Punisher Max #15

For many Garth Ennis set the benchmark for the “adult” version of Marvels moody vigilante so high, that it seemed unlikely that few, if any, would be able to reach it. In fact I believe that on a blog not to dissimilar to this one I hypothesised about that very suggestion around the start of Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon’s current run. 15 issues down and a year and a bit into its refreshed series seems as good a point as any to revisit and see how it’s getting on and what’s occurring in the current arc.

The first dozen or so issues concentrated on a reboot of some origins with the main focus on the rise of Wilson Fisk from hired muscle to the kingpin of crime. Once this pinnacle is reached we saw him set Bullseye the task of ridding him of the troublesome Frank in a fascinating storyline as the maniac assassin tries to get into the mind of Castle, in an attempt to bring him down once and for all. Much bloodshed ensued and culminated in Frank ending up where we find him currently, behind bars and waiting to be taken down.

Its while waiting in his cell we see Frank pondering not only his current situation and what appears to be his inevitable demise (he is after all an old man in a prison full of young fit psychopaths all willing to make a name for themselves) but also on his past and the events that have turned him into the man he is now.

From Vietnam via dead end jobs, and as this issue closes, plans for a picnic in the park with his family (and we all know how well that’s likely to turn out) Aaron weaves a tragic and complex tale of a man completely unable to come to terms with the fact that Vietnam has demonstrated to him what he’s best at in life, and awakened a monster inside of him.

The flashbacks are interweaved with an ever growing sense of menace and impending doom within the prison, cranked up within each issue of this series in perfect parallel to the visions of the young man trying to find his way in the world, after rotating back to the world, after his final tour of duty.

Although many of the early flashbacks chime with the Ennis book “Born” Aaron is continuing to provide fresh insight into this dark complex character, and has created a suffocating and gut wrenching atmosphere in the story, which as it climaxes leaves the reader breathless and clamouring for the next instalment.

In fact what Aaron has achieved, is allowing this fan to move on completely from the Ennis run and has offered a new and equally compelling take on the character, and in doing so has done what I though impossible; creating a set of stories that are just as gripping and enthralling as its previous incarnation. If this arc is evidence of Arrons deep understanding of his character (just like Bullseye he has REALLY gotten under Frank’s skin) then this book will be heralded as a truly lasting piece of work in time too.

Steve Dillon’s art compliments perfectly with the clean and precise story telling, and I guess also has the bonus of keeping established fans happy, but it’s the scripting of the book that rises it above others who have tired to take on the Punisher. Jason Aaron is a great writer of comic books, but (for me at the very least) might just be producing some of his best work right here.

This arc is close to finishing so it’s admittedly a little late to jump on, but collected this is going to have pride of place on any Punisher fans shelf. In fact any comic book fan. A genuine classic in the making.