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

The Story: Stuck in a cell, Frank contemplates his past life with his wife and kids, realizing that family life and prison life might not be so far apart.

The Review: Since coming back from its hiatus, Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon has truly found its voice, finding a perfect tone that has made it one of the best reads out of Marvel.  This month’s issue does nothing at all to buck that trend.

A heavily introspective issue, this issue leans heavily upon narration/monologue from Frank.  It’s the sort of gritty sincerity that Aaron excels at and is a joy to read.  If you were one of the readers who lamented the lack of Frank in Aaron’s run up this point, this is the kind of issue that ought to make you happy.

One of the strongest portions of this month’s book is a moment where Aaron robs Frank of his Punisher mystique.  It’s a process that’s painful to watch and heavily internal.  Frank ends up looking old and vulnerable and feels almost naked without the Punisher rep scaring off the crooks.  It’s a heavy moment that makes this arc feel legitimately dangerous for the main character, a feat not easily accomplished in Marvel comics.

Other than this, however, most of the issue is spent in flashback.  It’s cool enough seeing Frank’s family life, but more than that, Aaron and Dillon make it horrifically mundane or, rather, they make it clear just how antithetical it is to what Frank is.  Things feel repetitive and Aaron and Dillon do a fantastic job showing how Frank doesn’t fit in with average life and how it deadens him.  In fact, it’s here that Dillon’s artwork most excels, as he draws younger Frank with a completely dead-eyed expression throughout that is fairly disturbing.

Somehow, Aaron and Dillon manage to make Frank’s family life carry almost a mild, horror vibe tone.  There’s a slightly surreal feel to it all that gives off the effect that things just aren’t right. Despite nothing out of the ordinary or horrific happening, it’s uncomfortable and unsettling, at times inexplicably so.  One of my favourite portions, however, is when images from Frank’s family life is paralleled to images from Frank’s current situation in prison.  It’s a comparison that feels wholly true, sincere, and organic and makes Frank’s ordinary past seem all the more hellish.

But that’s the thing….it’s not really hellish.  It’s hellish for Frank.  The fact that these happy family scenes feel so unpleasant and deadening shows the extent to which Aaron and Dillon have us understanding Frank, even feeling his angst.  That alone is quite the accomplishment, particular for a character whose critics often label as being two-dimensional.

Conclusion: Another really strong issue of PunisherMAX.  This is quickly becoming not just a must-read, but a comic that, when all is said and done, will most likely be on many shortlists for “best Punisher comics of all time.”

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans