2. IN THE BEGINNING (2004)
Garth Ennis has been in charge of three Punisher relaunches: two under the Marvel Knights banner and then In the Beginning, which landed under the new Max imprint. This Max version of the Punisher lacked any humor, he aged in real time, and the only characters that ever wore Spandex in these stories were hookers. Simply put: this was as far removed from a superhero tale as possible.
In the Beginning revolves around Castle’s old partner, Microchip, reentering his life and selling him out to the mob. Events soon devolve into a sickening bloodbath that features the Punisher wreaking havoc like a force of nature as he mows through mobsters like Wolverine through an army of tissue paper soldiers. When it was first published, this story was simply jarring for readers that had grown accustomed to Ennis' dark humor and absurd plots.
In the Beginning is the story that any self-respecting Punisher fan would instantly be drawn to. It goes back to the roots of the character, strips away the useless continuity, and just jumps headfirst into a pile of dead mobsters. It also shows off the pure brilliance of Ennis as he can alternate seamlessly between the tongue-in-cheek version of the character and the morose, serious version. If 2000’s Welcome Back, Frank gave the Punisher his balls back, In the Beginning inflated them to the size of basketballs.