Punisher MAX #16

A comic review article by: Rafael Gaitan
All it took was five bullets. Sure, there were plenty more flying around that day in Central Park when Frank Castle's life was taken from him, but his entire world crumbled due to five single shells -- one hitting his wife Maria, one his daughter Lisa, one Frank Jr., and the last two hitting him dead center. He survived physically, but he'd never live again. And why five? Four indicates the perfect square, the shape of contentment, of best fit, but the fifth -- it pulls the square out to form a new shape, a distorted an uneven one. Five points that make up a shape indicates that one of them doesn't quite belong.

That day was the impetus, but as Frank himself wonders in the superb conclusion to the "Frank" arc in Punisher MAX, was he always this way? Did Vietnam take its toll? Did the loss of his family break his will or free him of his false sense of obligation to society?

Aaron continues to bust on Ennis's throne as the definitive Punisher writer, crafting issue after issue of a widespread tale that doesn't attempt to explain or mitigate for the character, as so many often do. Aaron knows what he knows about the Punisher, much like Bullseye came to conclude in that arc, but he doesn't pretend to understand him. Frank Castle is not a man to be understood. As readers we can justify, bargain, reason or collectively dispute why Frank does the things he does or when he became the unstoppable killing machine that is The Punisher, but even the man himself doesn't know. The story isn't why he does it or what made him start, but how he keeps going.

Aaron's explored that like no one has in "Bullseye," showing us a Frank that is feeling every encounter he's been put through. In this issue we have a "recuperated" Frank facing down a grenade while we flash to The Day -- we see his family and Maria, especially, whose heart he breaks mere moments before the bullets do. Aaron nails the idea that The Punisher was always going to happen -- Frank Castle, Family Man was just the identity he could never get a hold on. As he narrates, he could have told her at the breakfast table at home, and they'd still be alive. But he didn't. As Frank, having escaped from prison, arrives back at his old house for the first time in 36 years, both his story and ours as readers of the Punisher circle back -- here's a man whose finally made to confront the notion that he'll never stop, not even for a second. Making Frank's old house his new base of operations is the most fucking perfect idea for the character ever -- bravo, Mr. Aaron.

Steve Dillon's art is as brutal and clean as ever, as is his penchant for gore. Aaron and he have a creative relationship that is almost unparalleled on this character, and Aaron's gift for pacing and temporal shifting is at a razor-sharp top. Those who read Punisher comics to get their bloodlust will not be disappointed -- there's plenty of criminal brutality and even an interesting twist that actually ties all three arcs together neatly without feeling overly clever or forced, and lays the stems for the next arc, which promises to be equally as exciting and creative. Matt Hollingsworth's colors continue to energize Dillon's pencils, and his supersaturated hues, including giving the blood a pinkish tint, beautifully engender the visual style of '70s cinema, most notably the blood in Taxi Driver. That film's resonant theme has been threaded through Punisher MAX consciously and subconsciously and, whether intentional or coincidental, appears to be throroughly appropriate.

Five bullets from endless guns perforated the Castle family forever. Five little shells spiraled everything out of control. It's only fitting that this issue earn Comics Bulletin's highest rating for featuring a creative team that took such an insurmountable task and turned it into a bar that might never be touched again. While the gangsters sprayed every inch of space between them and their targets, Aaron and Dillon have unfurled their ammunition with impeccable precision. Frank's family was slain by random chance, but Aaron and Dillon have come at this project with both barrels for 16 issues, and they've made every shot count.

Rafael Gaitan was born in 1985, but he belongs to the '70s. He is a big fan of onomatopoeia, being profane and spelling words right on the first try. Rafael has a hilariously infrequent blog and writes love letters to inanimate objects as well as tweets of whiskey and the mysteries of the heart at @bearsurprise. He ain't got time to bleed.

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