Of the five hardback collections of Garth Ennis’ Punisher Max series this is the premium selection. ‘Mother Russia’ and ‘Up is Down and Black is White’ provide two very different settings for the Punisher to deliver his typical lead-coated vengeance, but whether trapped in a Russian missile solo or in bed attacked by a the sister of a man he killed Frank Castle manages to avoid the inevitable.

Up is Down and Black is White‘ is Ennis’s finest story in a generally fine run. When last seen, Mafia goon Nicky Cavella almost succeeded in removing the problem the Punisher poses for organised crime, and was one of the few people on Castle’s hit list to escape his guns. A year later he’s back in New York with another plan, and even the reader very familiar with the series should be shocked at his method of attracting the Punisher’s attention. Former C.I.A. agents Kathryn O’Brien and Bill Rawlins also return, each with a different agenda. Also back in spirit, if not in person, is the deadly Pittsy.

Leandro Fernandez is the artist, having modified his style from Kitchen Irish to illustrate slower sequences more convincingly. That’s never been a problem for Dougie Braithwaite, and his exemplary layouts are supplied for ‘Mother Russia‘, inked by Bill Reinhold.

As the title indicates, Russia is the theme of the first story, beginning with the Punisher dealing with some Russian gangsters in New York, and leading to a desperate mission within Russia that goes about as wrong as possible. The Punisher averts an international incident, but in order to conceal their tracks the generals dictating foreign assaults concoct an appalling cover-up. It’s a plot that will return later in the series.

Both sequences are available as individual paperbacks under the story titles for those who might prefer to pay less than this hardback costs.