Sunday, April 18, 2010

Punisher MAX #6 - Hardcore Awesome

In a market crowded with super-powered heroes and super-powered evil-doers it often goes unnoticed when those with no powers who fight those with no powers but plenty of evil and make it over-the-top violent in the process. The Punisher is one of the few who exists in a realm where costumed heroics are a joke and the only battle is between two frail human beings who bleed and die like everyone else in the real world. While the Punisher has his own role in the current Marvel universe, that has quickly turned into another farce with the whole Fraken-Castle story. If you're wondering what that is, it's exactly what it sounds like. The mainline universe turned Frank Castle into a Frankenstein-like man who still conducts his war, but with Frankenstein style tactics. It's a fun gimmick, but a total misrepresentation of who the Punisher is.

Thankfully, Marvel has not resorted to those same tactics with the Punisher MAX series. Ever since this series began under the pen of Garth Ennis, it has quickly become one of the most defining stories for the Punisher. The MAX series is not like the 616 continuity in that there is more blood, more violence, more cruelty, no censoring of breasts or body parts, and no super powers. It's the perfect world for the Punisher to operate, but for years he operated it on his own. Now a recent series written by Jason Aaron has taken Punisher MAX to a new level, adding other Marvel names to the world of MAX and making it awesome as hell in the process.

It started with the Kingpin arc. This story brought the MAX version of the Kingpin into the Punisher's world. It told the rare story of how Wilson Fisk fought his way to the top of the criminal hierarchy and was damn cruel and sadistic in the process. He did things in MAX that he could NEVER get away with doing on panel in 616. There's no beating around the bush to offend squeamish Spider-Man fans. Fisk tortures, maims, and kills without compunction. With the success of that series, Aaron has taken the next step and brought Bullseye into the mix.

Punisher MAX #6 picks up right where the Kingpin arc left off. Frank Castle is still recovering from the beating he took. This issue makes a point to show that he's not a young man. He's getting up there in years and it's affecting him, something few readers get from other superheroes who seem to be perpetually in their twenties. It also makes a point to take Bullseye and strip away the super powered background and just make him a badass assassin with an even more badass attitude. At times it seems a bit too much like the regular 616 continuity, but at others it feels completely unique. Bullseye comes off just as Frank Castle does, someone who is human but highly talented in what he does. He makes it a point to show this off in the first few pages when he takes out a whole hoard of thugs with nothing but a small gun he had lodged in his rectum (seriously, that's something that can only happen in MAX).

This comic set the stage for a new challenge for Frank Castle. He's getting old and he's wearing down. At the same time he has to face someone who is no casual thug. He's someone who can take him down and unlike the regular 616 universe, there will be no magic or Frankenstein style retcon to save him. It's the kind of grim and gritty story that fulfills all the dark desires of comic fans who think there's too much child-appeal. This is one of those dark stories that doesn't skimp on the awesome and further demonstrates how the Punisher is the most badass character in the entire Marvel universe. It's not because of the powers he has. It's what he's able to accomplish with no special abilities than his monster sized set of stones and unlimited supply of badassery.

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