by Jason Aaron (writer), Steve Dillon (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story: Wilson Fisk’s history is delved into as Operation: Kingpin is put into action.

What’s Good: While last month was a declaration of Garth Ennis, this month makes clear that Jason Aaron is interested in more than just emulation, as he brings the unforgiving grit found in Scalped to Punishermax.

That means an incredibly dark issue.  As this is largely due to its exploration of Fisk’s past, the change in tone between issues feels appropriate.  There’s really not a joke to be found this month, nor is there any Ennis-styled slapstick.  That said, while the pure fun quotient may take a slight hit due to that, it also elevates this month’s issue into something that is a more serious, weighty project.

This process also helps to create quite possibly the most terrifying Wilson Fisk we’ve ever seen.  Aaron’s Fisk is nothing short of an absolute psychopath.  His lack of conscience, mercy, or human feeling is deeply unsettling.  Fisk rigorously abides by and brutally enforces a rigid rule of self-preservation and satisfaction.  Beyond that though, he is beholden by no laws of decency or humanity.  Certainly, when Fisk embraces his wife and child at the end of this month’s issue, it feels very different from when he did so at the end of last month’s.

In painting such a character, Aaron really does push the Marvel envelope, and he does so in a manner totally different from Ennis.  While Ennis tested limits by writing outrageous acts, Aaron crosses boundaries through portraying acts and writing dialogue that is simply disturbing and mature in the truest sense.  Ennis had me flabbergasted, but Aaron actually made me uncomfortable.

On art, Steve Dillon serves up his usual fare, though he does do some surprisingly poignant work on his characters’ faces.  Dillon’s done a great job with Fisk so far, with expressions that are surprisingly subtle yet resonant and nuanced.

What’s Not-so-Good: While Dillon does do good work this month, at times I felt that what made him such a great artist for Ennis is also what failed him a bit this month.  Without any jokes, slapstick, or over-the-top gore to work with, Dillon’s innately comical style just doesn’t always jive with Aaron’s pitch-black script.  Indeed, for every great face Dillon does, he also still can’t help but whip out one of his signature goofy faces.  If someone gets shot in a Dillon comic, they’re going to look funny, even if the scene is devoid of humor.  Overall, the comic feels a little strange; it looks like it should be funny when it isn’t.

Also, while it doesn’t make for a bad comic, this is also an issue that sees precious little of the Punisher.  Last month was already quite restrained in its use of Castle, but this month he’s downright scarce, if not unremarkable.  It’s a bit of an odd way to start a run on Punisher MAX.

Finally, I do feel that Aaron is still wrestling with establishing Fisk’s voice.  He can’t seem to settle between the more formal sounding Kingpin we’re used to from the Marvel Universe, and the more colloquial, gritty voice he’s used to employing with characters like Red Crow in Scalped and he ends up with a weird sounding back and forth between the two that feels a little unsettled.

Conclusion: It’s a great comic, one that confirms that Jason Aaron is bringing his own talents to the table, not just Ennis’.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans