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

The Story: Bullseye attempts to relive the origin of the Punisher, Frank interrogates Fisk’s dirty cop, and the Kingpin has marital issues.

What’s Good: I think it’s become something of a concern among many readers how little the Punisher is actually in this comic, let alone developed.  That’s somewhat adjusted this month, with the focus being equally split between Bullseye, Frank, and the Kingpin.  What results is a beautifully structured issue with a perfect ending that brilliantly parallels all three characters.   It’s a clear testament to Aaron’s skill how the three very different characters are able to flow into each other like this.

I’d say Bullseye has the strongest outing, if only because Aaron’s creativity has allowed for one of the creepiest, yet physically unassuming, characters I’ve read in a while.  I don’t think I’ve ever imagined Bullseye as a family man and when he perversely kidnaps a family this month, it’s a skin-crawling good time.  He just seems so damned happy throughout the issue and I love how he converses with them and engages in family activities with them as though absolutely nothing is wrong, completing ignoring that they’re all bound, gagged, and crying.  It’s truly demented stuff.

Speaking of demented, we get another glorious torture scene from Aaron as the Punisher goes medieval on Fisk’s NYPD cronie.  This is the sort of scene that demonstrates the understanding Aaron has of the MAX imprint:  where most comics or films would turn the camera away, Aaron keeps it focused on the action just a little bit more and let’s us see more than we’d like. Aaron also continues to build Frank’s continuing decline, this time in morality.  In many way’s, his situation this month sort of seems Dark Reign-like:  in a world completely owned by the bad guys, he finds himself crossing his previously established moral lines.  Why not indulge himself and shoot a cop in vengeance when the whole police force belongs to Fisk?  When the world’s bonkers, it’s already bonkers inhabitants are liable to get a little bit nastier.

Though it’s the more understated of the lot, I also liked Aaron’s subtle hints of Fisk’s possible vulnerability.  From his marital discord, to his paranoia, it’s clear that Fisk is not a happy man, or that he can’t be, anyway.  The character has been ice cold and unstoppable thus far, so this is a nice touch, particularly how Aaron goes about it so deftly.

Dillon’s artwork continues to deliver what we expect from it.  The gore is done in his long ago honed style and Bullseye continues to look creepy as hell and continually, whimsically happy.  Clearly, it’s the character Dillon enjoys the most.

What’s Not So Good: This is one of those issues that’s more interested in characterization and developing the series’ long-term story more than it is moving forward the events of this particular arc.  This leads to great character work, but not a big sense of narrative movement.

Also, Aaron’s writing of a TV newscast sounds strangely wooden and unbelievable.  I’ve seen this happen quite a bit, where a story uses a newscast as a plot device and the result feels awkward and unrealistic:  either the content is bizarre, the reporting excessively detailed, or something just feels off.  Though it’s a very small component, it’s the weakest writing on offer in this issue and a bit glaring as a result.

Conclusion: A really good issue and one of the best of Aaron’s run thus far.

Grade: B+

Alex Evans