The Punisher Annual (#4) – Mike Baron, Various

3 out of 5

The main story in this early 90’s annual – “The Cutting Edge,” by Greg Wright and Dan Chichester – was the second part of three of an in-annual crossover, in which Hydra, led by Von Strucker, is (I think, having only read this part) orchestrating some madness via genetically mutated folk, setting up each part of the annual to be a mutant-vs.-hero showdown. “The Cutting Edge” features ‘Guillotine,’ a vaguely-defined villain who has sharp claws and randomly depicted spikes jutting out of his arms and feet, and pits him – logically, given the star of the annual – against Punisher. Writers Wright and Chichester stuff a pretty fun action flick into their pages, although Frank’s morals that have him align with an assassin over S.H.I.E.L.D. feel a little slippery – like, beyond the usual Punisher loose logics, and into nonsense – but again, it leads to some very 90s, chest-beating antics and lots of diving out windows and holding on to helicopters. Penciller John Herbert, inked by a team of three, keeps a nice, weighty flow to things.

Mike Baron contributes two shorts, both arted by Tom Morgan: “Genesis of a Vigilante” is pretty pointless, but maybe default page filler for annuals, summarizing Frank Castle’s Punisher origin in a couple pages; followup “Fat Farm” is much better, a side story in which Microchip decides to go to a weight loss camp, and stumbles into a side hustle there that he employs his skills to shutdown. I really liked that Micro handled this all on his own – there’s not a moment when he thinks to call Frank. And Baron avoids any outright fat jokes, just using the premise to get Micro into an isolated environment.

Finally, before a pretty cool set of 4 pin-ups, we get “A Public Service Message” from George Caragonne and penciller Mike Harris, which, from afar, you’d consider another 90s-as-heck affect – a PSA about wearing seatbelts. But Caragonne really makes it into an effective Punisher version of that. It’s a good laugh.