True Punishment is Living With the Pain.

"PunisherMax" #12 from MAX Comics (an imprint of Marvel Comics)

Ever found it hard caring about Frank Castle? Mr. Punishment? Or maybe you've never heard of the Marvel Comics superhero The Punisher: Vietnam veteran watches his entire family shot to death for accidentally witnessing a mafia assassination, Castle vows vengeance and becomes a Batman-like avenging demon of a man. The difference between Bruce Wayne and Frank Castle is that Wayne refuses to murder people under any circumstances and Castle has no such reservations. For better or for worse.

The title for the new story-arc that started in this issue of "PunisherMAX" is simply "Frank" and writer Jason Aaron is presenting a somewhat different version of the character here. The Punisher's origins have been covered pretty extensively by Garth Ennis, the man who revitalized the character about a decade ago in the mini-series "Punisher: Born". But Ennis' "Born" was the story of Castle's time 'in-country' and very little work has been done, to this writer's knowledge, with the period between returning from Southeast Asia and his destined vows to death and violence. We get to see a bit of it in smart flashbacks and hear Frank Castle describe it in his own words in this issue.

Aaron's (@jasonaaron) writing is razor sharp, Steve Dillon's art does its usual job of making hollowed-eyed faces communicate so much sadness, and Matt Hollingsworth's (@MDHollingsworth) colors really bring strong overtones to the scenes both in the present and in the past, with divergent 'cool' and 'warm' tones to differentiate them.

This story opens soon after the events of the last issue in which the Marvel MAX universe version of the villain Bullseye has just completely destroyed the Punisher. Broken his limbs and bruised his body, shattered his spirit, and got him arrested. Somehow Bullseye brought the memories of the family he lost pouring back into Frank's mind. And that's the real torture:
"The pain of death is hollow. After all, dying you only gotta do once. ... But the pain of living just goes on and on. ... It's the living that scares me. Always has been."
Holy crap. Intense and disturbing. War turned Frank into a monster hiding just below the surface, waiting for an excuse.

All this is revealed and laid out for us while Frank lays barely alive in a prison hospital ward, awaiting the gangs of cons who's friends he's killed to come in the night. When they do... man I don't want to spoil that moment. Too good. I rarely do this, but you should read it for yourself. Gasp-worthy and hilarious.

I was truly blown away by this material and I'm making a safe bet that you will be too. The entire issue is a tight machine of a character analysis. If you're a Punisher fan, if you're an Aaron fan, or simply if you can stomach some serious violence and seriously disturbing concepts related to trauma and war you must do yourself the favor of looking for the twelfth issue of "PunisherMAX".

~ @JonGorga

Oh and P.S.? The cover by Dave Johnson brilliantly turns the symbol of the Punisher, the elongated skull, into the key that locks him in...

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