Page 45 Review by Publisher Blurb
Originally collected separately as 'Kingpin', Bullseye'. 'Frank' and 'Homeless', this comes to you from the writer of SCALPED (South Dakota crime and grime in the wake of the great Sioux Nation) and the artist on PREACHER (bigger body count than Nick Cave's 'Murder Ballads' LP).
Highly recommended, then, but before we begin, I would remind you that 'Max' indicates 16+
Punisher Max: Kingpin
"My eyes, Jesus Christ... I can't... Are we going to the hospital now?"
"Sure thing, Joey."
"I don't know, do they just... just stuff 'em back in or
"This is far enough."
"What? But we... but this... This isn't the hospital."
"Shut the fuck up, Joey."
"Oh fuck, I been shot, I been shot! Oh fuck! Oh God in heaven, am I... am I dead?"
Intense, non-continuity punishment to the max as we get an alternative presentation of the rise of the most brutal crime lord of all, Wilson Fisk aka The Kingpin. Except in this spectacularly brutal version of events, even by Punisher Max standards, The Kingpin is initially mythical, a non-existent figurehead created by the bosses of the various families to draw Frank Castle out into the open. After nearly thirty years of taking the war to them he's virtually brought the mob to its knees, and they've finally decided it's time to get together and get smart to take him down. Except, of course, the person who has agreed to be put in the firing line, a bodyguard for one of the bosses, has his own ideas which include that actually being the Kingpin might prove rather rewarding. So as the bosses are playing their game against Castle, little do they realize they're also fighting a war from within against Wilson Fisk until it's far too late to do anything about it.
Fantastic black humour throughout from Jason Aaron, but make no mistake: this is serious stuff, complemented by some squeamishly fiendish finger-chopping, handsaw-wielding, head-squishing, eye-popping, gruesome art from Dillon. Both are on top form, combining to produce a very enjoyably dark tale. And just when you're feeling all sad because it's come to an end, yet another favourite villain with an eye for the target is introduced in the final panel promising an even bigger body count next time.
Punisher Max: Bullseye
"But, how did you...?"
"Your Russians should've never let me through the front door. Doesn't matter if I'm unarmed or not. Hell, I could kill you with this toothpick. See?"
"Don't be an idiot. I can't kill you with a toothpick. But I can with this..."
After the über-intense retelling of the rise to power of one Wilson Fisk (thinking about the rats scene still gives me the shivers), this equally relentless and brutal volume opens with the new Kingpin of crime looking for some heavy firepower to take Frank Castle out... before the Punisher gets the chance to take him out. Enter Bullseye, here reworked as a rather more disturbingly realistic - though no less psychotic - costume-free hitman for hire with a somewhat... unorthodox approach.
Rather like a method actor, Bullseye feels he can't undertake the act of killing Frank until he understands what makes him tick, and to do so he needs to 'become' the Punisher. This includes kidnapping a mother and her two children (after having shot the father) and taking them to Central Park to be massacred by some of the Kingpin's lackeys in front of Bullseye whilst they're all 'enjoying' a lovely picnic. Unsurprisingly it doesn't work, and the Kingpin begins to increasingly question the wisdom of employing an even more unpredictable headcase to rid himself of the one who's on his case. Mesmerised by Frank's relentless killing ability, Bullseye begins to fall almost in spiritual love with his quarry, and becomes all the more determined that he has to be the one to kill him.
Whilst no one should be surprised that someone writing something as downright mean and moody as the brilliant SCALPED can produce the incessant, ever more innovative violence that should always be on the menu for this title, it's great to see Jason Aaron ladles out the sick humour with just as much gusto as Ennis ever did, which combined with the foil of Dillon's artwork always serves to make Punisher Max a dish best served... from behind a bulletproof serving hatch.
Punisher Max: Frank
"I don't know at exactly what point I first became what it is that I am now.
"Maybe it was Vietnam. Maybe it was that day in the park.
"Or maybe I'd been that way all along.
"All I know is, once I finally embraced it, I quickly realised...
"I was never going to stop."
Okay, it is official that Jason Aaron has now matched Garth Ennis' previously peerless PUNISHER MAX run. This follows straight on from last volume's epic physical and psychological confrontation with Bullseye and sees a battered and broken Frank cooling his heels in the State Penitentiary. As he's laid up in the hospital wing, word spreads of his incapacitated condition and all the cons start sharpening their shivs and daring to dream about becoming a living legend by claiming the biggest scalp of all.
Meanwhile, as Frank's body heals, he finds his mind wandering to his last days in 'Nam after the climatic end to his third tour of duty in the hellhole of Valley Forge, and his subsequent attempt to return to civilian life before he lost his entire family in Central Park. As intense as Ennis's 'Born' in PUNISHER MAX VOL 1, this is Aaron's attempt to further add to the mystery behind the transmogrification of Frank Castle into the killing machine feared, and maybe even a little revered, by the underworld. There's a truly shocking moment too when, just before the fateful carnage in the park begins, we hear Frank's final words to his wife.
Punisher Max: Homeless
A fitting conclusion to Jason Aaron's non-continuity run in which pretty much everybody dies, with the body count reaching truly prodigious levels, as the Kingpin and Frank enter their mutual and most assuredly destructive end game.