8. Punisher MAX: The End (2004).
In this done-in-one special, Garth Ennis gives us the last Punisher story ever. He’s managed to survive a nuke blast, and he goes after the coven of billionaires, politicians, and other fortunate ones who profited from it. In killing them, Punisher kills off the rest of the human race. Since this character has always had trouble defining “the line” between good guys and bad guys, wiping out all humanity seems to be poetic justice: There’s no need to draw the line anymore. Nobody is good enough. No potential for rehabilitation or redemption outweighs the need for punishment. Brilliant.
This is one of the more political and serious-minded Punisher comics.
See also: Punisher #1-18 (2014): Frankie Goes to Hollywood. When issue #1 of Nathan Edmondson and Mitch Gerad’s Punisher came out, I was pissed. Frank was moved out of New York and put in Los Angeles. WTF. He’s a NYC hero, through and through. Plus, the opening scene was Frank hanging out in a diner being nice to a waitress. Again, WTF. Frank is nice? He’s eating in a diner? I hated it so much that I dropped reading the book. And then, soon after, I picked up their Image Comic, The Activity, and fell in love with his style of short, tough writing and Gerad’s unique way of framing panels and sketching action. I went back to volume one of the reprints of his Punisher book, and I was hooked. The story actually ends up taking Castle south of the border and back again, simultaneously taking on the Government’s elite strike squad that smuggles guns into the U.S. and the street gangs who use them. Very complex, very political, and very, very good.
Also very cool because it merges a hyperrealistic version of Castle with the Marvel Universe!
7. Punisher MAX #31-37 (2006), #50-54 (2007):The Barracuda Saga
This is the least sophisticated Garth Ennis story, but maybe the most fun. Barracuda is as over-the-top and ridiculously indestructible as Punisher himself, so it’s basically just two arcs of insane gunshots, stabbings, and shark attacks. If you like that stuff, and how can you not, then check out the Barracuda MAX solo series. It’s also bananas.
This is also the storyline about Punisher’s baby. Yes, he had a baby.
Hit next for #6!