Punishermax Vol. 1: Kingpin

Wilson Fisk is a bodyguard for mob boss Don Rigoletto, but he has his eyes on a much bigger prize, and he’s gonna use Frank Castle to help him realize his dreams.

In 2001 to about 2008 Garth Ennis wrote The Punisher for Marvel Comics, originally under the Marvel Knights imprint it was later moved to the Marvel Max imprint. The Max Imprint series was unique not only because it was R-rated, with more brutal violence as well as foul language and occasional nudity, but also because it took place outside outside of mainstream Marvel continuity. These stories were set more or less in the “real world,” there were no superheroes (or villains) or aliens or magic or anything like that. Within this series The Punisher fought Mafia bosses, White slavers, terrorists, or other types of criminals that exist in our world There were very few appearances by any of the Punisher’s allies or enemies from mainstream Marvel continuity, save for Microchip, who was a regular computer hacker, and Nick Fury, who was still a covert American agent, head of SHIELD, but there’s no floating helicarrier in the sky or other sci-fi tech. It’s grounded. And the biggest difference was the acknowledgment of the passage of time. The Punisher remained a Vietnam veteran, born in 1950, so the series took place in the then-present day, when he was in his 50’s, and occasionally had to deal with the reality and limitations of getting older, which added an interesting level to his character. I have to say that, collectively, Garth Ennis’ Punisher comics is one of the best comic-book runs of all time.

After Garth Ennis left the title, a trio of crime authors continued after him, and then in 2009 Jason Aaron was hired as the new writer, and the series was relaunched under the title Punishermax (which was a stupid title, but nevermind). Aaron decided to introduce several famous Marvel characters into the Max universe (before this, I remember seeing some fans online speculate that the Punisher Max stories still took place in the mainstream Marvel Universe, but this firmly established that it was separate).

With this first arc we see the rise of The Kingpin. The story here is that Wilson Fisk is a bodyguard for a mob boss named Don Rigoletto. Rigoletto calls a meeting of the heads of the major crime families in New York. They’re complaining about The Punisher, who has been loose for 30 years and killed thousands of criminals including many former mob bosses. The scheme Rigoletto is set up a fake “kingpin” a boss of all bosses, someone who runs all organized crime. Rumors of such a man have existed for years, but it was just an urban legend. The idea is that if The Punisher believes that The Kingpin is real and is coming to town, he’ll spend his time on a wild goosechase looking for him, which will give the mob time to take The Punisher out. So, after some persuasive arguments, Rigoletto gets the other families to agree to the plan. Wilson Fisk is put in charge of arranging things, he’s given tons of money which he starts spreading around the criminal underworld, telling them that they work for “The Kingpin” now. Except Wilson has his own secret plan, his goal is to really become this Kingpin, taking over all the crime families himself.

Although this is a Punisher comic, it really does in many ways feel more like Wilson Fisk is the star. But that’s okay, because Aaron makes this version of Wilson Fisk a lot more compelling than I’ve ever found the mainstream version to be. Through a serious of flashbacks we get a glimpse into his background, from his brutal childhood at the hands of an abusive father, to his time spent in jail, where he was gangraped, to how he came to be in the employ of Don Rigoletto. He is at this time married to his wife Vanessa and they have a young son named Richard, and Wilson believes that he’s doing what he’s doing as much for them as he is for himself. Wilson’s journey is paralleled with Frank, who is started to feel the affects of his age and all of the physical damage that he’s taken over the years. But he’s still just as determined to kill criminals, and that includes “the Kingpin.” A new hitman is called in, he calls himself The Mennonite, and no description I can give of him could do him justice. But his fight with The Punisher is vicious, long, dirty, and bloody. And the Punisher BARELY survives the encounter. The same goes for Wilson Fisk, who makes the ultimate sacrifice to achieve his goal…

A compelling story from start to finish. Jason Aaron pulls no punches, and gives us a story that underneath all of the violence and profanity, nevertheless has heart, with some dramatic character moments that give us insight into both Wilson Fisk and The Punisher, making them three-dimensional. I actually found myself rooting for Wilson Fisk, despite his evil actions. That’s a sign of great writing. Along for the ride is artist Steve Dillon, who does a most excellent job illustrating this story. Highly recommended.

Chacebook rating: FIVE STARS


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