I have to give Jason Aaron credit. His first storyline in “Punisher MAX” and introducing his own version of the Kingpin was much more successful than one would have expected. It helped a great deal that Aaron played it completely serious; it was a story about a guy who rose to the top of organized crime and became a literal kingpin. So when the follow-up, “Bullseye,” was announced, I had high hopes.
Unfortunately, “played it completely serious” isn’t a phrase I’d use to describe “Punisher MAX” #6. Aaron’s script seems a little looser and less serious; we’ve got fart jokes, talks about prostate exams, and a grinning and gun-wielding Bullseye telling an older woman to hold the elevator for him. In some ways this issue of “Punisher MAX” reminds me more of the Marvel Knights incarnation of “The Punisher” when Garth Ennis was on board — not quite the grim, set-in-our-world version of Ennis’s MAX series, but not the Marvel Universe either.
The frustrating thing is, this shift in story tone kept throwing me out of the comic. Maybe if “Punisher MAX” had always come across in this way it might not feel quite so jarring, but coupled with a goofy-looking Bullseye courtesy Steve Dillon and at times this actually felt a bit silly. If you boil the book down to an outline it’s not that way at all, though. This issue’s events are still grim and dark, and if told in a slightly different manner it would feel like a completely different comic. The idea of the Punisher being hunted by the world’s most ruthless assassin is a good one, so that’s certainly not the problem.
It is hard to not wonder if part of the problem has to do with Dillon’s art. I’m not saying that Dillon can’t handle serious stories, because he’s certainly proven that over the years. But Dillon is just as likely to draw a slightly goofy looking comic, and that’s what we’re getting here. Bullseye doesn’t ever come across as menacing or dangerous, even when he’s killing an entire crime family. Dillon makes him look slightly ridiculous, and I think that could be part of why the mood of the book feels so off. When we get to a series of perfectly shaped blood splatters serving as a trail of a fleeing victim, it’s hard to not think that it looks like a ketchup commercial or maybe some sort of strange cartoon. It’s just not quite working.
Hopefully, later issues of “Punisher MAX” can slide back to the tone that the earlier issues of this new series had. It’s hard to keep from wondering what this script would have been like had, say, Goran Parlov or Leandro Fernandez drawn this instead. But right now, it’s strangely off-balance.