For almost a decade, the name Garth Ennis has been synonymous with Marvel Comics' The Punisher. Ennis began his popular and acclaimed association with the character in 2000 with "The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank," a Steve Dillon-illustrated story from the Marvel Knights imprint that blended over-the-top action with similarly outlandish black humor, which the writer followed up with 31 issues of an ongoing series in the same tone. In 2004, Ennis wrapped up the Marvel Knights series and began a new title, also called "The Punisher," from Marvel's mature readers imprint, MAX, which used a much darker and starker lens to examine the Punisher's tremendously grim and ultra-violent war on crime.
After 60 issues and a number of specials, Ennis's run on the MAX "Punisher " series came to an end last month, but this December things comes full circle for the writer when he launches "The Punisher: War Zone," a new six-issue weekly-shipping miniseries from Marvel Knights. CBR News spoke with Ennis about the project, which reunites him with long time collaborator Steve Dillon, and features the return of a fan-favorite villain.
The matriarch of a mafia family who first crossed swords with Frank Castle in "Welcome Back, Frank," Ma Gnucci is a force to be reckoned with. Over the course of the story, Ma lost both her arms and legs and was last seen being tossed by the Punisher into a raging inferno. But it's hard to keep a good comic book villain down. "She's a good visual," Ennis told CBR News. "A mad, squawking old bitch with her limbs hacked off."
Naturally, Ennis has to keep the nature of Ma Gnucci's return in "War Zone" as well as her agenda under wraps for fear of spoiling any plot points. "You'll see what I mean by the end of the story," he promised.
Ma Gnucci isn't the only antagonist from the Punisher's Marvel Knights days resurfacing in "War Zone." "You'll see Elite, one of the idiot Vigilantes from the old story, and- my favorite- Molly Von Richtofen, long-suffering NYPD detective and ex-partner of the wretched Soap. Molly seems to have inherited her former partner's luck." Sadly, Ennis confirmed the Russian will not be making an appearance in "War Zone."
Nevertheless, in addition to many familiar faces, "War Zone" tells a story that should please Ennis's legion of Punisher fans "It's a crime story with a lot of crazy shit in it," the writer explained. "It's very much like the old Marvel Knights book, perhaps with the more outrageous elements toned down a bit. Bit darker, bit slyer."
Steve Dillon, Ennis's collaborator on the hugely popular Vertigo series "Preacher," provided the art for the original Marvel Knights Punisher stories, and Ennis is happy to have worked with him again on "Punisher: War Zone." "It's always a pleasure, particularly with the addition of 'Preacher' colorist Matt Hollingsworth," Ennis remarked. "Steve is simply the best storyteller working in comics."
"Punisher War Zone" is the first new Frank Castle story from Ennis since he left "The Punisher," but the writer actually completed "War Zone" long before he finished his sixty-issue stint on the mature readers title. "Joe Quesada asked me to do it about three-and-a-half years ago," Ennis confirmed. "He reckoned people would want to see Ma Gnucci and all the crazy stuff again. I was reluctant, having little interest in the characters, but my brain has a habit of serving me stories regardless. If you want to date it more specifically, there's 'Brokeback Mountain' gags in it."