1. BORN (2003)
Born isn’t only the best Punisher story ever, it is also one of the best single stories that Marvel has ever released. Focusing on Frank Castle’s third tour in Vietnam, Born is a full-on examination of the horrors of war and the effect that it has on the soldiers on the front line. Garth Ennis teamed up with Transmetropolitan artist Darick Robertson to unveil a story filled with violence, death, insanity, rape, and even hints at an appearance by the Devil himself.
In the story, Capt. Frank Castle is viewed as an unhinged Marine with a killer instinct and a personality akin to a rattlesnake. As the tale develops, members of Castle’s unit begin to get killed as they find themselves woefully outnumbered by the Viet Cong. Surrounded by death, Castle begins to break down mentally until he is confronted by a voice in his head that offers to keep him physically capable of fighting a neverending war in exchange for an unknown price. Castle agrees; he survives. But that price comes back to haunt him as he returns home to his smiling family. Fans of the character know where this is going.
Even more so than Year One, Born recounts just what makes the Punisher tick. This story laid the groundwork for the character’s motivations and is the best creative accomplishment at Marvel in the past two decades. Ennis' chilling ending will change the way you view the character when all is said and done.