Okay, just to confirm, this review is about the hardcover volume 1 of the Punisher Max series.
I'm a huge fan of Garth Ennis's initial Marvel Knights run of The Punisher - enjoying his trademark sense of dark and twisted humour - and I wasn't sure if I would enjoy the more serious MAX series as much.
However, I am happy to state that the two stories contained in this lovely, sumptuous hardcover book are both thrilling, entertaining, unnerving, intriguing and gripping in the extreme.
Frank Castle's persona can sometimes come across as stubborn and lacking in feeling, but Ennis creates in him an almost demonic force for vengeance, one in which, now and then, cracks appear and we get to see the hurt man beneath. This is a man who has never fought for closure or forgiveness or understanding over the horrible deaths of his family, but has simply pushed back such pain into his subconscious and replaced it with an anger that burns like the heart of a sun.
In some ways this makes him all too human, as grief and loss are sometimes so vile to deal with that denial is a natural and believable human trait.
Therefore, we follow Frank as he cuts a bloody swathe through the shallow denizens of New York's underground, delighting in stories that offer up many complex and interesting new characters - some of whom are so sick of nature that we revel in Frank's dispatching of them to whatever Hell they deserve.
This is dark, gory and sometimes amusing adult fair that is excellently written and competently illustrated and, all in all, is a total page-turner of a compelling read.