Writer: Garth Ennis
Artists: Lewis Larosa & Leandro Fernandez
Price: $29.99 ($19.79 on Amazon)
The impending publication of Punisher: First to Last, featuring memorable Punisher one-shots by Garth Ennis and various artists, encouraged me to finally go ahead and pick up the hardcovers of his MAX run. His early Punisher stuff was the same kind of self-indulgent, adolescent dark humor that he's mostly known for these days, and it got old. When Punisher became a mature readers book, though, somehow Ennis became the perfect guy for it, writing these gritty crime stories with plenty of action (delivered in fine style by artists like Larosa and Fernandez, who have grown since their early work and get even better with every story arc) that are pretty true to the roots of the character in pulp-y novels and '70s revenge flicks. Sure, there are still signs of Ennis' excesses, including an unnecessary love of characters being tortured or maimed and a dark humor streak that usually works but occasionally veers into breaking the mood... but in general, these are the perfect thing for a Punisher fan looking for stories that take the character seriously.