#1: The Punisher by Garth Ennis and various
When Garth Ennis isn't making fun of super-heroes, he's the best in the business. After spending a few years being silly with Steve Dillon on a Marvel Universe title, Ennis got serious and essentially put the Punisher in the real world. Taking real-world type villains, Ennis put the focus on the depravity and evil of the villains, making them so vile that the reader can't help but squeal with glee when Frank finally gets his hands on them. The Punisher hands out some awful punishments throughout this run, but I always believed the bad guys deserved it. In fact, when Ennis would give us people like slavers or gleeful killers, I couldn't wait to see them get what they had coming. Ennis was able to switch tones too, keeping fun elements like the Barracuda. Barracuda was such an over the top villain that I loved reading about him, but we all know that no one survives meeting Frank more than twice (even his friends, it seemed). After reading this series, I was left with two thoughts: What a sad, lonely guy Frank Castle must be. It must be awful to be him. The second? Why doesn't the real world have a Punisher?
Ennis worked with quite a few artists as the series progressed. While they all handled the violence well, I'd say Leandro Fernandez really captured NYC the best. Fernandez's characters oozed evil, especially in the Slavers, my favorite arc of the series. Goran Parlov handled the Barracuda stories, and his bright, European style made him one of my favorite artists. He drew hot (and slutty) ladies, tough guys, and great wimps. I'd say those were the strongest artists of the run, although the others weren't bad at all.
Overall, the sheer creativity in villains, deaths, twists, and turns made this my favorite series of the 2000's.