Spoilers in review

An interesting element of Garth Ennis’ more realistic Punisher run is how he moves the story along in real time. While the action doesn’t necessarily occur over six months, each six chapter arc starts six months after the previous one, and references are deliberately made throughout the series alluding to events of previous stories being several years in the past. In Long Cold Dark that element is thrown into focus, and be warned there are spoilers from the fourth paragraph.

Goran Parlov produces most of the art, and his musclebound characters are problematical in what is supposed to be a real world setting. Artists have delivered less bulky Hulks than his Punisher and Barracuda, exaggerated still further from his work on Barracuda. It’s also a complete contrast to Howard Chaykin’s work on the opening sequence, featuring a more normal looking Frank Castle going about his business. At the point of writing, Ennis presumably realised this was his penultimate story, and another of his recurring characters bites the dust.

The Barracuda who returns here is minus the body parts lost to the Punisher in their previous meeting, and again a compellingly charismatic monster. Ennis fleshes out his past, Vietnam common ground with the Punisher, and provides an interesting contrast in operational methods between two men in essentially the same line of business. The Punisher plots, attempting to counter every possible eventuality, while Barracuda’s faith is in his improvisational skills.

Kathryn O’Brien was a pivotal character in three earlier volumes and her relationship with the Punisher was complicated. Ennis now reveals that their encounters resulted in a baby daughter, so far kept secret from Castle. As the death of his previous family was the spur that created the Punisher and his one-man war on crime, possible salvation is in effect being waved in his face, but Ennis’ conclusion is that he’s now too far down the road to double back.

The personal questions thrown up in Long Cold Dark, run as deep as any addressed in the series, but subtlety isn’t high on Parlov’s artistic strengths. His character moments are magnified, as if underlined, and that very much works against the story being told.

The hardbound Punisher Max volume 5 collects this with Ennis’ final work on this run, Valley Forge, Valley Forge.