Frank Castle, my son Ryan. Oorah!