Review by Frank Plowright
It’s testament to Garth Ennis’ writing skills that he could firstly revive the Punisher in Welcome Back Frank, then completely re-invent his approach to create an equally satisfying run. Whereas his previous take had injected large doses of black comedy with the Punisher adopting a Judge Dredd type of grim adaptability, this version of the Punisher very much takes its lead from creator Gerry Conway’s original inspiration of 1970s Executioner novels. This is a superhero free zone with Ennis adopting a more realistic approach to the Punisher, and expanding his scope to internationally based missions of death and destruction.
It should also be noted that the entire series was published under Marvel’s Max imprint. While the Punisher had always been among the most violent of Marvel’s characters, the broadening of his boundaries led to a more graphic depiction of the violence he engendered. Some may not see this as a positive move, but the opposite side of the coin is that this series illustrated the consequences of the Punisher’s actions, and the evil that prompts them. Much of this volume’s concluding chapter is a protracted one on one fight. Imagine Lee Marvin taking on Rambo. It’s visceral, horrible and compelling and wouldn’t have been anywhere near as powerful with the editorial restrictions applying to the Punisher’s previous incarnation.
The crux of In The Beginning is The Punisher’s former ally, tech and weapons expert Microchip being convinced that his one time partner is out of control and needs to reconsider his approach. Simultaneously a junior Mafia associate named Nicky Cavella convinces a depleted leadership that the way to solve their Punisher problem is to take the war to him. For newer readers Ennis also delves into what made the Punisher.
Although prone to the odd piece of exaggeration out of place for this version of the Punisher, artist Lewis Larosa is otherwise excellent, and anyone’s pencils are improved by Tom Palmer inking. The effort Larosa puts in delivers convincing sequences. His people are believable and distinctive, the cars he draws recognisible models, and there’s no stinting on the detail that makes crowd scenes.
Most volumes of Ennis’ run on this series are recommended to anyone who enjoys well-plotted action thrillers. This is also available collected with the following Kitchen Irish in a hardcover titled Punisher Max vol 1. The full luxury treatment, is Punisher Max by Garth Ennis Omnibus Vol. 1, which collects this along with Born, and the next four Ennis stories.