3. WELCOME BACK, FRANK (2000-2001)
In the '80s, the Punisher was one of Marvel’s top tier characters; however, once the dreadful '90s hit the comic book medium, the character was relegated to cheap tie-ins and laughable gimmicks. Writers even tried to endow Frank Castle with supernatural powers in order to compete with the horror/thrillers that DC was putting out in their Vertigo imprint. Then, in 2000, Garth Ennis changed all of that with his back-to-basics approach to the Punisher in the maxi-series, Welcome Back, Frank.
Filled with relentless gore and absurd jokes, Ennis lent his taste for gallows humor to the morose vigilante and, in turn, rejuvenated the Punisher for a new generation. Ennis portrayed the Punisher as the grim straight-man in a cartoonish world filled with stereotypical mobsters, brawls with Polar Bears, and a transgender Russian assassin.
The sick, pervasive work that Ennis had debuted during Preacher carried over effortlessly to Castle’s world and began a new trend of portraying the character in a more humorous light. This is the story that finally gave the Punisher his balls back, and, at the same time, reaffirmed his place near the top of the Marvel totem pole.