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

The Story: Wilson Fisk goes out to silence the one person who’s onto him, before finally going one on one with Frank Castle.

What’s Good: Three issues in, and this month is, more than anything, Aaron and Dillon testing the limits of the MAX imprint.  How much can they get away with?  A lot of this button-pushing comes from the character of Mamma Cesare, introduced in this issue.  Personally, I thought the old lady to be an absolute ball.  The ridiculous barrage of profanity that she produces pretty much continuously is simply unbelievable.  But really, it’s the horrible mental images I got from the many and varied gruesome acts she threatens which really had me laughing.  It’s just so completely over the top, and yet I can’t help but commend Aaron’s creativity.  All told, Mamma Cesare is just a wholly entertaining character who leaps off of the page.

Aaron also gives us a little more Castle this month, and it certainly pays off.  Those grizzled Punisher monologues that Ennis perfected return in a much bigger way, and they certainly make the book feel more “Punisher.”  It’s grim stuff, and that’s just as it should be.  Frank also gets in a tussle with Fisk, and it’s both thrilling and smile-inducing in a slapstick kind of way, with Castle flying head first through a door or nonchalantly breaking the neck of a faceless of goon.

But the thing that really piques my interest is a new, as yet nameless, character who Aaron introduces this month.  An Amish-styled farmer who doesn’t seem to share his community’s faith and appears to have something of a dark past.  He’s an interesting figure, sympathetic and menacing, at once searching for redemption, yet ultimately willing to return to his dark, old ways when the phone call comes.  The fact that this return seems to be perceived by the character as a kind of divine will is also very promising.  At the moment, the character is a big, menacing question mark of faith and shame with an ambiguous relationship with forgiveness, and I really like where this is going.

What’s Not So Good: It’s always painful to see a comedian tell a bad joke.  He or she’ll tell it, not get a laugh, and then just awkwardly stand there, facing a chorus of crickets.  It’s only worse when it’s an extended joke; it’s still a failure, but the comedian is forced to embarrassingly soldier on, repeating the same failed joke again and again.

That’s basically what happens to Aaron this month, as he falls completely flat in what was meant to be this issue’s main source of humor.  There’s a series of gross-out, naked old lady sight gags that Aaron clearly meant to be found funny, but it just isn’t.  At all.  It’s just sort of strange and uncomfortable, largely because it’s not as humorous as the writer intended.  Regardless, Aaron tries for it repeatedly, failing harder each time.

There’s also a moment where Fisk seems just a little predatory towards his wife.  Thus far, this seems out of character for him, as Fisk, for all his ruthlessness, has been tender to his family thus far.  Perhaps this is intentional by Aaron, meant to coincide with Fisk’s growing success.  While this would make the scene somewhat more acceptable, something a bit more gradual would have been better.

Conclusion: If you’re the right kind of reader, you’ll like this.  If you’re not, why the hell are you reading Punishermax?

Grade: B

-Alex Evans