In 2000, Garth Ennis took his first turn on the Punisher for a 12-issue miniseries. This arc, Welcome back, Frank, serves to bring the Punisher back into popularity after the previous decade of ’90s excess saw him turn into an Archangel of Vengeance, a pretty far departure from his harsh vigilante roots. This series returned Frank to the streets, where his brutal violence and gritty demeanor fit like a glove. The unforgiving relentlessness of his vigilante cause is made apparent from the very beginning. Though I am not really a big fan of the character, I can appreciate his significance in the Marvel Universe and Ennis’ special treatment of Frank Castle.
By far the best moment in the whole series occurred in Issue #3, with the rooftop scene between Frank and Daredevil. The dialogue and contrasting views on vigilantism served to really highlight the difference between the Punisher and other heroes. The source material here was wonderful and an easy choice for the TV adaptation in Season 2: Ep 2 of Marvel’s Daredevil.
There were two things I did definitely notice in a positive way in this series. First, Frank almost never spoke out loud. That seemed like a good choice for such an experienced and ruthless fighter. The talkative ones are Spider-Man, Hawkeye, and other fun-loving nonlethal characters, so keeping the Punisher silent during fights only adds to the perception of his stoic seriousness. Second, Frank talked pretty extensively about tactics and the specifics of the weaponry he used. This seemed like a key trait for a highly-trained, militant vigilante like Castle, since he surely knows his way around an arsenal and is likely to pick the perfect weapon for the job. I feel like some of the influences for Bernthal’s characterization of Castle in Marvel’s Daredevil show on Netflix came from this depiction by Ellis. Ellis certainly seems to have a good grasp on the character, I just never really got into the plot.
But beyond that, I wasn’t really in love with this run. The art was okay, pretty much standard comic book fare. I would say that didn’t add too much or detract from the story either way. The first two issues, and the entirety of the second arc was just an unrelenting rash of violence. The characterization of Frank Castle was solid, but the plot development seemed pretty flat. Yes, he made his way through a prominent New York City gang, but it just didn’t feel personal or all that important. Also, I never really liked the copycat characters. This brutal violence is not really my style and I tend to prefer the Punisher as a cameo supporting cast member to a solo act.
Overall, Ennis did a solid job bringing Frank Castle back into the fore, and I’m sure his diehard fans will number this among the best runs on the character. But to me, it’s a slightly above average character story with a completely average plot. Issue #3 is worth the read, though. Rating: 5 of 10.