Friday, January 15, 2010

Punishermax #1-3 by Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon

I have to admit that I like the bizarre naming conventions of mainstream super-hero comics that Tom Spurgeon makes fun of. "Punishermax" isn't as gloriously, needlessly confusing and baroque as, say, Final Crisis Aftermath Dance, but there's still something off about it. For one thing, shouldn't the "Max" Punisher title be the one where he's running around as a Frankenstein monster killing zombies? So far, this is much more like Punishermin or Punishercomparativelylowkey.

Punishermax is the follow up to Marvel's MAX-imprint Punisher series, written first by Garth Ennis and titled The Punisher MAX, which changed to The Punisher: Frank Castle MAX after Ennis left and Duane Swierczynski took over.* Jason Aaron's brief seems to be to MAX-ify certain elements of the Marvel U that Ennis had left out of his MAX stories. (As far as I know, the only Marvel U character in Ennis' MAX series was Nick Fury, but I could be missing someone). First up, the Kingpin.

So far, this is a "just OK" Punisher comic: there's nothing revelatory about it. Unlike Ennis' work, I doubt this has the power to convert doubters into Punisher fans. Aaron's take on Frank Castle is pretty standard and what he's doing with Wilson Fisk a.k.a. the Kingpin seems like retcon-101. Part of the appeal of crazy-ass super-hero comic villains is that they are larger than life, so making a more "realistic" version of the Kingpin undercuts the character and turns him into a much more conventional crime fiction bad guy. The original villains Ennis created for his Punisher MAX series were more copelling and had a lot more personality than what's on display here.

And though I like Steve Dillon's work in general (he is one of the few "mainstream" artists for whom I've stood in line to get a sketch and signature), his work here reminds me too strongly of the pre-MAX Marvel Knights Punisher series he did with Ennis, which was heavy on slapstick, splatterstick, and jokey black comedy. Dillon's deadpan style is perfect for that kind of over-the-top take on the concept, but when combined with Aaron's understated, more conventional approach it becomes a bit underwhelming. Dillon and Aaron both put all the pieces in the right place, but the picture that emerges isn't (yet) that compelling.

*Gregg Hurwitz also wrote five issues in between Ennis and Swierczynski.

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