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

The Story: The mob makes young Frank Castle an offer he can’t refuse, but Nick Fury has other ideas.

What’s Good: There’s a scene this month that sees Frank and his wife, separated by a closed door, with Frank’s wife screaming at him for his failure to open up to her.  It’s around this point that I realized that, holy crap, we were seeing a Frank Castle domestic drama.  And it actually works.  So much for all those folks who keep saying how Frank isn’t a compelling character.  Aaron makes it all feel sincere and genuine and it’s heavy stuff, where Frank’s sparse, even non-existent, dialogue speaks volumes, allowing for Steve Dillon’s subtle nuances in his illustrations of Frank’s face to shine through and making every slight response he issues to his wife hit like an emotional hammerblow.  Seeing Frank deal with marital discord and his inability to maintain a family life is uncharted territory, but it’s hard to believe that it’s remained unexplored for this long.  Aaron makes it seem like a natural part of his Punisher comic.

But it’s not all domestic drama.  We also see just how committed Frank really is in his hopeless struggle to put his old life behind him.  There are choices of morality aplenty and the constant sense that trouble just won’t leave Frank behind, nor will it stop from seeping into Frank’s private life.  Indeed, what is Frank’s private life?  His life at home with wife and son, or the things he has going on that he keeps secret from his family?

Most interesting, however, is Aaron’s use of Nick Fury.  Throughout the issue, the mafia is shown as the tempter, pushing, prodding, and luring Frank back to his old, bloodshedding ways.  However, in a major twist, it’s Fury who ends up being the ultimate biblical serpent.  It’s Fury who pushes Frank the hardest and tantalizes him the most.  Not only is it a surprising reversal, but it also shows how hopeless Frank’s inner struggle really is.  The “good” guys are just as bloodthirsty as the bad guys and they want Frank back behind the trigger just as much.

What’s Not So Good: Despite my praise, I didn’t feel this issue was quite as strong as the past couple of months.  I think part of that may be that things are starting to feel decompressed and stretched out a bit, something that I’ve felt throughout this series.

Aaron also spends much more of this issue in the past.  I don’t mind that at all, but I do miss his paralleling of Frank’s past and present, and when he halfway tries to pull it off at the issue’s end, it doesn’t quite slide together.

Conclusion: Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon continue to deliver a Punisher comic unlike any that has come before.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans