Review by Frank Plowright
This second mighty Omnibus gathers together the remainder of the more serious Punisher stories Garth Ennis wrote, picking up in 2006, and carrying through to 2008. The thousand pages break down to nine stories, five extended and three shorter, and collectively they’re a slightly weaker selection when compared with Vol. 1, only hitting the same intensity in patches. However, considering there’s not been a sustained run on The Punisher that comes near to approaching what Ennis produced, that’s hardly damning.
Barracuda is introduced in the first story. He’s a massive and dangerous man, an almost charismatic killer who revels in what he does, and poses a viable threat to the Punisher. The problem with him, though, is that he’s larger than life, and his near invulnerable presence would perhaps have been more suited to traditional Punisher stories, rather than what have been taut crime dramas and action thrillers. He appears twice alongside the Punisher, and Goran Parlov exaggerates him until he has almost Hulk-like proportions. While Parlov’s art is technically good, he’s not one for moments of subtlety. He’s most in tune with the Barracuda solo outing, played strictly for laughs as Barracuda is given a totally unsuitable partner. The other major supporting character whose influence is felt is former CIA agent Kathryn O’Brien, seen in Vol. 1, and playing two significant parts.
It’s a surprise that wives of gangsters the Punisher’s killed uniting for a revenge plan ranks among the best content. It works because Ennis puts the time into making sure the women are every bit as vile as their husbands were, and counterpoints this by also building up one of the few decent and honest policemen seen in the series. The other longer stories involve some unfinished Russian business, the type of criminals who justify their lack of conscience as business or national security, a surprise revelation about the Punisher, and a look back to Vietnam amid a settling of accounts.
Parlov (sample art) draws around half the book, and with the caveat about his tendency to over-emphasise, all the art hits a high standard. You’d hardly credit Lan Medina was the same person who’d just kicked off the completely different Fables series. Leandro Fernandez inking his own pencils is a treat, and when shorter sequences are by Howard Chaykin, Richard Corben, Lewis Larosa and John Severin, surely no art fan would complain, as diverse as their styles are.
Volume One began with ‘In the Beginning’, so it’s only right this closes with ‘The End’, in which the Punisher is let loose into a disease-ridden, post-apocalyptic society. It’s as if he’s come home, and Corben’s dark illustration gives the chaos a magnificence.
This is an expensive collection, and you don’t have to look far online to discover comments about some copies having poor binding, and pages coming loose. That being the case, used copies of Barracuda, Man of Stone, Widowmaker, Long Cold Dark, Valley Forge Valley Forge, From First to Last and The Punisher Presents Barracuda can be an alternative. Most content is also contained in the hardcover Punisher Max collections 3–5, but not the short stories of From First to Last. For greater detail about individual plots, follow the links.