It’s difficult to read “Punishermax” #1 and not be reminded of Garth Ennis’ years of writing the character. After some missteps and mediocre stories since he departed the previous MAX volume, the book has been relaunched with Jason Aaron writing and longtime Ennis collaborator Steve Dillon drawing. It’s Dillon’s presence that’s the biggest reminder of Ennis’ lingering influence over the book and the title character. Aaron’s writing doesn’t seek to depart too much from the model either, delivering an issue where the credits at the end are almost surprising with their lack of Ennis’ name.
While some may write “Punishermax” #1 off as a simple imitation, Aaron is smart to not reinvent the wheel and embrace the Ennis run as a strong influence. He adds his own touches here and will continue to shape the book in his own way, particularly after the first few issues where Ennis’ presence (or lack thereof) will be felt the most. Besides, even if one were to call this a simple imitation, it’s still a very good read, which is what matters most.
This issue marks the beginning of the “Kingpin” story, which will integrate versions of Wilson Fisk and Bullseye into the Punisher MAX’s world. Only Fisk makes an appearance here and any skepticism about the wisdom of doing ‘MAX’ versions of the characters can quickly be forgotten about as Aaron’s reinvention of Fisk here is smart and somewhat surprising. The story focuses mostly on a group of mob bosses who come together to find a solution to the Punisher. The idea on the table: create a fake Kingpin, a boss of the bosses, someone that the Punisher can’t help but go after and, while he’s distracted with that, take him out. The Punisher, meanwhile, tortures a low-level mobster to get information. Aaron’s Punisher speaks little and is direct, continuing the characterization Ennis established, which is effective and well done.
The introduction of Fisk here is handled well with him as the bodyguard of a mob boss and immediately made to be a physical force to be reckoned with. In what can only be described as the most ‘Ennis’ scene in the issue, Fisk squeezes a man’s head until his eyes pop out and, then, the man spends part of the issue with his eyes hanging out. The scene is quite funny, especially when drawn by Steve Dillon whose gift for visual humor is unmatched by most in mainstream comics.
There isn’t much to say about Steve Dillon’s art except it’s as good as always. Check out the preview pages and see just how good he is. Dillon is one of the best when it comes to characters sitting around talking and Aaron takes advantage of that. While his involvement increases the inevitable comparisons to Ennis tenure on the book, I can’t think of anyone who would be better on art.
“Punishermax” #1 can’t help but draw comparisons to Garth Ennis’s work on the title, and Jason Aaron never seems to try and escape those comparisons. Ennis is the elephant in the room, but, after a few issues, his presence will fade, particularly because Aaron and Dillon deliver a great first issue here and it doesn’t look like they’ll stop with the quality anytime soon. Once again, the mature readers Punisher comic is a must read.