Of all the things I’d expected from “Punishermax,” the awkwardly-named successor to the mature readers “Punisher” title under the MAX imprint, a revamped Kingpin origin was not high on the list. That’s what Jason Aaron offers up here, though; while the face and body and name might be the same for Wilson Fisk, this story of the Kingpin is a distinctly different take on an old idea. It actually reminds me of the original thrust of Marvel’s “Ultimate” line, where the names were the same but the character ideas were distilled down into something slightly different while retaining the same core concept. (Later it turned into a chance to randomly kill analogues of beloved characters, but that’s another story entirely.)
Here, Aaron shows just how a Kingpin of crime is truly created. As Wilson Fisk and the Punisher delicately circle one another within the city, it’s a frightening and deadly dance that has grim consequences for anyone caught up in their orbits. Aaron gets the balance just right here; a combination of flashbacks and present day scenes for Fisk, and actions and reactions from the Punisher as the deadly trap is set in a way that plays to the Punisher’s strengths and weaknesses. For a book that has no direct confrontation between the two characters, there’s a lot of interaction between this similar-yet-different duo, and it’s solidified in my mind that Aaron is someone who really gets what Garth Ennis did with the “Punisher” MAX series. Aaron builds on that foundation left behind, but also isn’t afraid to take his own steps forward and avoids being a carbon copy.
Ennis’ collaboration with Steve Dillon brought the Marvel Knights imprint “Punisher” back to life, so I actually found myself a little surprised that Dillon’s art didn’t 100% click with me here. I think it’s because while Dillon is perfect for that mixture of drama and humor that Ennis put in those early “Punisher” stories — to say nothing of other books like “Hellblazer” and “Preacher” that rightfully made Dillon a superstar — Aaron’s script is so grim and relentless that the slightly goofy faces and such don’t always feel like they fit. There are scenes where Dillon is just about there, but even then it’s hard not to notice the cross-eyed expression of the guy getting killed by the Punisher, for example. Every time I think the silly faces are gone, Dillon sneaks one back in. Still, when Dillon’s on, he’s the gold standard. The look on Fisk’s face while being attacked in prison is chilling, and the young Fisk talking to his father hits every needed emotion in such a way that if you’d stripped out the word balloons the scene would still make sense.
Post-Ennis, a mature readers “Punisher” book that entertained me was something I’d given up on. It’s nice to see that with Aaron at the helm, I’ve got that back again. Relentlessly creepy, Aaron’s knocking it out of the park.