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Comic Book / Welcome Back, Frank

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Welcome Back, Frank is a story arc by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, with the long awaited return of The Punisher.

Punisher is back in town, ready to end the criminal family of Ma Gnucci once and for all. But first, to make things easier, he killed several of her hitmen, including her sons. She gets more and more hitmen, and eventually they trapped him without weapons at the local zoo. Still, he manages to use the animals to his advantage and kill people for him. He left Ma Gnucci with the polar bears, but she survived. Armless and legless, but she survived. He retreated for some days to the hotel (where he uses the alias "John Smith") until he heals and can go into action again. One of his neighbours noticed that it was him, and outed his identity to Ma Gnucci in exchange of a reward. The criminal attacked him and hurt him, but he was saved by his other wacky neighbors, Spacker Dave and Joan the Mouse.


Needing more power to finish the job, Ma Gnucci called The Russian, who attacked Castle as well. Punisher killed him, returned to the mansion of Ma Gnucci, killed all her remaining henchmen, and set the building on fire, with the crippled Ma Gnucci still inside.

Oh, and don't forget about Soap. The police does not want to move a finger against Punisher, who saves them so much work, but they have to. So, they assigned the "Punisher case" to the most pathetic couple of losers they could find.

Punisher's return also inspired three other vigilantes, "The Holy", "Elite" and "Mr. Payback". Punisher killed all of them.


Welcome Back Frank contains examples of:

  • Achilles' Heel: Heat is the only thing that causes the Russian any significant amount of pain and it doesn't take very much of it. A hot pizza is enough to incapacitate him for several crucial seconds.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Ma Gnucci loses both of her arms and legs to a polar bear attack.
  • And Call Him "George"!: The Russian gives a mook a sidehug, crushing him without even noticing.
  • Ascended Fanboy: The Russian may be a villain, but he's a huge fan of American superheroes. He's even one of the founding members of the Daredevil Man Without Fear Fan Club in Smolensk. And when he's done with Punisher, he will go to meet the others and ask for autographs. Or perhaps he will join the Fantastic Four? Who is stronger, The Thing or The Russian?
  • A-Team Firing / More Dakka: Mr. Payback's modus operandi. When a bullet hits and kills an innocent cleaning lady behind a wall, Payback gets put on Frank's list.
  • Bad Boss: Ma Gnucci orders one of her thugs to kill her own cousin, Stevie, simply because he asked her how she was doing after the polar bear attack, when that thug questions her, she orders another thug to kill that thug and Stevie, that thug also questions her, so she orders a third thug to kill the three of them, that thug complies. Then warns everyone else that anyone doubting that she means what she says would do well to remember she was fed to a pack of polar bears ten days prior.
  • Back-Alley Doctor: Frank has to pay one to fix up Dave after he's tortured, and to remove the bullets there are still in his body after a nasty shootout. Frank thinks that he would've done it himself, but he needed someone who could help Dave. Frank also doesn't trust the hospital's doctors since they could be on Ma Gnucci's payroll — the back alley doctor otoh is "old-school".
  • Barred from the Afterlife: Punisher's speech in the first issue about the afterlife. The angels would give him peace and reunion, if he did some work for them. He refused. So they sent him back to a world filled with petty criminals, thinking that in comparison it would be like hell for him...but they were mistaken.
  • Bandaged Face: Spacker Dave's face is covered entirely in bandages after being tortured by Ma Gnucci's goons. Even after his face heals up, he decides to keep them on because he decides he likes them more than his piercings.
  • Bears Are Bad News: Ma Gnucci will always regret following Castle into the bear's cage. And he had just attacked them and ran, so they are more angry than the average bear!
  • Berserk Button: The Russian no-sells virtually everything Punisher throws against him, with one exception; he has a low tolerance for heat. The only times he expresses pain is when Frank burns his hand on the stove and throws a scalding pizza in his face. Unfortunately, this also makes him furious.
  • Blood Knight: The Russian, who we're told visits war zones for money or for fun.
  • Body Horror: Ma Gnucci ends up bald and limbless after getting mauled by bears.
  • Bond One-Liner: "The Holy" was pleading Punisher to lead him and the other two vigilantes, that together they can create a super group and destroy crime. Isn't that what Punisher wants?
    Punisher: No. [kills them]
  • Bulletproof Human Shield: Punisher took advantage of it at the morgue.
    Punisher: Gunfight in the morgue, rule one: Don't hide behind the thin guy.
  • The Can Kicked Him: The Russian very nearly manages to kill the Punisher with his own toilet!
  • Car Fu: The mafia hires a former Desert Storm sniper to kill Punisher. Frank just runs the guy over with an SUV, then backs up.
  • Carnival of Killers: Deconstructed. A gangster employs three badass killers to take out the Punisher. The first guy is some kind of Neo-Cowboy Gunslinger, famous for a firefight with four State Troopers, where he ducked the last bullet fired at him, and shot the last cop dead. The Punisher riddles him with an UZI. note  The second guy is a Martial Arts expert "with a black belt in anything you care to name." Punisher says that he knows "a little myself", but settles on simply shoving the guy onto a subway track. Lastly we have an ex-Marine sniper and Desert Storm veteran. Punisher runs him over with a car, then backs up on him for good measure.
  • Catchphrase: Elite likes to mention that "This is a nice neighborhood."
  • Cheated Death, Died Anyway: Frank Castle interrogates a mafioso in his car on the freeway, before telling him to get out (while the car is still moving). The man does so, miraculously survives... only to get run over by a food truck. Belonging to a company called Frank's.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: All three new vigilantes watch the same broadcast about them and the Punisher, and say "This gives me an idea!" at the same time.
  • Comically Missing the Point: When Ma Gnucci says she wants to kill the one who crippled her, one of her mooks says, "You want us to put a hit on the bear?"
    Mook: Oh.
  • Combat Pragmatism:
    • One of the hitmen sent against Punisher was a black belt in all disciplines. Castle followed him in secret, stood behind him at the subway station when the subway was coming, and used his own martial art: Splat-fu.
    • Referenced by Frank when he kills the aforementioned Desert Storm sniper.
      Frank: When you're on your own — behind enemy lines — no artillery, no air strikes, no hope of an evac — you don't fight dirty. You do things that make dirty look good.
  • Cultural Translation: Where one of the hitmen is said to shoot "quick as lightning", the French translation went with "shoots faster than his own shadow".
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The Russian is introduced when a squad of elite commandos called Team Bravo, hired as mercenaries to kill him, invade his house only to be brutally slaughtered down to a man, who the Russian sends running away in the nude to tell his superiors that he's getting annoyed at their attempts on his life.
  • Decapitation Presentation: Frank holds the Russian's severed head at the gate of Ma Gnucci's mansion. That's enough to make every mobster just walk away.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Elite's Establishing Character Moment, after killing a small drug dealing gang, is shooting a dog dead because the dog is pissing on the sidewalk, and in a later issue he drops a grenade into a hot dog cart (luckily, the vendor ran away). All in the name of a "nice neighborhood".
  • Driven to Suicide: The criminal profiler Buddy Plugg hangs himself after receiving disparaging comments from Soap(There's also his pretty crappy childhood and his own name).
  • Dumb Muscle: The Russian.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • The first thing Frank does is toss a mafia goon off a building.
    • Elite kills drug dealers, dogs doing their necessities on the sidewalk and threatens hot dog vendors by blowing up their businesses, for a "nice neighborhood".
    • The first we (sort of) see the Russian do is completely and utterly destroy a special ops team sent to kill him, sending the leader running naked, with his rifle bent around his neck, and crying "I want my Mommeeee...!".
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Mr. Payback is utterly appalled by Elite's blatant racism and and classism, and calls him a fascist to his face. He still tries to work with him, though.
  • Evil Cripple: Ma Gnucci following the incident with the polar bears.
  • Evil Is One Big, Happy Family: No, it is not, as the Vigilante Squad shows. They all have differing motivations, which leads them to constantly bicker with each other. In fact, they're so awful at working together that as soon as they join forces, they completely stop killing people because they're too busy arguing about plans to actually get out on the street.
  • Evil Old Folks: Ma Gnucci. Calling her an old hag would be kind.
  • Expy:
    • Detective Soap for Detective Paul Bridges, a similarly unlucky cop from an early arc of Preacher.
    • Ma Gnucci also has distinct similarities to Jesse's grandmother, Marie L'Angelle, in Preacher.
  • Eye Am Watching You: Punisher killed two rival gangs, but spared a guy who said that he was just an addict. He told him that he would be watching, and left. The guy called a friend, to come and retrieve the fortune in drugs that was lying there... and Punisher came out of the shadow, and killed the guy.
  • Facial Horror: Ma Gnucci's goons interrogate Spacker Dave by pulling out his piercings.
  • The Faceless: Elite is never seen without his mask. When he takes it off, we only see the back of his head.
  • Fanboy: The Russian is a superhero fan and, according to himself, a founding member of the Daredevil Man Without Fear-fan club in Smolensk. He also expresses a hope of getting Spider-Man's autograph while in New York.
  • Fat Comic Relief: Frank's neighbor, Mr. Nathaniel Bumpo, is very big and fat and it's a running gag that almost every time Frank sees him that he's in some comedic situation because of his weight. First he was stuck on his door and had to be pulled through. Then he had to get his toilet replaced again because he keeps breaking his, this time with plate steel with some skepticism that would even be enough, with him asking if they come in adamantium.
  • Friend on the Force: Frank uses Soap as an informant, since the latter has figured out he's never going to actually catch Frank.
  • Funny Background Event:
    • On a filing cabinet in the police station, there is a stuffed pig in a policeman's uniform. Those cops must have a good sense of humor.
    • When Ma Gnucci is in the hospital after being mauled by polar bears, there's a get well card on the bed with a picture of a teddy bear on it.
  • Give Chase with Angry Natives: Frank runs through a cage of sleeping polar bears. The pursuing Mafia runs through a cage of pissed-off, very much awake polar bears.
  • Give Me a Sign: While burying his latest victim, The Holy begs for God to give him a sign on how he should confront his madness. A newspaper blows into his face, and on the front page is a news story about The Punisher.
  • Grievous Harm with a Body: Frank uses the morbidly obese Mr. Bumpo to smother the Russian to death.
  • Hate Sink: Elite of the Vigilante Squad. The Holy and Mr. Payback show some arguably redeeming qualities, whereas all of Elite's appearances only further show what a massive piece of garbage he is.
  • He's Back: Punisher is back!
  • Hope Spot: One of the hitmen was forced by Punisher to jump out of the car, which was going at high speed in the highway. That, or get a bullet in the face. He jumped, and crawled on his feet: he was very badly hurt, needing immediate hospital care, but he's alive! And then, a truck in high speed finished him. A truck of Tasty Franks no less.
  • I Let You Win: The Punisher lets Daredevil beat him down because he feels bad about the trap he's set that the latter doesn't have a chance against.
  • Implacable Man: The Russian, albeit a much more jovial version than is typically encountered.
  • Insistent Terminology:
    • Dave.
      Spacker Dave!
    • Subverted when Frank finally uses the name right ("Spac— Hey! Mr. Smith, dude! You got it!").
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Mr. Payback showed up at a corporate room, accused the people in there of several corporate crimes, and killed them. One guy was complaining later about those horrible things he said... but the CEO corrected him: he was right, they DID commit those crimes, and managed to conceal them.
    • Interestingly, the Punisher himself is fully aware of this, and brings it up when he confronts Payback. The Punisher tells him he's killed four innocent people, one of them being a cleaning lady who died when one of Payback's bullets went through a wall and hit her. Not only does this show Frank's contempt for vigilantes who don't properly plan ahead to prevent innocent people from getting killed, but it also shows that Frank had no problem whatsoever with Payback killing corrupt corporate execs.
  • Karma Houdini: A porn shop clerk accidentally catches the Punisher limping back to his hideout after the fight at the zoo, and rats him out to Ma Gnucci, and gets a $10,000 dollar reward for it. He gets off completely scot-free with the money and is never seen again.
  • Kicked Upstairs: Hey, Soap! Now you have an important case to lead, and your office, and your own special operations team! Yes, it was too good for that loser to be true...
  • Laughably Evil: The Russian's every other line is a joke.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Ma Gnucci's boys have plenty of these moments throughout the comic when face-to-face with the Punisher, but none more emblematic than when he walks up to her mansion with the decapitated head of the Russian. Every last one of her goons drops their guns and walks away, leaving her to face her fate alone.
    • Frank's reaction when he notices the Russian has torn a toilet loose from the fixtures and is coming after him.
      Frank: No...
  • Pet the Dog: Frank sneaks back into his abandoned apartment and leaves behind huge piles of cash (taken from the safe of a crime boss he'd just killed) for his three neighbors to find. Each of them had helped him several times during the arc, and he felt obligated. The last panel shows him standing on the street outside, listening to them laughing with joy and planning on improving their lives with the money. Frank walks away, thinking: "Best I can do. Maybe I am damned. But I'm not dragging you good people down with me."
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The Elite shows extreme disdain towards poor people and minorities, and settles for insulting them when he isn't actively killing them.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: The Russian. His guileless expression and easygoing attitude make everything about him more frightening.
  • Rasputinian Death: After the burnings, beating, stabbings, it takes being suffocated under a tremendously obese man and the Punisher to take out the Russian. And even then his head gets cut off. And even that didn't completely finish him, as the story arc after this one showed.
  • Reluctant Psycho: The Holy is a genuinely insane man who kills people in a rage, only to regain control of himself afterwards. He's tormented by this until he sees a newspaper article about The Punisher, which encourages him to embrace his insanity.
  • Revisiting the Roots: No surveillance, no weird ammo, no strange techs, no partners... this is a return to the basics: Punisher, guns and petty criminals. In fact, this story undid the previous status of Punisher as a supernatural celestial enforcer (which got him cancelled), and turned him into a "normal" character once more.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: Mrs. Pearse, the cleaning lady at the church, is zealous about her duties, but forgetful (she can't seem to get cleaning day right) and nearly blind and deaf, so much so that Father Redondo can say out loud that he killed the criminals who went to confess with him and she still won't listen. And she cleans up all the blood nicely and without reservations, because she thinks it's spilt communion wine.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: When Frank shows up at Ma Gnucci's house with The Russian's head, he stares down her remaining thugs. They all throw their guns on the ground and leave Ma to her fate.
  • Shout-Out: A mook walking in on Ma Gnucci from behind and getting startled by the sight of machines lowering the wig onto her scarred head is a clear homage to ''The Empire Strikes Back''.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: The Punisher gives fatal ones to Ma Gnucci and the Vigilante Squad when they try to lecture him on his moral failings.
  • Sinister Minister: Father Redondo, a.k.a. The Holy, who is ready to axe murder you in his confessional the second you say something he doesn't like.
  • Something We Forgot: Busy of Ma Gnucci, Punisher did not had time to locate and deal with the "Vigilante Squad"; but did so at the end.
  • Straw Loser: Soap and Molly Von Richthofen do not have the slightest hope of doing anything to Punisher or Ma Gnucci (nor was the police expecting them to, considering that the cops like the Punisher's methods and Ma Gnucci had the NYPD on her payroll, so it's a catch-22 anyway). The best plan they could come up with was just to let things happen and let the whole crisis solve itself.
  • Take Our Word for It: We never get to see Spacker Dave's face after his piercings are torn out. What little we see of his ear looks like fried plastic. Even after he heals, he decides to keep the bandages on because they make him stand out.
  • Title Drop: At the end of the first issues. "Welcome back, Frank. Says New York City".
  • Toilet Humour: Officer Soap is promoted to Chief Inspector at the end of the series, proudly looks out of his office to the Golden Sunset of New York... only to have a passing pigeon defecate on his head. Nevertheless, he warmly quotes "I love this town", for compared to all the hardships he endured trying to catch The Punisher, he is not going to let something as trivial as bird poop rain on his parade.
  • Unfortunate Names: With a name like Budd Plugg it's no wonder he killed himself.
  • The Unreveal: The true identities of Elite and Mr. Payback are never revealed.
  • White Mask of Doom: The Elite wears one of there.
  • Within Arm's Reach: During a scene where Frank is getting the absolute shit beat out of him by the Russian, he notices a gun he dropped lying under a piece of furniture. Averted in that Frank does manage to pick up the gun, but the Russian easily takes it away from him and breaks off the barrel, then proceeds with beating down Frank. Frank finally killed the Russian by throwing a piping hot, freshly delivered pizza in his face and then suffocating him by pushing his morbidly obese neighbor on his face and then piling on so the Russian couldn't get away. Played straight because both the pizza and Mr. Bumpo were within Frank's reach.


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