Pick of the Week

April 13, 2011 – Punisher Max #12

What did the
community think?

Avg Rating: 4.7
iFanboy Community Pick of the Week Percentage: 1.2%
Users who pulled this comic:
Story by Jason Aaron
Art by Steve Dillon
Colors by Matt Hollingsworth
Cover by Dave Johnson

Size: pages
Price: 3.99

It’s not a new idea or an innovative idea: drop The Punisher into prison. Mayhem ensues. We’ve seen it before as recently as 2006 in Ed Brubaker’s opening story arc on Daredevil, when both The Punisher and Daredevil ended up in prison together.

And while it may not be a new idea or an innovative idea, I still get really excited when I see that it’s going to happen because it’s an idea that can lead so many fun and, well, twisted, places.

At the end of the Punisher Max #11, Bullseye and The Punisher finally came together and fought their epic fight. At the end, they both lay broken and bloodied, ready to get carted off by the police. Nine times out of ten, in this scenario, the hero of the story finds a way to escape from the police so that his war on crime can continue unabated. Not this time. Frank’s in jail.

Being The Punisher and being in prison is so much worse than being a cop and being in prison. Sure, you both are seen as “the enemy” and you’re both responsible for putting people into that prison, but it’s worse with The Punisher. Chances are that in addition to putting you in a position for the cops to cart you off to jail, The Punisher killed and/or brutalized you and your friends and possibly your family. The hate isn’t just professional, it’s also personal.

Normally, being in a prison full of vicious criminals that hate you would not be a problem for Frank Castle. He’d just fashion a bunch of weapons from whatever was handy around his cell and go to town on anyone dumb enough to try to take him on. The problem this time is that the fight with Bullseye left him laid up in the prison hospital, three out of four limbs broken or in traction. He’s a sitting duck.

Or is he?

The wonderful thing about Punisher Max #12, and the reason why I loved it so much and made it the Pick of the Week, is that there is very little actual violence in it. It’s a very psychological issue running across two tracks.

First, we have Frank Castle, The Punisher, laying in that prison hospital bed. Not only his he physically broken from the fight with Bullseye, but mentally as well. Bullseye figured him out completely and whispered something into Frank’s ear about the day Frank’s family was killed that cut Frank to his core. And now Frank is in turmoil. He knows that he is a target for just about every inmate in that prison, he knows that his physical ability to defend himself is diminished by about 90%, and he knows it’s just a matter of time. As he lays there in bed he wonders if perhaps death is welcome. He thinks back to his time at the end of Vietnam, when he was in an army hospital and wonders if maybe he’s been chasing death ever since. He wrestles with the idea of defending himself in his broken state or letting the inevitable happen at the end of a prison made shiv.

The Punisher’s inner monologue was all very good and interesting but what made it fantastic was the juxtaposition to what was going on outside the prison hospital.

The second story in this issue focuses on the inmates trying to work up the courage to try to kill The Punisher. The first group arrives all raring to go. They’ve paid off the guards, they’re armed, and they’re pumping themselves up with stories of what The Punisher did to their friends. But wait. He’s just… laying there. This should be easy, right? But what if it’s a trap? What if he’s faking? I saw him take out 12 guys single-handled once. Hold on a second, let’s think this through. And while the first group is debating, a second group arrives. Perfect! Hey, we’re good here, why don’t you guys go on ahead! No, no, you guys were here first.

And on and on.

While laying there in traction and in emotional turmoil, the mere specter of The Punisher, and the violence that he is capable of, has paralyzed six hardcore inmates into inaction.

It was that juxtaposition of serious introspection and laugh out loud comedy that made Punisher Max #12 so good and really showed off the range of talents that writer Jason Aaron possesses. If you know him only from Scalped (and if you’re not reading that, boy, I dunno) then the fact that Jason Aaron is one of the funniest guys in comics will probably come as a surprise. He’s known best or his gritty, hardcore, and violence-filled stories, but every once in a while he works the funny bone to spectacular results. In a series like Punisher Max all of his talents are well suited. I never really got into Punisher comics for very long because I often felt like they were repetitive and unrelentingly dour. But the tone of Punisher Max is different. It’s extremely violent, yes, but on occasion the violence skirts to the edge of humor. And it’s also straight up funny, which works as a nice balancing tonic to the grim world that The Punisher inhabits. What I’m saying is that Jason Aaron is doing a fine job running in that tonal world that Garth Ennis originally created for this book.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the art team of Steve Dillon and Matt Hollingsworth. Lots of people knock Dillon’s work for not having dynamic layouts and for having a limited number of facial models for his characters. I don’t subscribe to these complaints. Dillon is one of the best storytellers around and he’s going to go down as one of the all time great comic book artists. He has that unique ability to make the over-the-top violence both shocking and funny, depending on what the story needs. The last time that I read The Punisher with any sort of regularity it was when Ennis and Dillon were running the book and I can’t imagine it looking any other way.

One more thing needs mentioning and that’s the cover by Dave Johnson. I don’t often talk abut the covers in these reviews, and if I’m bring honest, most comic book covers don’t even register with me these days, but this one made me stop and notice it. It’s stark and brutal and tells you all you need to know about what’s going on in this comic in one simple image.

Delving into the psychology of Frank Castle is always a dicey prospect. And since this is part one of a story called “Frank” I can only assume that’s what we’ll be doing. I don’t know that we want to know too much about what goes on in that head of his. Like Wolverine, the less known about The Punisher, the better. But if there is one writer that I trust to lead us down the path inside Frank’s twisted inner world it is Jason Aaron.

Conor Kilpatrick
Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.


  1. Seriously? Seriously?

    A book that dentagraded into dialogue such as ‘fuck you nigga’ adnausieum is the best of the pile this week? There was nothing special about this comic what so ever other then adding more to the fantastic run of Garth Ennis. Seriously this is just adding more to ‘I’ll just continue from Garth Ennis’s run cause I can’t think of anything else to add’ mentality Aaron has had since day one on the book.

    It’s not a bad book, it’s a soild 3 star book for me. But POTW material? Not a chance.

  2. This Punisher Max series has been fantastic! Jason Aaron writes my soul a love letter every time his pen touches paper

  3. Love it. This book has been awesome and deserves the recognition.

    The fact that it flies in the face of TNC’s recent Jason Aaron comments makes it all the more fun. 😛

  4. @TheNextChampion  You mad, brah?

  5. @TheNextChampion  You realize this is all based strictly on opinion right? You’re not a new guy man you know how the POTW works.

  6. Can’t wait

  7. @THC:  Continuing the story from the previous creator…. that’s always the case.  Bendis to Brubaker on DD.  Spider-Man, X-Men…  anything with continuity.  No one is a bigger Ennis Punisher MAX (not Marvel Knights) fan than me.  And Aaron is killing it.

  8. @UncleBob: My problem is that Ennis is just continuing the story instead of just trying to tell his own story with the character. Bendis gave Brubaker a starting point but Brubaker made it his own character by the time he wanted to leave the book. Here it’s just ‘I’ll take Ennis’s Punisher and add nothing of my own voice to it’. That’s how it reads to me.

  9. @TheNextChampion  I don’t know. I see it as quite different in many ways.  I see what you mean, but I think Aaron has his own unique voice with a little more humor than Ennis’ run.  Great series in my book.

  10. @vadamowens: Well with this issue, if you read ‘Punisher: Born’ before it then its telling you nothing different. In fact this read more like ‘deleted scenes’ from that mini that Ennis didn’t put into the book.

  11. @TheNextChampion  I’ll have to wait and see.  I don’t get my books til tomorrow

  12. I won’t read the review until I read the issue myself but I must say that I am thrilled to see this as the POTW!

  13. The last issue floored me and this one is POTW!  Can’t wait to read it later….

  14. @TNC:  good response

  15. @TheNextChampion  This is different to Ennis’ run. Stop whining about pointless BS

  16. The anti-Jason Aaron sentiment hurts your credibility as a reviewer, TheNextChampion.

    Not all opinions are equal.

  17. Trying to convince people who like something that they shouldn’t like it is a pointless endeavor. It is not the same as stating your opnion and moving on. Instead, you’re trying to gain confederates to validate your opinion. And it’s fine to have that opinion, but let it be that.

  18. This was a rough week. I had 12 books and I can’t say anything was exceptionally great. I’m not surprised this book was POTW when there were so few candidates to choose from.

  19. Great pick and it was a pretty solid week of comics for me

  20. What @josh said. And x 20. You might as well go on FoxNews.com & tell them how wrong they are.

  21. I read the first trade & I admit that it did not grab me as much as that first story arc by Ennis did, but let’s be realistic, Ennis wrote the definitive Punisher stories that truly encapsulate & define the character for the ages & to constantly compare and/or ridicule Aaron’s run based on the top quality of Ennis’ run is really unfair to Aaron b/c he is a very talented writer & I don’t think that he deserves that kind of ridicule since he really is putting his own kind of spin on the Punisher. Of course to compare Aaron’s run to Ennis’ is inevitable b/c of the high profiles these runs had/are having, but let’s not beat Aaron to death just b/c he writes a lot like Ennis, lots of comic writers take queues from Ennis & fail miserably, yet Aaron is one of the few writers who can pull off the Ennis influence in his work, while also putting his own spin on the characters. He did a great move by bringing Kingpin & Bullseye into the Punisher Max universe, but for me, I think that in that first story arc the creative team of Aaron & Dillon did not exactly click with me. Now that they are back on schedule (and hopefully keep it that way as much as possible) & with the Bullseye arc getting so much higher praise than the Kingpin arc, I might just get back on Punisher Max again. I wonder when the Bullseye trade/hardcover comes out?

  22. Funky pick.

  23. Dillion portrarys crazy better than almost any other artist I know working in the industry today. Its the way he draws the eyes. The first time you see that patient in this weeks issue, you don’t need to read a lick of dialouge or even see the fact that he is strapped down to know everything you need to know about him. I’m also some one with little paitence for the idea of Punisher in his own book, for a variety of reasons, and always feel he is best suited as that supporting character you bring in when you need to make it clear that shit is about to get real (as you guys yourselves have pointed out in the past). But damn if Aaron isn’t making me a believer. And this from someone who gave up on Punisher Max shortly into Ennis’ initial run on the title.

  24. I think this week’s pick was a plant by Axel Alonso.

    (Just kidding of course, but I had to do it after the video show.)

  25. Fox News the comic would be awesome!!!

  26. @StorytellerSJK  That’s a great observation about Dillon. Totally agree.

  27. This POTW, and the other recent praise for the series on the show, reinforces what I love about this hobby. I buy probably 120 comics a month, plus umpteen collected editions, and yet somehow I can still manage to be turned onto other stuff that I didn’t have on my pull list.  For all the problems the industry has, churning out GREAT and VARIED content is definitely not one of them.


  28. I cannot read anything that is drawn by Dillon, no matter how good the story may be. Which is a shame because I’m a fan of Jason Aaron.

  29. Not following so I cant comment. Thus I go a listen to the podcast when it comes out. Seriously people, I know it was a good week but Connor has always been good with his picks and the explanation that go down with them.

  30. Conor*. held my hand on that fun “N” key to long.

  31. @zuper: Your loss dude. Big time. 

  32. @zuper Is it some freak medical thing?

  33. A guy at my local comic shop who is a published colorist himself can’t stand Dillon, either. I disagree, but he does draw a lot of faces very similar. I happen to think Frank Quietly does too. But that’s the nature of art: some people will like it and some won’t. It’s all opinion. Just look at the comments on this: Thechangingman thought nothing this week was “exceptionally great,” while gobo said it was “solid week of comics for me.” You say poe-tay-toe, I say poe-tah-toe.

    All that said, I thought this issue was great! I haven’t read the rest of my stack, but I’m eager to see what compares.

  34. this is honestly the best marvel series out there. great pick,Conor.

  35. I agree with zuper.  Dillon’s art irks me.

  36. I actually picked up the previous eleven issues of this earlier this week, then read this one, and I really think this is a great pick.  It’s a nice shift of tone from issue 11, and takes the book in a very different direction.  One of the things I think Aaron’s done really well on this run is to find contrast for the violence that’s inherent with this character.  Be it comedy, rising tension, or just introspective moments, the book’s alot more balanced than Punisher stories often can be.  Like Conor stated, there was very little violence at all in this issue, which was a nice change from the knock-down drag-out conclusion of the previous arc.  Aaron’s got an awesome talent for keeping a character that’s often hackneyed and boring, really fresh and engaging to read.

  37. @Cornelius  @kennyg  @zuper  So have all you Dillion haters not read Preacher?

  38. @ResurrectionFlan  Hang on, I’m not a Dillon hater. That’s the guy at the shop. He won’t even read anything Dillon draws. Me, I’ve read all of Preacher, the Ennis/Dillon Punisher run, as well as some other things he’s done here and there. I think Dillon does facial expressions and action very well. But you gotta admit a lot of his faces look similar.

    But how can you not appreciate the guy who created Dogwelder?

  39. Absolutely a lot of his faces look similar, yet cats will argue to their death they don’t.

    I said the same thing about Gary Frank’s faces and caught some shit on this site months back.

    I like both these guys art but most comic artists have some weaknesses.

  40. I almost picked this up the other day on cover alone.  I’ve been curious, but Garth Ennis’s run on Punisher is hard to top for me.  Good to see some confirmation that this holds up to it.

  41. Yeah I get what you mean. I think Darwyne Cooke’s girls all look the same but I enjoy the style so I don’t really mind. 

    I don’t really think Jesse Custer looks at all like his Punisher. But he does draw a lot of square faces and gritted teeth with gaunt eyes. Dillion is the king of facial expressions reaction shots though.

  42. Naw the dude who is the king of facial expression reaction shots is the dude from Justice League International.

  43. This sounds excellent and, once again, I’m almost sold on actually reading this title at some point.

    That said…I don’t understand this whole “not knowing” thing you’re into. I literally don’t understand why not knowing about a character’s history makes them more interesting. I see “mystery” in a character’s backstory as lazy storytelling and I find no value in ignorance. Can you enlighten me?

    Great review, though.

  44. @Diabhol  I agree, what’s so bad about revealing mysterious aspects of a character? Especially if it’s done well?

  45. I have asked Marvel MDCU to start putting these up on thier service, hopefully they will be popping up soon…

  46. @josh haha no not some medical thing. I just can’t stand Dillon’s art. It’s like he has never seen a human body. His art for Ultimate Avengers was laughable.  

  47. Totally a personal opinion though. If the story is really, and I mean really, top notch then I can force my way through Dillon’s stuff. Otherwise, no thanks.

  48. I think this story actually IS adding more to the substance of the Punisher beyond the Ennis run.  primarily, it looks like we’re about to discover that Frank was going to leave his family, and telling them so right before they were murdered by the mob (which is just me speculating, of course. we still don’t know what Bullseye whispered to him in #11).  but that would mean that the Punisher has been avenging the death of a family he was about to abandon anyway for however many years it has been.  there are so many layers and so much complexity to what that would mean to Frank Castle as a character.  I just hopped back on reading Punisher recently after running screaming in the other direction from the “Frankencastle” nonsense.  I’m glad Marvel is using their MAX publisher to get back to telling some raw, more Punisher-esque fare.  #12 did not disappoint.

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