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

The Story: At long last, Frank and Bullseye go one on one in a fight to the death.

The Review: I’ve read a lot of people, including other reviewers, really taking this series to task and frankly, I just don’t get it.  All right, there were a couple of issues that were weaker, but unless you’re reading a different comic than I am, PunisherMAX #11 is goddamned amazing.  It sees Jason Aaron both nail what Garth Ennis was going for in his Punisher work, while also truly establishing a creative voice all his own.  Issues like this one are everything you want out of a Punisher MAX book.  If you don’t like it then, quite frankly, you don’t like the franchise.

There’s so much to love here, but let’s start with the main event: the big brawl between Punisher and Bullseye.  Put simply, this was the best one on one fight scene I’ve read in a comic in quite some time.  It was insanely intense, personal, and goddamned savage.  It’s indescribably brutal, barely managing to skate past slapstick, instead managing to be just violent enough to challenge suspension of disbelief without breaking it.  The fight is crazed, wince-inducing, sickening, and I think I already said “intense,” but I’ll say it again to hammer that home.  Jason Aaron pulls out all the stops here.  You get construction tools, you get chemical weapons… You get it all.  At one point, Bullseye even uses his own vomit in a scene that is, quite honestly, one of the most disgusting things that I’ve ever seen in a Marvel comic.  It’s the sort of fight that pulls you the reader into it, managing to put you on the edge of your seat.  It’s also the kind of fight that, blow by blow, tells an actual story.  It’s a fight with a physical narrative, with a tempo and various chapters.

Best of all is Bullseye during this fight, who is clearly having the time of his life.  His gleefulness also contrasts wonderfully with Frank’s silent, take-care-of-business approach.  The issue also ends with Bullseye declaring that he knows what Frank’s final words to his wife were; it’s easy to surmise roughly what they were, but seeing the effect on Frank is chilling.

So you take that high drama and, yes, “intensity,” but there’s also that little grain of humour beneath it all.  The hapless goons who get sent to horrific deaths, for example, which leads to a sledgehammer to the face panel that is funny in a classic Steve Dillon sort of way.  Then there’s Bullseye’s appearance after a run in with Frank and some construction tools, or the brilliant comedic timing of when Frank and Bullseye come across that construction site, or Bullseye’s conversation with God.  There’s light humour here that suggests that Jason Aaron is almost as happy amidst the carnage as his Bullseye is.

But all of that is brought home by a terrific finale and final splash that is both haunting and a fitting conclusion that closes a chapter and has me eagerly anticipating the next.  This is truly good stuff and, if you’re a Punisher fan, it’s the comic you’ve been wanting.

Conclusion: One of the best issues of Jason Aaron’s PunisherMAX thus far, if not the best.  With two astounding issues in a row, this title has returned with guns blazing.

Grade: A –

-Alex Evans