Frank Castle is one of the most simple and basic characters in the Marvel Universe if not all comics. He kills criminals, not as an act of vengeance, but as a righteous force of justice. This is the only element necessary to create a Punisher story, but not necessarily a good one. The blank canvas of the Punisher’s world gives great writers space to play or enough rope to hang themselves.
Garth Ennis is often singled out as the best writer to take on Frank Castle (as strong as his run was, I feel Jason Aaron is pretty under-rated). And, in my mind, Ennis’ strongest arc on Punisher was Widowmaker.
Widowmaker is a book of consequences, something Punisher’s world of extreme violence needs. The plot centers around the widows of Punisher’s kills coming together to plot vengeance against him. It’s amazing that this idea wasn’t used before; family members of criminals hunting down the man that killed their loved one. The men and women who Frank kills must have friends and families who object the vigilante executing their loved ones. Widowmaker focuses on the wives of mob bosses The Punisher has killed. The Widows are out for vengeance, allowing Ennis to draw the distinction between Frank’s punishment/justice and revenge.
Garth Ennis’ narrative fleshes out the widows and their motivations. Yet he never turns them into sympathetic figures. This arc also contains my all-time favorite player in The Punisher’s supporting cast, Jenny Cesare. Ennis’ Punisher tales often had secondary protagonists to help highlight certain elements of the story. This technique allowed Ennis to create elaborate stories without sacrificing the force of nature that is Frank Castle. Jenny Cesare is out for vengeance against the Widows adding another theme to the tale.
While Jenny Cesare’s backstory is filled with well-worn crime tropes, Ennis breathes life into her with small personal details. She also represents another idea of what taking vengeance can do to a person who was not initially malicious. Her relationship to Frank Castle is best encapsulated when she asks how Frank can live the life he does. Lan Medina’s art works perfectly with Ennis’ tale, creating a detailed world of grit and giving subtle expressions to his characters.
What to buy
While you can pick up Punisher MAX Vol. 8: Widowmaker for about $12, the back issues Punisher MAX #43-49 can be found relatively easily for $2-3 apiece. While the graphic novel is cheaper, I’d recommend the old issues just because of my fondness for issue #49 with Jenny Cesare making her one and only cover appearance and done by Tim Bradstreet.