Time for more Garth Ennis I think, we haven't had him on here in a while. Now regular readers of this blog will know I covered Ennis's seminal Punisher run on the mature readers label MAX. However that was not the first time he wrote for good old Frank Castle, he was actually hired to write a reboot of the character in the mainstream Marvelverse in the year 2000 coming off the back of his acclaimed DC Vertigo series Preacher. The reason it's called "Welcome Back Frank" was that the Punisher had fallen into a notorious Dork Age. Frank had killed himself then an angel had brought him back to kill villains and earn his way back into Heaven using his supernatural guns. Unlike the awesome "Franken-Castle" storyline, Angel Punisher was desgined to be a permanant change for the character but was so derided by fandom that Marvel quickly decided a rethink was needed and Ennis was brought in to return the character to his roots and make him a viable character again. And he did this with aplomb, dealing with Frank's rejection of his Angel self and God-given mission in a few pages and then threw him into a storyline in which he takes on the worst of the New York Mafia that won back the crowd for the character and lead to Ennis being allowed free reign during the rest of his run and on Punisher MAX as well. The artists for this story are his Preacher collaborator Steve Dillon on pencils and Jimmy Palmiotti on inking duty. As this storyline is twelve issues long I have split it into two posts. Let's crack on shall we?
We begin with Frank at a drug deal where he has killed all but one of the particpants who he holds a gun to and says "and get a haircut" too. Then he leaves and the man excitedly recounts what happened to someone over his mobile phone which was that Frank came in all guns blazing and he's been left alive and oh he now has a tonne of money and all of the drugs enough to set them up for the rest of their lives! Then he senses Frank behind him and realizing what's about to happen, says farewell. Frank breaks his neck, doses the cash and guns in petrol and sets it all ablaze and walkes away.
|Spacker Dave and Mr. Bumpo.|
He ruminates that he's back to acting alone, no "Microchip" no fancy ammo, no battle-vans, no surveillance, "just the basics". He been gone a while, "the scum in the city need a wake-up call and here it comes." And we cut to the local morgue where the bullet ridden burned corpse of Frank's victim is having revenge sworn over him by his brother "Bobby Gnucci". Frank enters the morgue and the coroner asks him for one hundred bucks to see the body too. Frank stuffs him in a locker.
He enters the room and the mobsters tell him to get lost, but Frank goes for his guns, "first they do is freeze. Like always. So number one's a freebie." He opens fire with his shotgun saying the rest he "pays full price for". The bullets fly and he takes them all down finishing them off with a grenade. He tells them he has a message, "listen".
Walking away from the scene he thinks they need to remember the terror every time they picked up the phone "because you knew I was out there". The message is one for all scum but the Gnucci's are a good place to start. He queues to get into the Empire State Buiding as he reflects that Sticky Eddie was the dealer who liked to choke rivals in their own blood. Brother Bobbie was a date-rapist. And Carlo is "Ma Gnucci's number one son."
He's been tailing him since he left a club, he can't have heard about Bobbie yet. He's taking a woman to the one-hundreth and fourth floor, deck closed tonight apart from a select few. Carlo slips the manager an envelope and takes a woman up there, he disables the manager and follows them. He sneaks in telling the woman to shush.
|Welcome Back Frank indeed.|
Frank: "I caught a glimpse of Heaven once. The angels showed me. The idea was I'd kill for them. Clean up their mistakes on Earth. Eventually redeem myself. Tried it. Didn't like it."
And we see him pitch Carlo off the building. He then thinks that he was taken up to see his wife and daughter and son all finally at peace. "Then I was cast down", back into a world where rapists, psychos, perverts a brand new evil every minute spewed out as fasts as men can think them up. The world where pitching a criminal dwarf of a skyscraper to tell the criminal scum was a sane and rational act, "the angels thought it would be Hell for me. But they were WRONG. Welcome back Frank says New York City".
We begin the next chapter with the police commissioner on the phone to the mayor as he demands the police turn up the heat on the Punisher reminding him that incriminating photos exist of him and the commissioner on a fact finding tour in Las Vegas. After he signs of one of the cops says "Gnucci's must be turning up the heat." The commissioner grumbles that putting his best men on the case will get laughed in his face, then he suddenly says "wait a minute. Get me Soap."
Then a man called Joe, cousin to Ma Gnucci goes to a meeting in Little Italy to inform the men there that the N.Y.P.D. has been enlisted to do all they can to find the Punisher and when the cuffs go on, "one of you gentlemen will cancel The Punisher's ticket." Listening to them discretely is Frank, having a meal with a sex worker as cover. He hands out envelopes of cash and then tells them to come back tonight and they'll have all the weapons they need. Frank gets up to leave and tells the sex-worker to forget this ever happened.
|Detective Martin Soap.|
Frank stalks his prey, which are the men handed those envelopes. The first to die is " Harry 'Neck' Thorton". It is said he outshot four State Troopers, "dodged a bullet. But not thirty" as he opens up on him with his machine gun. Then there is "Eddie Lau", expert martial artist, Frank knows a little, but his favourite is "splat fu" as he pushes Lau in front of an underground train. Then there is "Tall Joe Small". Sniper who capped fifty guys in Desert Storm. As he runs him over he thinks that the trouble with that was was that it wasn't Vietnam a war where "you don't fight dirty. You do things that make dirty look good."
Soap arrives at the scene of Carlo's death and meets a nervous looking man called "Buddy Plug. Most people call me Bud. I'm the rest of the taskforce." Soap tells him they got given the case because they don't have a hope in solvng it. It's the Captains way of the Captain saying "you got it boss and drop dead to the commissioner simultaneously". He says well it can't get any worse. Then Bud reveals he's not a cop he's a "Behavioural Psychologist."
It's ten-thirty and Joe is waiting for the three now deceased hitmen to come. Joe looks out his side windown grumbling about how unproffesional they are as Frank dispatches the man in the driver's seat next to him. Joe looks back round and is rendered speechless on seeing him sat there. He tells Joe to lose the piece and to put his boss on speaker phone. Ma Gnucci picks up and asks who the hell it is and Joe stutters it's him and The Punisher.
Frank tells her that he thought he let her know his plan so she could plan her funeral in advance, "I got your sons. I got your killers. Now I've got your "man-behind-the-man". Or the "man-behind-the-hag in your case". Then he tells Joe to get out of the car currently speeding down the freeway. Joe wails that he will die, he's got to gve him a chance. Frank points a gun at his head so Joe tumbles out of the car, survives the initial impact on the road, but is then run over by an eighteen-wheeler.
Frank notes that Ma Gnucci is screaming blue murder now. He'll take the guns for himself and ditch the limo in the Hudson river, "almost the end of a rich, full day." We then cut to a young Catholic priest taking a confession from a gangbanger who tells him all sorts of sordid things. In a rage he grabs an axe and chops the gangbanger to bits in the Confessional yelling that he'll absolve him all right. When he is done he snaps out of it and says "Oh God forgive me. I've done it again".
|Hector Redondo does his thing.|
Back with Soap, he is reading Bud's psychological profile of The Punisher which is full of the usual psychobabble. Soap says to him,"don't take this the wrong way Bud... but what does all this actually mean?" Bud says he thought it would help understand his motives. Soap says they know his motives, "he kills criminals because he hates them. It's not exactly brain surgery" He wants more on his methods so Bud should look into that in finding where he'll strike next. And he leaves the office with an upset Bud left behind.
Cut to the priest. His name is Hector Redondo and a daft old woman with poor eyesight comes in to clean the church even though it's the wrong say. She sees the blood and thinks Hector spilled the communion wine and despite Hector telling her she's here on the wrong day she is mostly deaf too and gets to work cleaning up.
Frank returns him, greets Spacker Dave, see's Mr. Bumpo getting a new toilet delivered and tells Joan he liked the cookies. Inside his rooms he thinks about Ma Gnucci's brother standing trial tommorrow, this time for a crime he didn't do. He has the slickest defence lawyers in the city and we see a newspaper telling us it's Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson on his case. He wants Dino dead before Ma Gnucci because Dino would "bathe New York in blood." So his real problem now is Matt Murdock and "the Guardian Angel that follows him everywhere".
Back with Soap, he returns to his office and finds Bud has committed suicide by hanging himself from the ceiling using his tie. The Punisher is waiting on a roof close to the jail. Apparently Murdock made mincemeat of the prosecution. Dino is on his way back to the jail in an unmarked car. He arrives in seven minutes and dies in ten. He realises as one of Daredevil's billy clubs bounces off the wall next to him that he'll need every second.
|heh heh heh "fap".|
He thinks that Daredevil is not the enemy but he's sick of his self righteousness and he deserves "a wake up call". He rigged an ultrasonic device an hour ago and it goes off overwhelming Daredevil's supersenses. Frank then punches him out. Daredevil wakes chained securely to a post and a gun taped to his hand.
Frank: "One bullet. One shot. Once chance to stop me killing Dino Gnucci. It's time for that choice you were telling me about."
He's got his back to him and he's wearing kevlar, so it'll have to be a headshot. If he doesn't shoot he has a death he could have prevented on his conscience. If he does shoot he's a killer.
Daredevil asks what kind of choice is that? Frank says "the one I make every time I pull the trigger." Dardevil says he won't kill him. Dino Gnucci is a dead man then says Frank. Daredevil begs him saying Dino deserves to be taken off the street for something he's done. We have laws otherwise the society they have built is completely worthless. "The thought of Dino living one more minute is enough to drive me insane" responds Frank. Daredevil cocks the hammer, "that's the spirit" says Frank.
|Daredevil given an impossible choice for him.|
The next chapter starts with Soap's captain reading out Buds suicide note that all his life he felt rejection all his life in many forms and Soap's was the last straw. "Jeez Soap" laughs the Captain, "what did you say to this guy?"
Cut to Frank taking a bullet to the side, ribs and shoulder thinking "that's the sound of my luck running out". He was scoping out Ma Gnucci, getting a look at her security teams, he wasn't even going to hit her tonight. But he was discovered and he only has a forty-five and the man who saw him had a sub-machine gun, "my night goes downhill from there."
When the other two men come in first thing they see is the stripped, bloody skeleton of their comrade. Frank goes deeper into the zoo and finds a snake which he gets to squeeze the life out of one of the other men. Ma Gnucci catches up demanding to know what they are up to.
Back at the precinct a Lieutenant called Molly Richthofen pokes her head around Soap's door telling him to call her Molly, "I'm the first piece of luck you've had all day." She lights a cigarette and says he's the departments biggest loser and she's it's biggest embarrassment, "want to prove everybody wrong, crack both cases and then take over the world?"
|Molly, meet Soap.|
We return to Frank, he thinks that he has to close this down soon as he's lost too much blood and the cops will be here soon. He climbs into the polar bear enclosure taking another hit as he does so. He looks around at something he can use as a weapon and spies the bears themselves. One wakes up and he punches it hard in the face then quickly climbs out to escape the now enraged bear. Ma Gnucci and the final goon have climbed in after him and the bears turn on them. Frank looks back to enjoy the sight of them getting ripped apart, "oh yes. It's one of the greats." Then he scarpers as he hears sirens in the distance.
Hector is burying another murdered gangbanger and prays to God again saying God has forsaken him, he could have fought ths madness with His strength but He ignored him and now several people are dead by his hand. Hector asks for anything that could be taken as a sign of what to do now. A newspaper then blows in his face with a headline about The Punisher and Hector takes that as the sign he needs, "now I see. I am no longer alone."
The chapter ends with Molly and Soap arriving at the Central Park carnage site. Molly thinks that it looks like her problems are all over. "So much for the titanic team-up" says Soap. But then they see someone being taken away in an ambulance. The cop there says the three creeps are dead, "Ma Gnucci is still alive."
|The somewhat diminished Ma Gnucci.|
Ma Gnucci: "Ten days ago I was fed to a pack of polar bears. Anyone doubting I mean what I say would do well to remember that. Clean up this mess and let's get down to business."
Her goons tell her that finding The Punisher has always been impossible. So she puts a ten million dollar bounty on his head.
Back at Frank's home, Mr. Bumpo is being taken to hospital via a hole in the wall as he had a coronary and they couldn't get him out through the door. He tells Bumpo to take it easy and returns to his rooms. He's been recovering from the bullets that hit him. But tonight he's going looking for trouble. Ma Gnucci living was a shock, "old witch is blessed by the devil himself." Then there is a knock on the door. He holds a gun behind his back but it's only Joan saying she baked too many pies.
Molly and Soap go to a bar called "Lucky's". He says it's nice and quiet and the food's cheap. Molly says that her guess will be that Ma Gnucci will hole up while her people hunt The Punisher. She'll be hoping they get to him before he gets to her. So if the stake out her place they can be there on the spot when The Punisher shows. They sit back, watch the massacre and step in and rest whatever is leftover. She asks if Soap is in or out with this plan?
Before we see his answer we're back with Hector murdering another confessor. The mostly blind and deaf old woman comes to do the cleaning and Hector tells her outright he killed the man for beating his wife and taking cocaine. She doesn't register that and goes to clean up. Hector smiles and thanks God for showing him The Punisher, "for showing me I'm not alone."
Elsewhere in a corporate boardroom meeting for Worldwide Investment Corporation, a rough looking man with a mask appears and tells them his name is "Payback". He accuses them of having millions of gallons of blood on their hands and when one protests he shoots him. He say they invested in a company that built substandard aircraft and many people dies in a plane crash as a result. A lawsuit closed down a Kentucky factory cost a thousand people their jobs, and the town became a crime ridden slum.
|Another vigilante, Payback.|
Somewhere else in a nice neighbourhood a masked vigilante called "Elite" is patrolling the street. He sees some drug dealers sitting in a car saying perhaps they could find somewhere else to deal drugs. They tell him to drop dead. He responds that crime is minimal here, property values are very high, he won't let them conduct their business within a ten clock radius. "I want you trash to leave because you lower the tone."
Then he shoots them all in the face with a silenced pistol and walks off thinking "peasants". He bumps into a woman whose dog is urinating on the pavement. He introduce himself to her as Elite and then he shoots the dog saying it's a nice neighbourhood so lets keep it that way.
Frank: "Tomorrow I finish the job I started. Here I come, Ma. Ready or not."
We then cut to Ma Gnucci and the first bit of good news for her. A stuttering man has be brought to her saying he's got information on The Punisher, "he lives right across the road from me."
The weasely man goes onto say he was coming home from his job at an adult bookstore and it was late because they close at midnight. And he glances up to see a dude staggering down the street, he see's the Skull shirt and the blood and realises that it really is The Punisher, "an' I just about wet myself."
The weasely man then carries on saying he say him cross the street, fall down a few times then go into the building opposite his. He watched him come and go for a week wondering what to do about it and then heard of the ten million bucks reward. She says the ten million is for killing him, if his information is true it's worth ten thousand. She sends Billy and Benny with him to check it out, if he's wrong "make it a messy one."
There is now a double page spread of the news broadcasting a report on the killers who have cropped up since The Punisher came back in the scene. It reports on Payback and Elite's murders as well as the mysterious deaths of all the Catholic criminals marked on their foreheads with the sign of the cross. Vox pops seem to show support for the killers, The Punisher most of all except for one who says they are a "bunch of fascist lunatics! The Punisher's the worst of the lot."
Inside a helicopter are two executives from the company Payback is targetting. The C.E.O admits that everything Payback said was true and they need to stop him before people start looking into their company more closely. But as they fly they see Payback with a rocket launcher and he fires on the helicopter, destroying it.
More gang members arrive on Elite's patch intending to show him "what time it is." But using a sniper rifle out of his bedroom windown he headshots all three of them. He then stashes the rifle in a secret compartment in his bathroom while conversing through the door with his kids.
Billy and Benny and the weasly guy are parked up outside his home. Inside Frank has packed up a bag full of guns saying it's the night he closes the Gnucci family down for good. His car is parked a block over and he thinks this is a good time to leave as he is getting to well known here. He leaves the house and the two goons confirm it is The Punisher. They call Ma and she says to follow while back-up arrives, the weasly man gets his money and goes.
Soap and Molly on stake-out start playing a game where one says a film title and the other has to give a film that starts with the final letter and so on. They see the Gnucci's start to leave and Soap wants to follow them. Molly says that they are unlikely to get him, so best to stay fixed on Ma Gnucci and anyway they can't do what even a bunch of tactical units can do. So the sit and carry on with the game.
|Punisher giving as good as he gets.|
Frank: "Of fireteams dug in on the breaks between the paddy field tracer lasering the jungle night. Of hueys screaming through the void... of Lieutenant Castle getting short and hating it, wanting 'Nam to last forever. A lullaby come all the way to New York City".
His shots find their targets, but one fires a rpg at him and forces him down an alley. He only has his forty-five pistol left now. He notes a bullet to the chest the kevlar took. The rest of the goons still left standing come after him he punches the first in the throat and gets out his knife and stabs him. He takes another to the chest that goes through his kevlar. He approaches the final man standing and as he fires on Frank just walks towards him and breaks his neck. Then he collapses next to him and blacks out, prone in the alley.
|Frank passes out.|