Garth Ennis is one of a handfull of writers who I assume is going to give me a good book to read, and I have trouble passing up a good buy on relatively cheap, beautiful hardcover. I understood the basics of the character and I had a pretty good idea what to expect going into reading the books. I have read a number of Ennis's works before, I was aware of the MAX line being a mature imprint. I expected gritty and violent with lots of crime and lots of punishing. I say these things, just to separate comics that you go into knowing what you, as an adult, reading a comic geared toward adults, can expect and accept, versus comics that surprise you with overly violent and cruel takes on characters that you do NOT expect to see in such a light, nestled inside of titles that you don't expect to showcase such things.
The Punisher is spectacularly violent, gritty, and bloody. There is an understanding between the book and it's readers. The blood and vengeance and it's unblinking execution are really just the setting in this title. Once you start reading it, you are drawn right into the world in which the Punishers actions almost seem like the most honest and sensible things going on in the world that is portrayed there. He has a very rigid set of rules that he lives within, and within which he metes out not Judgement, not justice, but punishment. He punishes... It's in his name you know.
The books are more than violence, though. That would get almost immediately tired. The stories that are told have many varied and real characters moving about inside them, and the Punisher is like a force of nature. He's the self appointed grim reaper for bad people that do bad things and make the world unsafe for the good people who need someone like him out there if they are to have even a remote chance of happily living out their lives. The supporting characters, and the plots that run through the various story arcs, and don't go away just because a new arc has started really make this the best sort of book.
To me, this reads like a series of excellent 'thinking person's action movies' First Blood mixed with Unforgiven, mixed with some really good crime dramas I can't think of right now. The art is just perfect throughout the entire run I read. It works well with the stories and doesn't get in the way. I am now faced with a strong urge to read more. Once I started reading, I really was driven to keep going until I ran out of story.