In 2004, Marvel launched "Punisher MAX," a new series depicting Frank Castle's brutal and ultra-violent war against criminal scum. Since then, the series has become the flagship of the MAX line, Marvel's mature readers imprint. The hugely acclaimed first sixty issues were penned by Garth Ennis, who ended his run on the book in 2008. The series has since been renamed as "Punisher: Frank Castle MAX," and crime novelists like Gregg Hurwitz, Duane Swierczynski and Victor Gischler have written well received arcs.
This fall, a new era begins for Frank Castle's MAX adventures when writer Jason Aaron and artist Steve Dillon take over the series and kick off a story that pits the Punisher against two familiar and very deadly enemies. CBR News spoke with Aaron about the book, which re-launches in November with a new #1 issue as "PunisherMAX."
When Jason Aaron ("Scalped," "Wolverine: Weapon X") first started working with Marvel several years ago, he expressed interest in tackling the Punisher. Of course, "PunisherMAX" is an assignment the writer's very excited about, but Aaron's also a little intimidated about playing in the house that Garth Ennis built. "As far as I'm concerned, the 60 or so issues that Garth did of 'Punisher MAX' are not only the best Punisher stories that have ever been told, but they're also some of the best comics of the last several years," Aaron told CBR. "I like the Marvel Knights Punisher stuff that Garth did with Steve Dillon, but the MAX stories are my favorite. As far as I'm concerned you're stepping in after a guy who's done the definitive take on the character."
"I wasn't the first guy to follow Garth, though!" laughed Aaron. "Gregg, Duane and Victor have all done great stories and they had to bear the brunt of following right after Garth. It's always a little intimidating taking over these company-owned characters with huge histories, especially if some of your favorite creators have worked on them. But at the same time that's kind of what's exciting about it. You get to make your own mark on that character."
The types of stories Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon will tell in "PunisherMAX" are very similar to those of Garth Ennis and his various artistic collaborators - with one big exception. "With my first arc we're kicking off one big, long story; there will be carryover from arc to arc," Aaron explained. "I loved how in Garth's run it felt like you'd have a new book every five or six issues. There would be some carryover but you could pretty much pick up any arc of the series and get everything you needed to know from it. That's actually what I'm trying to do right now with 'Wolverine: Weapon X' but with 'PunisherMAX' we're doing a more long form story."
"PunisherMAX" pits Frank Castle against MAX counterparts of two of his most cunning Marvel Universe foes, Bullseye and Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin. "The idea of being able to introduce some Marvel characters into the book was something I found really exciting and it gave a new twist to things," Aaron said. "Instead of me just coming on to do the same types of stories Garth had done so well for so long, this was my chance to mix it up and do something different.
"This story is the Punisher's war against the Kingpin and Bullseye and where that leaves him as a character. Frank is going to have a hard time bringing the Kingpin down. All told, I think this story will be Frank's biggest challenge. It will take him lower than he's ever been and to some dark places that he never wanted to go to. So it's going to be a real challenge for him to face all the enemies that are lining up against him."
The MAX versions of The Kingpin and Bullseye will still be recognizable to fans, but their introduction to the overtly gritty "PunisherMAX" means the characters will have undergone some changes. "We meet Wilson Fisk in the first arc and it gives his origin. He's not the Kingpin yet. He's a bodyguard for a mob figure," Aaron explained. "So the first arc is really about how he becomes the Kingpin; the plot which he devises and how the Punisher plays a part in that. And with the Kingpin around obviously Bullseye is not going to be too far behind."
"Bullseye won't be in costume," Aaron continued. "Everything in the 'PunisherMAX' world has to be real. Everything these characters do needs to be something that people can actually do. So we won't see Bullseye killing people with toothpicks or playing cards. It will be a different take on the character but something that still stays true to what he is; he's the assassin who never misses."
With the Punisher facing down the Kingpin, Bullseye and hordes of other enemies in Aaron's story, one thing is for certain - there will be blood, and lots of it. "Steve Dillon has gotten to draw some of the stuff you'd expect to see Steve draw in terms of outrageous violence and bodily harm that befalls various people," Aaron said. "I think it's exactly the sort of stuff that people want to see Steve draw and it's what Steve was born to draw."
For Jason Aaron, working with Dillon on "PunisherMAX" has proven to be a highly enjoyable but sometimes scary experience. "It's not just the Punisher work that Steve did with Garth, but I'm also the world's biggest 'Preacher' fan. Every week it came out, it was the first book at the top of my stack; I loved it," the writer stated. "And getting these first few pages from Steve was one of the most surreal and incredible experiences of my career. It's a huge thrill to be working with him."
"PunisherMAX" will be similar to Jason Aaron's stint on "Ghost Rider" in that he's interested in telling one long tale with a beginning, middle and end. But the writer isn't ruling out taking another tour of duty with Frank Castle once he finishes chronicling the campaign against the Kingpin. "We'll see. I think I've got more Punisher stories in me," Aaron said. "Right now I'm just planning for this and working to give fans something that will satisfy their need to see the Punisher blow away people and inflict great damage on them, but at the same time something that will explore a little of his character."
"PunisherMAX" #1 goes on sale in November from MAX Comics.