Given the variable quality of the Punisher material post-Garth Ennis’s acclaimed run, Marvel must thank their lucky stars every time another Punisher story occurs to him. Soviet is another gem.

There’s something about the way Ennis captures Frank Castle’s voice that just resonates as real. Perhaps he reads the dialogue out loud before committing it to print. Whatever his method, it results in a clipped authenticity that even his better successors don’t always capture. Ennis also has a far more twisted mind when it comes to conceiving unpleasant methods, whether employed by criminals or the Punisher.

The Punisher’s mission for Soviet is ending the career of troublesome Russian gangster Pronchenko in New York before he goes completely legitimate. The complications are that a no smarter than average crook has managed to stay a step ahead of the authorities for so long, and that someone else also is targeting his operation. The second puzzle is solved before the first, Ennis introducing a Russian hitman who hates Pronchenko, and who’s surprised to have his handiwork credited to the Punisher. It’s with his revelation that Ennis moves into incidents from war in Afghanistan

Jacen Burrows draws Soviet in the way that Ennis’ best known collaborator Steve Dillon would have done. There’s no flash about the art, but the storytelling is exemplary, everything that’s needed there on the page, and Burrows also draws weathered people. He differs from Dillon in being more enthralled by the hardware, which is detailed.

Soviet keeps the interest up in the present, while the flashbacks have a purpose and engage in their own right, and the foreground characters all have a compelling side. The surprises are more in the way of setbacks, because faith in Ennis’ Punisher is absolute. What he also manages so well in comparison to other Punisher writers is the exhilarating finale, righteous vengeance extending over multiple pages. It’s a perverse and horrible pay-off, not easy reading even when the background to it has been exhaustively explained, and makes a valid point about people who hide behind others. As much fun as it is, Soviet isn’t among Ennis’ finest Punisher stories, but it’s very good and a text book lesson to others who’d write the character.