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What's Cool in Comics: Punisher Max

Written By: Les Talma

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PUNISHER MAX SERIES

Written by: Jason Aaron

Illustrated by: Steve Dillon

Published by: “Max Comics” label of Marvel

Current Issue: #13 released on 5/10/11

Why it’s cool: For the first time, The Kingpin/Wilson Fisk is introduced into the world of the Garth Ennis style Punisher.

The “Max” line of Marvel comics contains explicit content that is intended for older audiences so it’s a perfect fit for telling Punisher stories. This newer “PunisherMax” series continues with the precedent that Garth Ennis set with his previous "Max Punisher" series. It’s more grounded in reality than the regular super-hero populated worlds we usually see.

The approach: This is bare bones Punisher. It’s his world, and it’s completely separate from all the “Civil War”, “Age of Heroes”, and “Fear Itself” storylines that occur in the main continuity of Marvel comics. It’s just the Punisher. No super-heroes. No “FrankenCastle”… just pure, gritty, deeply-disturbing storytelling.

What sets it apart: There are so many Punisher comics and one shots out there. But with this one, there’s a continuous storyline that been building right from issue 1, where a bodyguard named Fisk was introduced. The self-contained, continuity and careful pacing allow the reader to experience the storyline as if it were an episodic drama presented on AMC or Showtime.

At the same time it draws cleverly on ideas explored in previous stories like Garth Ennis’ “Born” storyline which showed how the genesis of the Punisher started with Frank Castle’s experiences in Vietnam. The Steve Dillon interior artwork also acts as a visual bridge to Ennis’ previous “Max Punisher” series, since Dillon did most of the artwork for that series too.

What’s old is New: Frank Castle, meet Wilson Fisk… That’s right, the Kingpin never appeared in the Garth Ennis run of the Punisher series. The Ennis’ Punisher always dealt with mob families led by characters like “Ma” Gnucci. This new creative team introduces Fisk into a world that has never heard of a Kingpin of Crime. 

This series shows what impact the Kingpin’s arrival has on the Punisher, and then the greater carnage that is incited with the introduction of  Bullseye. This version of  Bullseye doesn’t have extraordinary Marvel-type abilities. He’s just a guy who’s really good at hunting people and killing them.  He has a focused insanity that seems to rival that of the Punisher. Bullseye profiles his prey in a way that we usually see FBI profilers do in serial killer thrillers. But in this case, it’s a very unsettling, obsessive approach that Bullseye uses when he pushes himself to psychotic extremes in order to find a way to get into Frank Castle’s head.

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The Art: Unfortunately, no Tim Bradstreet covers this time, as in the previous Max Punisher series. But that’s ok. The covers by Dave Johnson have taken on a striking, eye catching, almost abstract, graphic design approach that differs from the typical covers sported on popular comics. Johnson’s covers go for a more hallucinatory aspect than the standard “pop a dramatic pose” approach.

The interior art is handled by Steve Dillon who already has a lot of experience drawing the Punisher. So, his classic, straight-forward, narrative storytelling really has an impressive visual punch here.

The Story So Far: 

Issues 1-5: “Kingpin”: The mob families plan to create a fake “Kingpin” to distract the Punisher. A deceptively clever mob bodyguard named Wilson Fisk has his own plans on how to use this plot for his personal gain.

Issues 6-11: “Bullseye”: Fisk hires an assassin named “Bullseye” to kill the Punisher. Bullseye has a reputation for never failing to kill a target, no matter who it is. He doesn’t have any mutant powers for unerring accuracy, but he is a crazy and unrelenting force that won’t stop till the mission is done.

Issue 12: This is an epilogue to the Bullseye vs. Punisher storyline and is a bridge into the next storyline entitled “Frank”.

Issue 13: A recovering Frank is reflecting on what happened when he first got back from Vietnam. And how very hard it was to fit back into a normal civilian life…

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Favorite parts:
  • How brilliantly cold and strategic Wilson Fisk is. He takes time to plan and consider everything very carefully. Then he acts with cold calculation, and people never see it coming. It’s amazing watching him build a new persona for himself from scratch with such an absolute commitment to his goal.

  • How Bullseye laughs when a target believes that the assassin can kill by merely flicking a toothpick.. (It’s a nice riff on how the character isn’t mutant powered as in previous incarnations.)

  • The way Bullseye is captivated by how the Punisher kills like a force of nature.  He’s never seen anyone kill the way the Punisher does. It’s like having the chance to watch Rembrandt paint.

  • The subliminal effect of how the slightly older Punisher is drawn in such a wrinkle-etched way that he starts to resemble the “Saint of All Killers” from Ennis and Dillon’s “Preacher” series.

  • The surprisingly candid discussion Bullseye has with Fisk’s wife, Vanessa, about the slippery slope of becoming a cold-blooded killer and developing a psychotic break from reality.

  • The secret that Bullseye figures out about the Punisher’s past that completely blindsides Castle.

Negative Points:

  • Sometimes the raunchy humor can go a little bit overboard and get too juvenile. Dark humor can be very effective, but when it lingers on bathroom humor like in the scene where Bullseye is smuggling a weapon in his nether regions, it can be less effective, even detrimental to the impact of the scene. But still, it breaks the tension.
  • At times, the fight scenes seem to take up too much of an issue. This is seen more in the Bullseye storyline than in the Kingpin issues. It could be due to the artist trying to catch back up with deadlines after the comic was delayed for months. And it could also be because Bullseye’s definition of conversation and dialogue is violence and fighting.

Summing Up: Definitely worth reading since it actually adds something to the Punisher mythos instead of just merely rehashing familiar mobster-types for Castle to kill. The comic takes it time in re-examining and revealing surprising depth to characters that had started to become stale and cliché in the regular Marvel universe. It’s doing a fantastic job of showing that there’s so much more to the story of how and why Castle became such an efficient bogeyman for mobsters and killers. Apparently, losing his family was just the tip of something that had been building slowly for years.

Also, there was a 6 month gap between issues 9 and 10 because of a delay in the release of the issues, but things are back on course now. The issues have been coming out in a very timely pattern.