Essential Punisher Vol. 3

Essential Punisher Vol. 3

First Published: February 2009

Contents: The Punisher #21 (July 1989) to #40 (Early October 1990); The Punisher Annual #2 (1989) and #3 (1990)

Key Creator Credits: Mike Baron, Erik Larsen, Bill Reinhold, Mark Texeira, Russ Heath, Mark Farmer, and others

Key First Appearances: Saracen, Shadowmasters (Shigeru Ezaki, Yuriko Ezaki, Sojin Ezaki, Philip Richards, Katherine Yakamoto)

Story Continues From: Essential Punisher Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Punisher Vol. 4

Overview: When mobsters slew his family, Frank Castle vowed to spend the rest of his life avenging them. Trained as a soldier, and equipped with a state-of-the-art arsenal, he now wages a one-man war on crime! This is Essential Punisher Vol. 3 – get comfortable, as this is going to be a wild ride!

Writer Mike Baron continues the same basic formula that we saw in the previous volume. The stories run in small arcs, generally one or two issues at a time. We do see some characters re-occur from time to time. A villain introduced in the last collection, the Rev, resurfaces in Central America later in this volume. In that same story arc, we also get the return of Jigsaw, who still holds a grudge against Frank for the damage done to his face. As we saw last time, the Punisher is still partnered with his tech-whiz Microchip, but we see over the run that they may no longer be working towards the same goals.

During this era, the Punisher continued to grow in popularity, and we start to see that impacting his comic as he crosses over more and more into the Marvel Universe. Most obvious, as we see it on the cover, the Punisher gets caught up in the Acts of Vengeance storyline. That was the story where the villains unite under Loki, and swap the traditional heroes that they go up against. So to change things up, we see the Punisher traveling to Latvia to face off against Dr. Doom. Yeah, it is just as crazy as it sounds.

What makes this Essential?: Honestly, I am completely indifferent regarding my opinion on this book. I don’t think that I can recommend this unless you are a true fan of the Punisher. Conversely, I didn’t hate this collection, or struggle with trying to finish the book due to the stories. (My only struggle was finding time to read the book, as life got a little busy while trying to finish it.)

We do start to see the Punisher’s growing popularity in comics, as Mike Baron was directed/forced to incorporate ongoing Marvel events into the Punisher book, like Acts of Vengeance. He also gets into a multi-issue skirmish with the Reavers, who have been a traditional foe of the X-Men.

For the final story arc in this collection, The Punisher was one of many titles that switched to twice-a-month shipping during the summer months, giving readers two books per month. So the six-issue story arc was published over a three-month window.

Footnotes: The Punisher Annual #2 was one of the 15 Marvel annuals from 1989 linked together in a story arc titled “Atlantis Attacks.” For this Essential, the Punisher stories are included from the annual, but the Atlantis Attacks story is not reprinted here.

The Punisher Annual #3 was Part One of the “Lifeform” story arc. The other parts were in Daredevil Annual #6, Incredible Hulk Annual #16, and Silver Surfer Annual #4.

If you like this volume, try: the Punisher books from Garth Ennis. Over the last 15 years, Ennis has become the definitive Punisher writer, scripting various runs under the Marvel Knights and Marvel MAX line of books. Often working with artist Steve Dillon, Ennis has kept the Punisher as a current and relevant character in a post 9/11 world. While there are numerous trades and hardbacks collecting these runs, I would suggest tracking down the Punisher by Garth Ennis Omnibus that Marvel released in 2008. This collects Ennis’ work between 2000 and 2004 with the Punisher.

Essential Punisher Vol. 2

Essential Punisher Vol. 2

Essential Punisher Vol. 2

First Published: September 2007

Contents: The Punisher #1 (July 1987) to #20 (June 1989); The Punisher Annual #1 (1988); and Daredevil #257 (August 1988)

Key Creator Credits: Mike Baron, Klaus Janson, Whilce Portacio, and others

Key First Appearances: David Lieberman/Microchip, The Rev, George Wong

Story Continues From: Essential Punisher Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Punisher Vol. 3

Overview: Following the success of his four… er, five-issue mini-series, the Punisher moves into his own monthly book, the first of many series to come. For right now, let’s look at the first 20+ issues which Marvel has been so kind to collect for us in Essential Punisher Vol. 2.

Now, we all remember the horrific origin of the Punisher, and if you don’t remember, you will be reminded at least once per issue. Vietnam veteran Frank Castle is on a picnic in Central Park with his family. Unfortunately, warring mobs have a show down in the park, and Frank’s wife and children are killed in the crossfire. The enraged Frank Castle starts a one-man war against all forms of crime – drug dealers, mafia families, third world dictators, and jaywalkers, just to name a few.

While many of these stories are stand-alone, we get an ongoing narrative from issue to issue. We meet Microchip, the tech genius who outfits the Punisher’s Battle Van with armor, guns, and other wonderful toys. We also find that anyone else that aides the Punisher in his war on crime usually ends up on the wrong side of a bullet. Seriously, these people should be wearing Star Trek red shirts!

We are given a crossover with Daredevil, which tells the same story from the Punisher’s point of view as well as from Daredevil’s point of view – pun intended. While both characters agree that the thug should be punished, Daredevil wants to see the criminal be tried in the justice system, while Frank is willing to serve as judge, jury and executioner to expedite things along. In this instance, Daredevil prevails.

The final long story arc has Punisher working on the drug scene in a local high school, which he later finds out is being controlled by the Kingpin. That leads to the first of many encounters between the Kingpin and Punisher.

What makes this Essential?: I went into reading this volume expecting to hate it. However, I was surprisingly impressed by this book. While many of these stories are one-and-done, there is a ongoing narrative that ties it all together from start to finish. Mike Baron puts together some solid stories. The art is very good, from a modern master in Klaus Janson and a young Whilce Portacio whose career was just starting to explode. As much as I still dislike the concept of the Punisher, this is a decent volume. It should be a must-own collection for any fans of Frank Castle.

Footnotes: The Marvel annuals of 1988 were linked together in story arc titled “The Evolutionary War.” This was the first time Marvel ran an event exclusively in the annuals. For this Essential, the Punisher stories are included from the annual, but the High Evolutionary story is not reprinted here.

If you like this volume, try: looking into some of the other work from writer Mike Baron. This Essential collects the first 20 issues of the ongoing monthly comic, all written by Baron. In fact, Baron would write the title for over five years (along with a stretch on Punisher War Journal), finishing up with more than 80 Punisher stories. In addition to this work, he helped launch the Wally West Flash title at DC, following the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Baron is probably most famously known for his work at Capitol Comics, where he wrote Nexus and The Badger. The Nexus issues has recently been collected in omnibus editions from Dark Horse Comics, so that would be a good place to start.