There have been some appalling villains in the Punisher, but there’s a good case to made for Moldovan gangster Tiberiu Bulat being the worst of the lot. His organisation first appears on the Punisher’s radar when his planned hit on a gangster is interrupted by a girl with a gun. She’s escaped from years in captivity having been trafficked to the USA for prostitution. Bulat is a bile-fueled sadist who can recall surviving all conflicts that have cursed his country dating back to World War II. This has inculcated a view of anyone unable to fight back as someone to be exploited or killed, and the woman who runs his brothels suggests rape as a weapon of control and dehumanises her activities as just business.

The topic engenders some righteous rage in writer Garth Ennis, who conceives particularly imaginative methods of dealing with the people who have such a callous disregard for the suffering they cause. He weaves it in with a thread about injured police claiming their condition is the result of batterings from the Punisher. Drawn by Leandro Fernandez, there’s not much to choose between ‘The Slavers’ and the previous volume’s ‘Up is Down and Black is White‘ for the best sequence of the run.

As with previous hardbacks the two sequences collected are greatly contrasted. If not quite a return to the humorous version of the Punisher that Ennis previously wrote, the humour is more up front than previously in this series. It’s partly because Ennis has created a memorable character in Barracuda, unashamedly brutal, but a man who enjoys his work. It’s on behalf of corporate raiders whose unprincipled business practices may be about to see the light of day, and as their only loyalty is to prospective new investors this is a problem. Goran Parlov delivers top class storytelling as the Punisher is dragged from the familiarity of New York to the swamp and sea of Florida.

Both Barracuda and The Slavers are also available as individual paperback collections under those titles.