Having followed Garth Ennis' run on Punisher MAX since day one, I have to say that I'm not impressed with the follow-up authors and their respective story arcs. However! I am a diehard Punisher fan so I can usually find SOMETHING to like in a gritty Punisher crime story even if it's not, overall, very much good. The editorial planning with regard to following what's considered a Definitive Run by the majority of fans, on the face of things, seemed to make sense and I can't really fault Axel Alonso (MAX Editor) for hiring a mini stable of established crime authors to contribute to the title after Ennis' departure. The authors being Gregg Hurwitz, Duane Swierczynski and Victor Gischler. Six Hours To Kill being Swierczynski's story, it's worth noting that I've heard nothing but good things about his crime novels like The Wheelman, The Blonde, and Severance Package. Also, I really enjoyed his Punisher: Force Of Nature one-shot and I'm currently following Cable, which Swierczynski is also writing, so I'd like to think I have a well-rounded opinion for the most part.
Six Hours To Kill starts normally enough with Frank Castle taking a trip to Philadelphia (which I suppose is worth noting as he's usually in New York) to take down a child slavery operation when he gets blindsided by some rather ambitious yuppies. Yes, yuppies. I can't think of a better word for them really. He's drugged and told that if he kills a certain notable figure in Philly crime/politics (an unknown to Frank), he'll receive the antidote and be allowed to go on his merry way. Frank's response is to kill the slob responsible for drugging him and make the best of his remaining six hours; kill every criminal within reach he can and maybe figure out who this John Lynn Cavalier guy is that he has been sicced on. He doesn't seem all that concerned with his impending death; Frank Castle is a pragmatist after all. From here, things get a little muddy from a readers' perspective.
Like I suggested above, there were moments that I enjoyed (Frank's narration, Frank versus Russian mobsters) but I had a hard time following the parallel plotting of the villains (yuppies) that ran alongside Frank's coerced suicide run. I actually credit the artist, Michel Lacombe, more with this disconnect than Swierczynski. I had a really hard time distinguishing between various characters like Benji and Cavalier. There's also a subplot involving the Mayor and his cousin and some corrupt cops... Their motivation behind wanting Castle dead seems a little manufactured, considering (I'll get to this). Anyway, the artist. Lacombe, like Laurence Campbell (from Punisher MAX: Girls In White Dresses TPB (v. 11)) has a very dark, gritty, realistic style that suits the title but suffers from the fact that this story arc is populated by a bunch of previously unestablished characters; all of whom are just regular joes, workin' stiffs, street hoods and the like (read: unremarkable). Read in trade format, this is probably less of a problem but I read these issues in monthly installments and like I say, I had trouble remembering just who and what these people are to the story and what's worse is I found myself simply NOT caring as well.
If nothing else, I have to hand it to Swierczynski for trying to construct a complete web of interactions and reverberations and maybe if he had altered some of his pacing and reduced certain emphases on supporting characters, like Benji's sister and her bodyguard Walter (a Vietnam Vet with a SEVERE case of PTSD), it would have hung together a little better. As it is, Walter and the sister come across as some forced kink/sex appeal that is more of an obstacle to the story than added flavor or depth. Once Frank comes head-to-head with Walter (and the sister, window-dressing really), I felt like the narrative was granted the freedom it lacked up until that point. After "handling" them, the story is a bit more straight-forward but at that point it's too little, too late. As far as the subplot involving the Mayor's hitsquad of corrupt cops; I just don't see why they'd make a play against The Punisher as RETALIATION (the Mayor having tangential ties to the child slavery ring Frank disposed of in the first issue). The damage is done, what can the Mayor hope to gain by whacking Frank? It's not as though he'd function as a court witness or be able to give credible testimony in ANY capacity. Besides which, at that point the only thing the Mayor was guilty of was having a scumbag for a cousin as he was ignorant of the latter's illegal proclivities. The Mayor WASN'T on Frank's radar, is what I'm getting at. Like I say, it seemed forced and the subsequent bloodbaths in the streets of Philly only serve to distract Frank (and the reader).
So to sum up, Frank torpedoes a child trafficking ring, industrious yuppies sic The Punisher on their societal rival (Cavalier), the Mayor sends a squad of corrupt (ex)cops into the streets of Philly with carte blanche against Frank, and Frank meanwhile thumbs through his rolodex of Philly criminals and does his level best to prune their numbers (black humor here) before succumbing to the yuppie poison. Frank fights off corrupt cops, street gangs and the heavily armed Russian mafia and yet somehow manages to make his way back to the yuppies who poisoned him, all in just under six hours. Swierczynski makes reference to The Doors with Benji (arguably the "mastermind" behind poisoning Frank), the character proclaiming himself (and his sister) "The Lizard Kings" so I feel it was a missed opportunity that we didn't get to hear "No One Here Gets Out Alive" as that is a far more apt reference when it's all said and done. Frank Castle as Clint Eastwood in The Gauntlet? Not quite, although the narrative did have a confused, maze-like quality to it. Bottom line, as a Punisher fan I didn't hate the story. As an Ennis fan speaking to another Ennis fan, I wouldn't recommend this TPB though (the upcoming Punisher: Frank Castle Max - Welcome To The Bayou TPB by Goran Parlov and Victor Gischler does a far better job).