After a slight dip in quality during the course of Army of One, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon are back to top form with the opening tale here. The Punisher is sent to rescue a hostage from a Latin American prison camp. It’s someone who, under other circumstances, he’d prefer to leave there, but who’s needed for another mission. Ennis throws in the surprises, and the comedy relief is provided by his guide Guiterrez (“my joy shines brighter than a thousand suns”).

During that tale police detective Joe Soap has again been drowning his sorrows in a bar, and again picks the wrong person to go home with. Soap is central to the next story, in which he’s the hostage, held in order that the Punisher carry out a mission on someone else’s behalf. That’s never really worked out for those believing themseselves in control previously, and so it is here.

That introduces Darick Robertson as a contributing artist. His style is more detailed than Dillon’s but, at that stage of his career, less accomplished. Some of the figurework is sloppy, and he’s far more at home with the raving exaggerations of a Punisher versus Wolverine battle. The joke for that is Wolverine’s healing factor, as Ennis ramps up the injuries inflicted on him Looney Tunes style, culminating in a spectacular indignity.

Dillon’s the illustrator of a tale in which Ennis vents his spleen on the petty-mindedness that’s perpetuated religious based conflict in his home town of Belfast since long before he was born. It’s wish fulfilment to the nth degree as he dispatches the Punisher to Northern Ireland to dispense his own unique brand of mayhem. Such is the complexity of the back story that it requires a vast info-dump on the second page. The Punisher, though, is an equal faith assassin, setting about prod and pape uncaring about the minor refinements of their conflicting beliefs. The righteous frustration at the situation renders ‘Downtown’ among the best stories of this entire run, and a peak Ennis doesn’t approach again until his second, more serious take on the Punisher. “All you want to do is hate each other”, is the Punisher’s rapid assessment of Belfast, “You love every minute of it, and this place pays the price.”

Business as Usual is combined with the remainder of Ennis’ work on this incarnation of the character as Punisher by Garth Ennis Omnibus, now long out of print and very expensive if you can find it.