With the end of the sixty issue run in sight, Ennis starts to take a long, hard look at just what choosing a life like The Punisher's can cost a person. In this book he explores it via a surrogate, preparing the way for his delve into Frank's psyche proper in book nine. Although there are still loose ends left over from the deaths of those involved in the Russian operation from book seven, this book returns to the mafia plotline begun in book one where Frank killed forty-two mafiosa and gutted their east coast operations. This book looks at those left behind - the mafia widows plus the widow of the black gangster John James Toomey who Frank killed in the previous book. They are going to attempt something their men never managed, which is to kill The Punisher. However there is a wildcard in play in this book. Someone with every reason to hate those women and who has been inspired by The Punisher to take revenge herself. This is more her story than Frank's but by exploring via proxy we see just how much Frank had to sacrifice in his lifelong pursuit of revenge upon organised and disorganised crime. Once again this is very dark and violent stuff and contains significant brutality inflicted upon women in case that triggers you or something. Also there is a female-on-male rape sequence that is deeply uncomfortable (but it's meant to feel that way as the messed up main character's story reaches its emotional apotheosis). The art is by Lan Medina and while it fits the styles so far, is somewhat indifferent and rough. Luckily the writing is powerful enough for this not to really matter.
The story begins with Frank walking away from a criminal he has just shot and killed. He contemplates all the horrific things he could have done to him like he did to the bad guys in Book 6 "The Slavers" (which I haven't covered as it's out of print and costs a mint). He got information from the man about a kiddie porn ring and he is off to do something about it.
|One way to pay your taxi fare.|
Annabella: "So what about us? What about what happened to our families? Is no one gonna be made to answer for that?"
Barbi interrupts saying "why is this person here?" pointing at Shuana. She says this is family business. Elsewhere in a bar, an attractive, short haired woman picks up a man by saying frankly, "do you want to fuck me? Then let's go."
Back at Annabella's place, Barbi is still protesting the inclusion of Shauna, who threatens her with a razor blade. Shauna is the widow of John James Toomey and has known and done work for Annabelle for a long time. Annabella says they are going to study everything about The Punisher:
Annabella: "An' whenever we're through we're gonna do something a thousand men already failed at: We're going to kill The Punisher."
The short haired woman is having sex with the man she picked up. He reaches for her breasts (she still has her bra on) and she tells him not to touch her. Then she punches him in the face and rains down blows upon him saying "I can't feel it.. you asshole. I can't fucking feel it." And she leaves him bloody and beaten in the bed.
Annabella says she had it the worst. She lost her grandfather, father, husband and two sons in the massacre The Punisher unleashed on the mafia party at the start of book one. She says they need to find a way to fight him. We then return to the shorthaired woman who has photos of the five women taped to a mirror. As she blankly regards her reflection we see she's had a double mastectomy.
|Jenny and her hitlist.|
Frank: "The boys looked like the damage was done. I had a sinking feeling I'd be seeing them again in twenty years".
And if that doesn't sum up the sad bleakness of Frank's world I don't what will. He waits for the police to arrive and slips out the back door.
We are then introduced to a new character, a cop called Paul Budiansky who is seeing a psychologist after killing a teenager engaged in a school shooting incident. When she asks how he feels having shot a child he says when the kid pulled the trigger "he grew up goddamn fast".
Back with Paul and the psychologist says by not waiting for the tactical unit he put himself about "regular authority". Paul turns the conversation around saying he speaks pretty fluent "passive-aggression". She wants to know what he thinks he'll achieve with that attitude.
He says he is here because his captain is pissed he didn't follow orders, he blocked his commendation, forbade him from talking to the press and then fucked him over by sending him for "mandatory trauma therapy". He says she is gathering stories for her next "shitty psychology book" and he departs saying:
Paul: "Because for all your bullshit. You're just another racist bitch."
The short haired woman is sitting outside a cafe, a man comes up to her saying he recognises her as "Jenny Cesare". She says she isn't that person and because he seems like a nice guy he shouldn't be within a thousand miles of her.
|Jenny out stalking her prey.|
The widows are out for a meal together, they believe they have found a way to defeat The Punisher. Because of how violent he was towards the human traffickers in Book six, they realise he seems to have a weakness for avenging exploited women. So if one of them poses as an unwilling sex worker they can lure him into a trap. They all look at Bonnie to be the damsel in distress.
|Jenny eavesdrops on the plan.|
Lorraine says she's had no luck finding things out. Now their men are dead they've been frozen out of the workings of what's left of the mafia. Barbi offers to fuck a man called "Tony Pizzo" and find out what he knows.
Back in the present, Frank finishes off what mafia escaped the explosions with masses of bullets. A flashback again, to Barbi in bed with Tony. She flatters and sweet talks him and finally he tells her how much The Punisher's war is hurting them, but he and some men he can trust are going to go pick up a man called "Pat Migliorato" to help them out.
In the present, Pat is sufffering a severe case of glass embedded in his face and The Punisher puts him down. Then he discovers Bonnie in one of the car trunks and she begs him not to kill her. In the past, Barbi comes out to where the convoy is starting out and performs oral sex on Tony to distract him while the other widows hide Bonnie in the car trunk despite her uncertain protests.
|The bait is proffered.|
Frank: "Calm down. Nobody dies that doesn't deserve to."
They drive to the house in question, he asked why it is unguarded and she says they are all paid up with the cops. Inside are the rest of the widows, "holy shit, she actually pulled it off" one says. And they get ready for him, tooled up with rifles and shotguns.
Frank starts to suspect this is a trap and he is about to leave when Shauna fires on him and hits him in the shoulder. Before they can shoot him some more, Bonnie starts kicking him, blocking their shots. Then the short haired woman appears and guts Bonnie with a knife and opens fire back on the other women with Frank's assault rifle.
|Jenny defends Frank.|
Paul and another cop check over the house and are curious as to why there are dropped weapons inside it. They also check over Bonnie's dead body and that she was killed by a knife wound. The short haired woman helps Frank back to her place and he asks who she is, "your number one fan" she replies.
|Jenny tends Franks wound.|
The widows are back at Annabella's place removing and get rid of their clothes as a forensic counter measure. Annabella says she knows who it was that killed Bonnie, it was her younger sister Jenny. Who she asked Shauna to kill ten years ago. Shauna insists she is dead. Barbi asks if maybe Annabella has made a mistake.
Annabella: "I know what my own sister looks like! I know it was her! I know what we did to her. I remember every last fucking thing!"
|Annabella realises they are in big trouble.|
Jenny: "You're the man who killed my husband."
We then are told the sad story of Jenny's marriage to a mafiosa called Tim. After a fairytale courtship and wedding from the honeymoon onwards he started regularly beating and raping her. After a year of that it wasn't enough and he began bringing home men and forcing her to have sex with them before kicking her around again. She believed there was a hole deep inside him he tried to fill with evil, "but it was never enough".
Then one day, someone came along and gave Tim exactly what he needed, and we see Frank blowing his brains out. "You did a wonderful thing that day" says Jenny to Frank. He asks her that if her husband is dead, who is she still after? She says it was the women she really blames.
|Frank killing Tim.|
Paul Budiansky is back at home, he's got confirmation the dead woman was Bonnie, another mafia widow. He's been left to work the case alone and his wife tells him to be careful. Back with Jenny she says she chose to ignore where all the money was coming from, like all the mafia wives and girlfriends do.
Most of the men were bad boys. Tim was different, his first wife had died in a car accident (actually she committed suicide) so there was a "kind of sadness about him". The other women sold him to her as "the kind of man you could make a home with."
Jenny: "They made quite a team. Bonnie with her huge wide innocent eyes. Barbi being just outrageous. Lorraine never lost for a line. And my big sister Anabella. They told me everything I wanted to hear. They sold me."
|Jenny enjoying the mafia life.|
Then one day she found out she had breast cancer, she felt like Tim's evil had infected her. In great distress she went to Annabella's, who had Shauna round there at the same time. Jenny freaked out saying she was dying and that she was going to tell the F.B.I everything she knew. And Shauna brained her with a jug.
As she lay on the floor she heard Annabella and Shauna arguing about what to do with her. Before she passed out she heard Shauna say she'd deal with it. We then return to the present. Shauna has found one of the men she ordered to kill Jenny. Seems they crashed the car she was in and tired, the man threw Jenny off a railway bridge. Jenny miraculously survived the fall onto a train and woke up some way away.
|The night she "died".|
Paul Budiansky interviews the not so merry widows. He is somewhat suspicious of the fact they claim not to know Bonnie nor that they have a very convincing reason for being at the house in the Bronx either. He says he knows The Punisher is suspected of killing all their men and that one of the weapons found at the scene of the crime was most likely his. He asks if they were taking a shot at The Punisher? Annabella says that's ridiculous and tells him to leave. He says he's going to ask around and when he confirms they knew Bonnie he's going to come back and arrest them.
Jenny is getting ready to take out the rest of the women. She says the last man who looked at her ravaged body threw up but Frank didn't even blink. "I've seen scars before" he says. She says the stuff that happened with her husband and with his wife and kids has made them the same. Then she admits the cancer is still inside her.
|Paul and his wife are attacked.|
The police captain arrives later, worried about the racial implications of the killing. It's pointed out to him that Paul was defending his wife. Paul is told by a doctor that though she was badly wounded, she'll survive and she was lucky in a way to be outside a hospital when it happened. One of the senior cops shares a hip flask of booze with Paul and says they need details of all his open cases and who might be bearing a grudge.
The shooting is covered on TV and the watching Annabella goes absolutely berserk at Shauna for pulling such a stunt. Barbi breaks up the fight and when things calm down Annabella says they'll have to leave the country. Barbi says that Jenny is still out there, and "I don't think she's got our best interests at heart". So what are they really going to do?
|Jenny suits up.|
While he waits he watches a TV report about the shooting of Paul's wife and his retaliation. He thinks that he doesn't have much choice about staying he's still too weak to make it out the door.
Frank: "The last battle would be hers alone. All I could do was close my eyes... and imagine a world of hurt."
And he nods off. In the end, the remaining women are easily dealt with. Jenny guns down Shauna, Lorraine and Barbi, but has something special planned for her big sister.
She tells Frank she cuffed him in case he tried to stop her from doing what she has planned. When he starts to say he wouldn't, Annabella hysterically asks what she is doing with the man who killed so many of their men and all the widows and orphans he left.
Jenny: "You're a believer to the end aren't you?"
Annabella: "I believe in family, Jenny. Not getting in bed with the fuckin' devil!"
Jenny says it's a strange family that puts its members at risk by being criminals and leaves its orphans to grow up monsters when growing up with a daddy gives you a Tim.
Annabella says she was given no choice, Tim needed to be kept happy so their grandfather ordered Jenny be married to him. Jenny says of course she has a choice, but:
Jenny: "You stay. And you bitch about it. And you enjoy the money."
But tonight she is going to show her where the money comes from and brutally beats her sisters face to a pulp until she is quite dead.
|Jenny punishes Annabella terminally.|
And finally, she feels.
Jenny: "Aaaaahh! It's too much... all the sadness, all the death, it's too much for anyone to carry with them. Anyone but you."
And she takes his pistol and shoots herself in the head, slumping forward onto his chest, finally at peace. Later Frank manages to find the gun and shoots off the cuff, cleans and covers Jenny then gets dressed and leaves.
|Her revenge complete, Jenny has nothing left.|
Frank watches the body of Jenny being taken away, she's given him food for thought about how only he can deal with what he does. And he flashes briefly back to another woman who died and all he could do was be there, O'Brien in the previous volume.
Frank: "Goodbye, I thought. You strange, sad creature. If I could I'd kill every single one of them. I'd wipe them out. And you'd never have had to exist at all."
|A haunted Frank leaves.|