Friday, April 16, 2010

The Punisher MAX

I’m a fanatic for the Punisher. For a few years now, the stories of Frank Castle and his never-ending mission of vengeance have been the most compelling thing going in comics, especially in the wake left by the end of 100 Bullets. Describing the character of the Punisher is tough—to call him an “anti-hero” isn’t exactly right, because there’s nothing heroic about what he does. In many ways, he’s every bit as villainous as the mobsters, rapists, terrorists, dealers and pimps he slaughters; that, of course, is what makes him so damn interesting.
A few months ago, Marvel re-launched the Punisher for the umpteenth time, putting Jason Aarons behind the wheel as writer and the legendary Steve Dillon riding shotgun as artist. They had a tough act to follow. Garth Ennis had revitalized the Punisher some years earlier, and no one else had been able to live up to the Ennis standard.
I’m happy to say that Aarons is off to a great goddamn start.
The first story arc of Punisher MAX*, “Kingpin”, is chock-full of exploding heads, popping eyeballs, gratuitous use of the f-bomb, and even naked old ladies (if you’re into that sort of thing…). The story: after thirty years of getting slaughtered by Frank Castle, the heads of a bunch of crime families get together and hatch a scheme—since Castle usually works from the top down, simply create a fictional Kingpin to keep him occupied. But the mobsters have no idea that their enforcer, Wilson Fisk, plans to turn the charade into a reality. Right under his bosses’ noses, he begins steps to take over the entire criminal empire.
The Punisher has his work cut out for him just trying to figure out if the Kingpin is even real. Things get much, much worse when the mobsters sic a monstrously tough killer called the Mennonite on him, and we become witness to the most brutal fight I’ve seen in a comic in a long time. Broken hands, broken noses, broken ribs. Sledgehammers, knifes, chains… even a horse-drawn carriage becomes a weapon.
So the big fun of Punisher MAX is the unbelievable carnage and bloodshed. It’s the sleazy bosses, homicidal maniacs, black humor. But mostly it’s the unrepentant cold-bloodedness and single-mindedness of the Punisher himself. Aarons gets it, just the way Ennis did.
BTW, if you pick these books up, be sure to get the right ones. Marvel has two Punisher titles on-going currently—this one, and another simply called “The Punisher” that takes place in the Marvel Universe. They’ve just turned Castle into a patchwork Frankenstein monster in that one. Good luck to them, I guess… I’ll stick with Punisher MAX.

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