Saturday, January 3, 2009

Exfanding Review: The Punisher: In the Beginning

OK, OK, I know I said I hate writing reviews (and I do!), but since I'm still on my holiday break, I feel like I am completely cut off from the rest of the world and I have nothing else to write about. So, since I just finished reading it, here's a review of Volume One of Garth Ennis' acclaimed Punisher run from Marvel Comics.

The Punisher: In the Beginning coverThis trade, entitled The Punisher: In the Beginning, marked Ennis' first foray into Marvel's Max Line, which includes books for mature readers. So, aside from the giant Max label atop this trade, there's also a comically large "Explicit Content" warning on the bottom of the cover.

And for good reason.

For those that have never heard of Garth Ennis, he is the man behind some of the great, violent, mature-readers comics from DC's Vertigo line, including Preacher and some of the greatest Hellblazer stories ever told.

Ennis is known as comics' most violent and absurd writer, and while he is certainly that, he is also one of the very best to ever work in the industry. I've read interviews with other writers, and it's never surprising when they mention Ennis as one of their biggest influences.

Ennis was one of the first comics scribes to write cinematically, as he understands the medium better than almost anyone else working today. He also has what many have noted as a disdain for super heroes and super hero comics. Instead of brightly colored capes and tights, Ennis' characters wear the mark of their past all over their faces.

Hey, that's a good line. I have to remember that one.

That said, Ennis is certainly an acquired taste. While I personally dig a bunch of his stuff, there are some books that he's written that just rub me the wrong way. And, if you haven't figured it out yet, Ennis does not write for kids, so giving any Garth Ennis book to little Johnny for Christmas is not going to be a good idea.

However, giving an Ennis comic to a grown up with a negative attitude towards comics is a good idea. Preacher and Hellblazer have been responsible for getting many non-comics fans into the medium.

In any case, on to the review.

The Punisher is a violent, sadistic vigilante whose real name is Frank Castle. The basic backstory is that Castle's family is gunned down in mob crossfire while on a picnic in Central Park. From that moment on, Castle becomes a one man army, an unstoppable killing machine who cuts through mob members, drug dealers, and evil-doers at an unreal clip.

Ha. Clip...get it? Like a gun? You know, like a clip for a--nevermind.

Anywho, in the Max series, Castle is around fifty years old, a Vietnam veteran, and, um, incredibly violent. The blood and guts splattered over these pages is impressive, and sometimes even downright offensive. But, as is the case with almost everything Garth Ennis has ever written, it's all in good fun. Especially the filthy langauge.

Now, the great thing about this Volume One is that even if you are not familiar with the character, you can pick it up, read it, enjoy it, and understand what's going on. The first pages of the trade include a recap of the only important information you'll need to know to get the Frank Castle character.

I should note that the only Punisher comics I've ever read have been written by Garth Ennis, so to me his is the definitive take on the character. And, by starting right here with this volume, you get everything you need to follow the character through the entirety of Ennis' run on the character, which spreads out across ten volumes.

As Volume One opens, we see the title character in all-out action right away, as he aims to take out the entire New York mafia with a brazen strike during a birthday party for 100-year-old Don Massimo. From that point on, Castle has to deal with the repercussions of this act, as the mob seeks retaliation and a mysterious agency pursues the man known as The Punisher.

So, if over-the-top violence and vigilante stories are your thing, then, well, why aren't you already reading The Punisher? And, for anyone interested in seeing if the character is one you'd enjoy reading about, then certainly go ahead and pick up this book, which clocks in at under 15 dollars. And for any Ennis fans who stay away from his more mainstream work (if you can call it that), you should pick this up, as well.

In the Beginning is classic Ennis, and it is the start of the greatest run Frank Castle has ever known.

[Image from To get it, we had to slaughter a dozen lobsters. Er, mobsters. I meant mobsters.]

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