Writer – Garth Ennis; Pencils – Jacen Burrows; Inks – Guillermo Ortego; Colors – Nolan Woodard; Lettering – Rob Steen; Assistant Editor – Kathleen Wisneski; Editor – Nick Lowe
The MAX imprint has always been where Punisher shines the brightest. (Hey, it’s hard to make a spree killer for justice family-friendly without neutering the character and severely censoring the story.) Luckily, with Garth Ennis telling the story, readers are all but guaranteed a memorable and visceral story. Punisher Soviet is no different, so far living up to the hype and expectation the above garners in fans. The story is about Frank Castle being accused of taking out Russian mobsters across the world, ones that he is not involved with. At the end of the last issue, Frank met the man causing all of the problems, a Russian soldier named Valery. Punisher Soviet #2 picks up where issue one leaves off, with Frank face-to-face with Valery. They team up, fight their way out of a rough situation, and Valery tells the Punisher his history, and why he is so hellbent on finding and making suffer the leader of this gang, Pronchenko.
Ennis tells this story exceptionally well. The dialogue is fantastic. The tough guy banter is fun with some gallows humor and the occasional joke (look out for the rideshare scene). The straightforward way this soldier and marine talk, and the brash way the soldiers in the flashback talk, is very realistic while still keeping the drama one would want in this type of story.
The story also does well with realism by discussing the business/corruption aspects of crime, as opposed to making the villains evil just for the sake of evil, an easy trap to fall into with comic book writing. Even the swearing feels organic, with characters not going overboard because the writer has that freedom, but rather using vulgar language as one likely would in those situations.
The whole book drips with Ennis’s trademark cynicism and disgust for ‘the system’, a huge boon for a Punisher book, especially one under the MAX imprint. Valery’s flashback deals primarily with his experiences in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. His distaste and emptiness really resonate, considering the similar situation the US is in, something that will not be lost on the primary audience.
Jacen Burrows leads the art for this issue and does a great job of meeting the standard of realism and detail that Ennis set with his writing. The characters all have detailed and realistic facial expressions and details such as wrinkles and stubble. Burrows pencils are matched by Ortego’s inks, as they combine to express exceptional details, from the shading of characters faces, to the way shadows spill across window sills in different ways at different angles/distances from the light source, to the way light can create a halo effect around a character’s head, illuminating their hair. This level of detail and the lighting, while not always present, is visible throughout this issue, and really makes certain panels come to life. Woodard’s colors are the stings that pull/hold it all together. He does the basics of his job well as one would expect, and elevates it via an accurate palate that solidifies the realism without sacrificing drama, from the Soviet uniforms to the red/black blood coming from a bullet wound, but the real coup de grace is his use of purples and pinks in certain scenes, specifically in the shootout scene, and the use of a yellow, toned down pallet in the flashbacks which gives the whole thing the feeling of watching it on an old film reel.
Punisher Soviet #2 is exactly what one would hope for in a Punisher title by Garth Ennis under the MAX imprint. Don’t let this series slip you by.