Review by Karl Verhoven
This isn’t the most satisfying collection of Garth Ennis’ Punisher. It’s never bad, but neither does it hit the heights of his initial blend of comedy and action or his later straight work on the character. It’s as if he’s hit a dead end with his scripts, wanting to stretch beyond what he’s been doing, but the spirit isn’t there.
There’s a run-in with Elektra that has a good pay-off, but is otherwise little to enthuse over, and the opener drops back in on Joan, a former tenant who shared the apartment block the Punisher used in Welcome Back Frank. “I still get letters from Mr Bumpo. Something important fell out of his bottom. He lives in a clinic in Albany.” There’s a wistful hidden charm to Joan’s fantasies that’s well played out among an otherwise average tale illustrated by Steve Dillon. Tom Mandrake draws the Elektra material.
Artistically, the most interesting work is from Cam Kennedy. His cartooning initially takes some getting used to on the Punisher, but once you’ve hit that point it’s excellent. Kennedy give us a bulky, gritty, Punisher in a well-realised Texas, and characterises his cast with more finesse than anyone else in the series. Kennedy depicts Kim, who runs a boarding house, with all the cynical world-weariness of the woman who’s never escaped a small town, and supplies a preacher from whom you can smell the oil attached to what’s left of his hair.
Kennedy illustrates the story giving the book its title, taken from the much-recorded Country song. A bunch of gangsters are found to be equipped with state of the art military hardware. Not that it helped them much when the Punisher came calling, but it piques his curiosity enough to follow the trail back to the supplier. Ennis throws in an odd twist on Romeo and Juliet, a bucketload of small town mentality, and a smidge of High Noon, but there’s an overall weariness about the tale.
The book closes as Ennis and Dillon return their attention to hapless cop Joe Soap, who relates his life story in a bar. As soon as it’s revealed he’s talking to someone unseen the regular readers will realise there’s yet another indignity heading his way, as Ennis and Dillon have played that trick before. Let’s just say were it James Robinson writing the story a hand-wringing, self-scourging apology would follow. There’s nothing wrong with the story, but it’s largely recycling.
The final collection of Ennis’ Punisher in this incarnation is Confederacy of Dunces. This collection 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.