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I don’t read many comic books anymore. When I was a kid, I had a subscription to Marvel’s X-Men. Today, I occasionally go to book stores and check out the comics, trying to find a few that interest me. The one winner I am trying to build my collection of is Kentaro Miura’s Berserk.

But I didn’t find the other until much later. Marvel’s Max series starring Frank Castle as the Punisher.

The Punisher is an unusual hero in Marvel’s collections. There are some dark superheroes, but none are quite as dark as Frank Castle. Nor are they quite as mortal. Indeed, Frank Castle isn’t a superhero. He’s an extraordinary combatant from his years fighting in the Vietnam War, followed by his eternal war on crime. But in the end, he is just a man who fights a lonely war of vengence against the unlawful since the death of his family during a mobster shoot out.

But the Max series was a twist. Previously, the Punisher was part of the larger Marvel universe. So he had to deal with all kinds of superhero insanity or fight villains who were not your garden variety bad guys. In the Max series, all supernatural elements were gone. So was the PG rating. The Max series went full blown with gore, violence, language and sexual content.

While that last sentence would easily scare away most people who don’t have an appetite for more carnal entertainment, those people would miss the phenomenal writing of Garth Ennis. Ennis penned the first thirteen comics in the series, and wrote an outstanding mix of stories of themselves, but made each story connect with each other later through a series of threads. Loose ends popped up later to torment Frank Castle, creating a network of events that enthralled readers who enjoyed connecting the dots.

After Volume 13 however, Garth Ennis bid farewell to the Max series, briefly causing me panic. Who would take over? Am I going to lose out on great story telling?

But there wasn’t too much to worry about. The next three story arcs were written by three different authors. And this blog entry is about Victor Gischler and his contribution to the Punisher archives in The Punisher: Welcome to the Bayou.

Gischler maintained the essence of Ennis’ Frank Castle. The darkness, the stoic attitude, the large sums of internal monologue that expound Castle’s instincts. Perhaps it was because of the greater than normal number of women in this volume, Castle tends to retort with slightly more wit than previous issues.

The only thing that pulled down the otherwise perfect marks was the somewhat stereotypical backwater southern setting. During the action, Castle’s victim-du-jour flat out called it when he stated how much the scenario reminded him of the movie Deliverance.

But as it turned out, Gischler came back in the same volume with an encore. At the end was a second, smaller story about the Punisher told from the eyes of one of his unwitting cohorts. Forced to go along with one of Castle’s schemes to gain access to a reclusive crime lord, the short and simpler story finishes on an epiphany of just how some may view the Punisher.

If you’re a veteran to Marvel Max’s Punisher, you have nothing to worry about. With capable writers like Victor Gischler, the Punisher Max series is in good hands. And if you’re new to the series, this The Punisher: Welcome to the Bayou is stand alone enough that you can enjoy it without having to read the previous dozen volumes.

4 out of 5 stars.

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