Sometimes you don’t realize you miss something until you encounter something just like it. Before “Punisher: War Zone” started, I hadn’t read Ennis & Dillon’s “Welcome Back, Frank” storyline since it was released, all those years ago. It wasn’t until Elite was re-introduced (in a way) that all the memories came flooding back. As much as Ennis’ Max run was pretty much the definitive exploration of the character, his Marvel Knights stories with Dillon were their own strange breed. Just as violent, to be sure, but tending more towards the kind of utterly bizarre, just north of completely juvenile, humor that made “Preacher” such a memorable series.
In “Punisher: War Zone”, that Frank Castle is back. And with Marvel’s rather unique approach to scheduling the book, with it coming out weekly it really feels like well serialized TV mini-series, tying up all the loose ends from their previous run. The new Elite is targeting the Punisher now, with an army of Ma Gnucci clones, all while Frank is trying to protect the now heavily drugged Charlie Schitti (Not Safe For Saying Out Loud At Work). Lieutenant Von Richtofen is also after Frank as pretty much the sole member of the Punisher Task Force.
Ennis has plenty of room to showcase his unique comic take on the character, as Von Richtofen is trapped in a bathroom with a defecating mobster, Charlie is in love with a pumpkin, and Elite is barely competent in the execution of his plans. And yet, Ennis’ rock solid characterization of The Punisher keeps things surprisingly grounded. While all this craziness swirls around him, he maintains his calm and single-minded pursuit of what he believes is the right thing.
Steve Dillon also hasn’t missed a beat from his previous work with Ennis. His flair for capturing the performances of the characters and for selling such varying instances of abnormality and keeping them believable is still pretty much unmatched in the industry.
“Punisher: War Zone” is, after years of dark and resonant Max stories by Ennis, a relatively light affair. But it doesn’t try to be anything else. There’s no moral quandaries to deal with, no extended internal monologues. Just a seemingly endless series of bad situations for Frank Castle. It’s simple stuff, but it’s easy to see why you missed it so much.