With the first story arc in “Punishermax” concluded, Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon have definitely proven the ideas that no one could follow Garth Ennis on a Punisher book aimed at mature readers and that it was a mistake to introduce a character like Wilson Fisk to be wrong. I’ll admit, I definitely thought both of those to be the case, but Aaron and Dillon have crafted five issues is tense, exciting action to show the rise of Fisk from bodyguard to Kingpin that it’s hard to deny them their due. Not that I would want to, of course.
Fisk has arranged for the deaths of the remaining mob bosses in New York, funneled their resources to setting up his power base, and even has the Punisher on the run thanks to the Mennonite, who may kill the famed vigilante. Except for course, Rigoletto, Fisk’s boss, has Fisk’s wife and son hostage. While the Punisher is ostensibly the star of this comic, this is the plot that’s driven the story forward so far and left Frank Castle seeming like a guest-star in his own title. All of the emotional impact is in Fisk’s decision: save his family or save his ambition to be the Kingpin.
I think you can guess which option he chooses, but that choice is carried out with such coldness that it’s shocking since Fisk has, to this point, been shown as a devoted family man. It’s been his one redeeming characteristic and, seemingly, the thing that drives him on, makes him want to achieve. Apparently, he was fooling himself and us since he chooses power over family and the results are horrifying. The aftermath is even worse as his reaction to his choice is haunting in its coldness. ‘Coldness’ doesn’t even capture what he tells his wife when the dust has settled.
The Punisher is somewhat ancillary in this issue as his fight with the Mennonite is concluded and connected thematically to Fisk’s rise to power and decision. The story is obviously one of fathers and sons, specifically fathers who choose their own obsessions and faults over what’s best for their sons. The way in which Frank is drawn into this theme pushes it a little, but it’s the issue’s one failing.
Steve Dillon’s art has a thicker line here than usual with Matt Hollingsworth using two different color schemes for the two plots, which sets them apart nicely. Dillon is best when he’s depicting people in tough situations, ones that require they visibly react and this issue is nothing but those situations. Extreme violence with strong emotional undercurrents give Dillon plenty of chances to show the emotions people wear on their faces, something he does better than almost every other artist. From the determination of Fisk’s face to the fatigue on Frank’s to the regret that the Mennonite feels just before his end, Dillon’s art is strong enough that it fits the old cliche that great comic art should work without the words.
The first story arc of “Punishermax” has been a resounding answer to those that thought that Garth Ennis ‘ruined’ the Punisher for future writers, as Jason Aaron told an emotionally powerful and impactful story using, of all people, Wilson Fisk. And the story’s not over as this issue concludes with a set-up for the next arc: “Bullseye.” I can’t wait.