Right away there’s something different about this issue; from page one. Penciller Dougie Braithwaite. Braithwaite is thrilled to be doing Punisher, you can tell from the detail—I still want to know what’s on the counter next to Frank in the opening scene, presumably a menu but who knows—and he works his ass off on it. So there’s two pages of this great art, then comes the next big difference—narration. Ennis is finally comfortable with Frank narrating his scenes. And he narrates all of his scenes in this issue, even the one where he’s palling around with Nick Fury.
I don’t know if it’s Nick Fury MAX from Ennis’s Fury MAX series; I can’t remember that book. Doesn’t matter. Punisher MAX’s Nick Fury has been around since Vietnam, knows Frank from then, lost S.H.I.E.L.D. to bureaucrats, wants to get it back post 9/11. How’s he going to get it back? By sending Frank on a secret mission and currying favor with the generals who can revitalize the spy org. The bar scene between Fury and Frank is awesome. Ennis likes getting to do the mix, likes getting to do the “real” take on the weathered old warriors.
Meanwhile, the generals are cooking up their own scheme to “help” Fury, which has something to do with a plane full of terrorists. It’s the issue’s cliffhanger because Ennis has so nicely resolved Frank and Fury’s scene.
The issue’s assured, restrained, and bold. Frank takes out a bunch of Russian mob thugs but Braithwaite and Ennis don’t focus on the action violence, rather Frank’s perception of it. With excellent narration. There are some “MAX” violence moments, of course, but Ennis and Braithwaite saves those for the most emphasis. Even with a lot of narration from Frank, the comic still shows rather than tells. And the way it cuts between scenes is fantastic. It goes from Frank to Fury to Frank to Frank and Fury to the cliffhanger. Braithwaite handles the various locations beautifully (again, it’s clear he’s enthusiastic about this book, he puts a lot into the art). And it’s what Punisher needs, someone to not just take it as seriously as Ennis, but be able to show that seriousness. Braithwaite does.
The issue raises a bunch of questions, multiple plot hooks, and none of them are anywhere near as interesting as Frank. Thanks to that narration. It’s all happening around him.
Basically Punisher MAX #13 is when Ennis has truly figured out how to write Punisher MAX but also has a penciller who knows how to draw it.