THE HUNTED: Benson & Campbell Talk "Punisher MAX Annual" #1

The world of organized crime may be populated by gun-toting hard cases, but even they're afraid of something. As Marvel Comics fans know, the mob's boogieman is a heavily armed vigilante called the Punisher, and this September, in the pages of "Punisher MAX Annual" #1, a low level gangster finds his worst nightmares have come true: he's "The Hunted." CBR News spoke with the creators behind this tale of hot pursuit and the frantic fight for survival, writer Mike Benson ("Moon Knight") and artist Laurence Campbell ("Wolverine").

"When I first jumped back into comics I didn't know ['Punisher MAX' Editor] Axel Alonso or his body of work," Mike Benson told CBR News. "Later, I learned he worked very closely with Garth Ennis on 'Preacher' back in the day. So I started reading Garth's work including a bunch of his Punisher books. And just like that I was hooked. I really got into the 'Punisher MAX' books. I started reading every Punisher book I could get my hands on. That's how I fell in love with the character."

Alonso was also responsible for recruiting Laurence Campbell to illustrate "Punisher MAX Annual." "It was at the end of 'Wolverine'# 49. Axel had me in mind for the annual and sent me the script," Campbell said. "I read it and frankly loved it. It pressed all the right buttons for me. Cold, dark cityscapes, all very moody and claustrophobic. I'd been looking for a script that I could ink myself and this one felt right.

"I hadn't read 'Punisher MAX' before," Campbell continued. "I'd loved Ennis's Preacher but I guess Punisher had just passed me by. I bought a few issues to see what it was like, those few issues turned into two graphic novels and I've been buying 'Punisher MAX' regularly now. It's great, my dose of 'Taxi Driver' every month."

After reading a number of Ennis' Punisher stories, Benson made a decision about the type of tale he wanted to tell. "What I really did not want to do was to compete in the same arena as Garth. Honestly, I thought at this point Garth did it all and better than anyone else," Benson explained. "So I wanted to come at this book in a different way. After bouncing around ideas with Axel Alonso, we eventually settled on telling the story through the eyes of a crew member."

"Punisher MAX Annual" #1 stars Eddie Gands. "This is a guy who's low on the totem pole. He's not Tony Soprano," Benson said. "He's this street level kind of guy in a gang that has ties to much higher people, but Eddie and his crew are the ones who did the grunt work; heisting cars, running numbers, intimidation, collecting debts, a lot of the physical stuff that needs to get done."

As "The Hunted" opens, Eddie Gands is the sole surviving member of his crew and the Punisher is hot on his heels-- but he's got a plan, albeit a desperate one. "Eddie knows the streets really well. He's a guy who has to call on all his street connections and resources in order to survive," Benson explained. "You have to think he's come into contact with and pissed off other guys in crews and now he's basically relying on those people to help him out. How do you navigate these waters and manipulate people into helping you after you've burnt them.

"He's a con man," Benson continued. "That's one of the many things he does. He's relying on two of the things that he's always relied on: his quick tongue and street knowledge. But what do you do when the guy who is chasing you is the most dangerous guy in the world?

In Benson and Campbell's "The Hunted," the Punisher comes across not as a man but an unstoppable killing machine. "The Punisher is basically a force of nature." Benson stated. "And he's out to get Eddie."

"Imagine you're on the run at night in New York, a man armed, with a skull on his chest chasing you," Campbell added. "You're going to get the fear, maybe even paranoid. The Punisher is a cold, brutal man."

The Punisher and Eddie's game of high stakes cat-and-mouse will unfold over the course of one evening. "I really wanted this story to have a frenetic feel to it," Benson said. "Hopefully, it leaves the reader feeling like a time bomb is ticking. There's no room to breathe.

"It sort of ends in Sheep's Meadow in Central Park but it takes place all over the city and underground," Benson continued. "The way I wrote the script, and I think Laurence Campbell did a great job with this, is I wanted the city to almost feel like one of the characters in the script."

"I loved drawing the city at night," Campbell said. "Eddie moves around certain areas of New York, so I had to ask a friend who lives there to take a few reference shoots for me."

Benson wanted Eddie's flight from the Punisher to evoke a particular feel. "I'm a huge fan of Michael Mann's films and I thought for this type of story that would be a perfect tone," the writer said. "I wanted capture that dark, slick, sort of brash feeling. And Laurence captured it perfectly. He captured the feeling of 'Collateral' and 'Heat,' that sort of steel blue, wet, slick feel. He created this beautiful, dusty, gritty oil painting."

"I've been looking to ink myself for a while now and this script really suited what I wanted to do," Campbell said. "I'm a big fan of noir and I loved the coldness of Michael Mann films so they are certainly an influence. I drew two pages up and inked them myself. It felt right, and Axel agreed."

When Campbell first read Benson's script for "Punisher MAX Annual" #1, he was concerned with doing it justice, but ultimately he was very pleased with his work on the book. "I feel like I've raised my bar drawing this comic. I'm inking myself and it feels good," he said. "I had a great script and great editors, giving advice and letting you get on with it."

Benson too was immensely pleased with Campbell's art for "The Hunted," and Campbell enjoyed bringing to life Benson's script for the story. "Mike's great. Seriously his script is full of visual treats," Campbell stated. "No impossible shots. The dialogue is sharp. I'll certainly be checking out his 'Moon Knight.' Hopefully we'll get to work together again sometime in the future."

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