Friday, 27 November 2015

The Punisher MAX: Frank Review (Jason Aaron, Steve Dillon)

Frank’s final encounter with Bullseye has left him half-dead and in prison. But what’s really shaken him are the words Bullseye whispered to him right at the end of the last book – the words he figured out that Frank said to his wife before she was killed along with their kids all those years ago. As Frank slowly heals, the prison gangs are circling him like vultures, waiting for their moment to slay the Punisher once and for all. 

First Kingpin, then Bullseye, now it’s Frank’s turn to take the spotlight. Garth Ennis’ thesis on his Punisher run was that the Punisher was “born” in Vietnam, not that day in Central Park when mobsters killed his family (which always felt like a shaky origin at best). Jason Aaron develops that idea further, picking up from The Punisher Born’s ending and showing us what happened next. How Frank tried settling into civilian life, working a regular job, being a good husband and father – and failing utterly at them all. 

Aaron reframes the death in the park scenario from being this tragic trigger point to a green light for Frank to be the person he wanted/needed to be: The Punisher. It’s brilliant – such an inspired take! It’s so genius, especially with the pages building up to that moment and the panel right before it happens, I’d say it’s the best origin the character could’ve ever had. Aaron digs deep into Frank’s psyche to provide convincing arguments for how the Punisher came to be that are far beyond any expectations readers may have going into this book. It makes so much sense – simply amazing writing. 

The way he and artist Steve Dillon play out his past home life alongside his present-day prison life, while not exactly subtle, hammers home the themes of isolation and restriction Frank finds ordinary life to be. Dillon’s strengths as an artist are in his figures. His panels are almost always filled with one or more characters close up – he doesn’t do landscapes or wide shots, or anything very experimental really. But he’s so good at what he does, and that’s people, particularly their facial expressions – nobody else comes close to his style. Dillon’s work on the series continues to impress. 

The acid test for determining a great Punisher writer is being able to write a great story with Frank front and centre because, generally speaking, he works best skulking in the background waiting for his moment to rain down righteous fury; Jason Aaron passes the test effortlessly. He humanises Frank in a way few have done before and slowly shows us the creation of the monster. There’s also a darkness at the heart of the Punisher but it’s not what you think. 

Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon’s re-examination of The Punisher is already a stone-cold masterpiece – and there’s still one more book left to go! Aaron displays remarkable insight and a unique understanding of The Punisher making this third volume, Frank, arguably the single best book on the character ever written.

The Punisher MAX: Frank

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