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

The Story: The Punisher goes head to head with the Mennonite and the Kingpin finally makes his move.

What’s Good: This book really has that R-rated action movie feel that’s pretty integral to a comic like Punishermax.  While the issue never comes close to approaching intellectual fare, it’s fun to watch and read in that blockbuster sort of way.

The bulk of the issue is an extended brawl between Frank and the Mennonite.  It’s beautifully paced and sequenced and has a fantastic flow to it, with one frame naturally and organically following the last.  It’s completely smooth, without any of the hiccupping that often occurs in lengthy fight scenes.  It’s also brutal and unforgiving, while also being fairly creative, visceral, and personal.  I think that a lot of that owes to Aaron steering clear from the over-the-top excess that Ennis often utilized, which ended up turning fight scenes into comedy.  By keeping it relatively realistic, Aaron ups the intensity.  Of course, a lot of this has to do with Steve Dillon, who brings his action chops along, without the goofy faces.

The Mennonite also really delivers, as Aaron really makes the most of the concept.  Leaving the character motivations behind this month, Aaron decides that the character will only use the weapons that his “religion allows.”  In other words, no guns or cars – just horses and a big mallet.  It’s really humorous stuff that colors the book and gives it its own unique personality.  It really livens things up and brings something special to the Mennonite character, enough that I hope to see him again soon.

Aaron also does well with the Frank Castle internal monologues, owning up to the tradition of using the textboxes to have Frank describe his gruesome injuries in detail.  It makes the fight scene that much more difficult to read and ups the desperation and brutality quotients exponentially.

What’s Not So Good: This month’s issue is a big departure from Aaron’s previous issues in that the fantastic, albeit sickening, character moments are pretty much gone in favor of action.  No more Kingpin flashbacks.

Furthermore, while I enjoyed the Mennonites new quirks, the complete removal of his back-story, which we were introduced to last month, sort of minimized the character to playing the part of  “gimmick villain,” which Punisher comics have certainly seen more than enough of.  While it’s funny and enjoyable, it’s also a bit unfortunate.

Aaron also takes a few noticeable storytelling shortcuts to get his narrative where he needs it to be.  The Mennonite’s attack is so perfectly placed and timed that Aaron actually has to have the character himself mention the convenience.  Furthermore, Fisk chooses now to make his move against his superiors, but Aaron doesn’t build it up enough, nor does he provide much of an explanation for why he is choosing this exact moment, aside from the fact that it’s the second to last issue of the story arc.

Conclusion: It’s not quite as brooding as previous issues, but it makes up for it with spades of fun.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans