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

The Story: Frank reaches new levels, now working with chemical weapons, while Bullseye finally reaches an epiphany.

The Review: After finishing this comic, I was completely shocked to discover that we’ve not seen an issue of PunisherMAX since July.  I knew it’d been a while, October perhaps, but July? I think that’s a testament to how solid this book is.  Despite the fact that it picks up in the middle of an arc, there’s none of the detachment and disorientation you can feel from a series that’s shown up so late.  And that’s not because of any recap page or anything like that.  Rather, it’s due to Jason Aaron’s expert and gradual plotting and pacing.  Whatever the case, diving back into PunisherMAX with this issue feels like the series wasn’t late at all.  It’s quite the phenomenon.

Perhaps it’s fitting then that this return issue is one of the finest issues of Jason Aaron’s run thus far.  The focus is, of course, on Bullseye and, as always, Aaron’s Bullseye is absolute, psychotic gold.  His obsession with Frank is both unsettling and compelling and his nonchalant violence is stunning.  There’s a portion where he holds a monologue on Frank’s history while seemingly unconsciously brutalizing a gang of hoods that is all kinds of awesome.  Furthermore, that monologue is a great one.  It’s a fantastic contemplation of Frank’s history and a fascinating reading of the Punisher story, one that’s probably dogged at the minds of long-time Punisher MAX fans, particularly those of Garth Ennis’ run.  Bullseye’s epiphany that comes as a result is logical and hugely important.

Meanwhile, Frank himself is handled very well.  Aaron has been attempting to show a deterioration in Frank as he loses his boundaries and limitations, but nowhere has the rung more true than this month.  Here, we see that there are truly no depths to which Frank will sink in order to get the job done.  Truly, Aaron demonstrates that Frank is willing to become the monster that society hates and fears if that’s what he believes to be the best way to get the baddies.  His praying on society’s fear of terrorists and his use of chemical warfare are both hugely unsettling, even a little sickening.  In other words, it’s everything a Punisher MAX comic should be, a comic pushes the envelope of not only a comic’s content, but also the nature of its characters.

Steve Dillon also does good work this month.  His subtle work with Bullseye once again is the show-stealer.  The character has a constant glazed over expression, one of constant wonder and sincerity.  Dillon’s action scenes are similarly compelling.  They carry a bizarrely commonplace, casual feel, regardless of the hideously violent acts portrayed.  Honestly, the only fault to Dillon’s work this month, and the entire issue really, is the one thing that does plague his work from time to time.  Specifically, some of his characters’ faces do look remarkably similar, particularly in structure.  Bullseye and Fisk are unique, but the rest can sort of blend into one mass of tough guy jaw-lines.

Conclusion: Man, it’s really great to have this series back.  It appears that Aaron has also finally settled on the tone that suits him best.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans