Review by Frank Plowright
This hardbound volume collects two previously published paperbacks Man of Stone and Widowmaker. In one the Punisher is caught in the unforgiving countryside of Afghanistan with a highly trained platoon under the command of a merciless general hunting him down. In the other a group of women whose husbands the Punisher has murdered decide to take revenge. One story is very good, the other slips below the high standards Garth Ennis has set on this series, but the poorer isn’t the tale that sounds like a bad idea.
While the premise of ‘Widowmaker’ may sound dumb, Ennis in the company of artist Lan Medina makes it work. The women involved are conniving and convincingly manipulative, and there’s another woman who’s gunning for them with good reason. Folk who target the Punisher usually only end up one way, so a question running in the background throughout is just how he’ll deal with what’s essentially a few housewives and retain any credibility. Ennis is one step ahead there, as he is with Frank Castle’s first appearance in the story, providing a plausible reason for what appears thoroughly wrong. With the main plot taking care of itself far better than assumed, we’re introduced to morally upright police detective Paul Budiansky, and his fears that he’ll be provoked into becoming a variation on the Punisher.
‘Man of Stone’ should work better than it does. Several cast members from previous stories return, not all survive, and the Punisher is dumped into unfamiliar and inhospitable country with a remorseless enemy on his tail. There are times when it seems he’ll not actually be able to escape, but for all that tension there’s a sense of padding, of scenes occurring not to serve the story, but to fill the pages. The better elements include a furthering of the relationship with British agent Yorkie Mitchell, introduced in Kitchen Irish, and the implanted atrocity Ennis supplies to characterise General Sakharov, but overall other stories are better.