Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Punisher MAX: Bullseye Review (Jason Aaron, Steve Dillon)

This is the moment, the first time I read this in June 2011, where, after the first chapter of this book, I flicked back to the cover and told myself to remember this name: Jason Aaron. This is a man who can write like Satan himself and after finishing this I proceeded to devour everything I could find by this guy. I’m still a huge fan to this day but this one, Bullseye? This is Aaron leaving comparisons to Garth Ennis behind and carving out his own brand of Punisher comic. This is something. 

Kingpin’s “miracleworker” comes to town and it’s none other than Bullseye, the assassin who never fails to hit the target. His new target? Frank Castle, the Punisher. Still, Frank doesn’t take his eye off the prize - the Kingpin - but Bullseye’s antics force him to cross a line he swore he’d never cross and become a copkiller. Corrupt cops but it still brings down the full weight of the force on him - everyone is gunning for Frank Castle now and there’s no turning back... 

If you’ve never read this series before I won’t spoil what the concept is behind it but Aaron gives us an indication here with Frank’s interactions with his former Army buddy-turned-doctor. We also see glimpses - blink-and-you’ll-miss-them moments - of the remains of Frank Castle’s humanity and it’s heart-breaking. 

Aaron’s not forgotten Kingpin either and his story from the first volume continues on in the background of this book. Fisk rules the city’s crime but his family is the price he’s had to pay – seeing his marriage fall to pieces is utterly compelling. It's amazing to see Aaron pulling off this juggling act so beautifully, adding new characters all the time and still keeping it all going at a blistering pace. 

And speaking of new characters, he’s in the title and he steals the show: Bullseye. This is his book in every sense and Aaron writes easily the best version of this character ever. He is thoroughly entertaining to watch from the moment we see him delivering a naked pizza and assassinating a Bernie Madoff-type with a buttgun, to his hunt of the Punisher. 

Aaron writes him as a stone-cold psychopath and be warned - this is incredibly dark stuff. I said that about the last book but Bullseye takes things to a new level of depravity. He decides that to kill Frank Castle, he must become Frank Castle first(!) and spends his time trying to understand how the Punisher came to be (possibly mirroring Aaron’s thought process for getting into Frank’s head for this series?). That means kidnapping a family and hiring some guys to shoot them in the park. Several families in fact because he wants to get things right. As terrible as the things Kingpin and Frank did in the first book were, Bullseye turns out to be in a league of his own when it comes to monstrous behaviour. 

And yet - Bullseye is so likeable! His back and forths with Kingpin, his insane hero worship of Frank; he’s like Annie Wilkes’ even crazier son! Bullseye made me unexpectedly laugh at the weirdest times too, like when he’s talking with Kingpin’s wife who’s horrified at the madness dribbling out of his mouth, or when one of Kingpin’s goons unluckily stumbles in between Frank and Bullseye’s showdown and Bullseye says “You wouldn’t believe what I had to go through just to get this!” (holds up one of Frank’s fingers). Then you turn the page and whammo! Frank provides the punchline – with a sledgehammer! 

It’s like playing Benny Hill music to the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan - it’s so inappropriate… and yet you can’t help but smile! All the horrible things Bullseye does in this book and I wanted the entire series to be just about Frank and him, not one book! What a complete lunatic but so entertaining to see unleashed like this - Aaron takes full advantage of the MAX label to show us what Irredeemably Fucked Up looks like in Frank’s world. 

Steve Dillon: the greatest Punisher artist, that’s it. His Bullseye is fantastic – I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many smiles in a Dillon comic before! – and his visuals sell Aaron’s gallows humour perfectly, while his Frank could make the Devil’s balls shrink from fear. There's flawlessly executed artwork on every page. And I haven’t mentioned him yet but Dave Johnson’s covers are incredible - what an eye for an image! The Reverend produces some of the best covers of his career for this series. 

I’m so glad I decided to re-read these books - they are GOLD. Some of Jason Aaron’s best work, among the best Punisher comics ever published, and thoroughly entertaining action with tons of shocking violence - The Punisher MAX: Bullseye is a visceral and thrilling ride from start to finish. It doesn’t hit the target so much as it obliterates it. Put some hot sauce in your reading pile by adding this!

The Punisher MAX: Bullseye

1 comment:

  1. There are times when there is something to be said for creative violence, but the way that Ennis and Aaron often rely on it in place of character development and plot doesn't do much for me, especially after seeing it over and over again. I struggle to be entertained by psychopathic depravity while spouting tough guy quips, which is probably why I never really cared for most of Ennis's or Aaron's characters.