Editor's Note: PunisherMAX #5 arrives in stores tomorrow, March 10.
With this ending installment of his first storyline, writer Jason Aaron cements his position as the heir to Garth Ennis on the mature-readers version of the Punisher. He seemed to be doing well in the last four issues, but this one wrapped the story up in a tense, exciting, ultra-violent manner that befits the comic and makes one excited to see what he has in store for future issues. The Punisher is a notoriously difficult character to write well, since there just isn't that much to him, but Ennis managed to make him compelling anyway, to the point that it seemed near-impossible for anyone to follow him. Aaron seems to have finally risen to the occasion, although he did so through a bit of a dodge, spending this story introducing the Kingpin (as one of the few Marvel supervillains that works outside of the "capes and tights" milieu) to the "MAX" universe and letting the title character be more of a force of nature making his way around the sidelines.
The story was more of an origin tale than anything, featuring a believable rise of the crime lord to his position of power, but Aaron managed to humanize him and make readers understand his motivations and concerns for his family as he worked the angles to perform his violent takeover. He only briefly crossed paths with the Punisher, but this final issue ties everything together thematically, contrasting Frank Castle's motivating love of his family with the Kingpin's own love for his son, and throwing in the quest of a Mennonite assassin reminiscent of Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven to save his own family. It all wraps up quite nicely, with a brutal fight between the latter two characters and a horrifying scene in which we see what the Kingpin is willing to sacrifice to reach his goals, all underscored by excellent caption-based narration from the Kingpin and the Punisher, with the latter delivering great lines like "Must fight. Must live to kill again." It's a pretty effective tale, and it's obviously far from over.
Aaron's writing certainly works well, but it's Steve Dillonís art that enlivens the story; he's once again managed to make for some strikingly gruesome violence (broken bones! Intestines! Blood, blood, blood!) and character art that sells the emotions of the scenes, whether through teeth-gritted determination, murderous rage, cold calculation, or devastating grief. The only thing he does that doesn't necessarily appeal is draw strange trails of tears that run down characters' faces like dangling strands of spit. It's a bit off-putting, but that's just one detail among many good, effective ones.
And this isn't the end, either. Kingpin has risen to power, but that's just all the better for Frank to take him down, although the issue ends with a teaser that shows he'll have his work cut out for him, with the arrival of another supervillain import, Bullseye. We'll see how well Aaron makes him work in this gritty world, but considering how well he's done so far, it's probably nothing to worry about.
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