Picking up directly after the close of PunisherMAX: Kingpin, writer Jason Aaron pits an injured Punisher against a hired assassin, a corrupt New York policeman, and Wilson Fisk, the kingpin of crime. The result is a solid crime thriller brimming with action, great psychological developments and reflections of its lead character, and proof that there is no greater danger than a wounded, cornered Punisher.
While Aaron's previous entry was entertaining, it stood on uneven footing in its attempts to balance the series' gritty tone with a farcical, sophomoric humor that had, by and large, been previously absent. With Bullseye, however, he proves himself to be a worthy successor to previous PunisherMAX writer Garth Ennis and raises the bar a few notches in breaking down the character of Frank Castle and his role as the Punisher.
With a figure like the Punisher, it's far too easy to present him as a one-dimensional cardboard cutout hellbent on murder and mayhem. Unfortunately, prior to a brilliant reinvention of the character by Ennis, it's a slump many writers fell into. Aaron has avoided this danger by providing central villains that wonderfully mirror the title character, allowing him to shed new light on the psyche of Castle and his role as a vigilante.
Wilson Fisk's rise in the criminal underworld in Kingpin was a dark, twisted reflection on the birth of the Punisher. Here, Bullseye acts as a nasty parallel to Castle's murderous mission statement, with each possessing an incredible sense of determination and strength of will to do whatever they have to in order to achieve their goals. Bullseye is presented as a terrifically demented soul who takes not only great pride but perverse enjoyment in his role as an assassin. He learns quickly that the only way to kill Castle is to get inside his head, learn everything he can about his target, and become him. In a way, Castle becomes his own enemy, and the reflections and discoveries that Bullseye makes force the question of just how different these two are. Each is a force of nature that has made murder his business.
As with Fisk, Aaron is borrowing an established character from the mainstream Marvel universe and recasting him for his crime thriller. Neither villain bears much resemblance to his traditional counterpart, but their inclusion in the MAX title has been welcome. Bullseye makes for a sensible choice to be MAXimized and fits well into the adult world of Punisher, while acting as a nice funnel for Aaron's dark humor, and a through-line to lead readers to a revelation about the central nature of Frank Castle.
Aaron is slowly fleshing out an intriguing concept about the Punisher. Building off Ennis's work and the conflicts established in PunisherMAX: Born, a Vietnam-centric "origin" story, he seems intent on exploring the fundamental nature of the Punisher and his mission as a killer of criminals after the murder of his family. The writer seems set on plumbing the psychology of this a bit deeper, hinting at a twist behind the dark, violent implications of what happened to Castle's family, and what, exactly, Castle's role was.
Steve Dillon's art holds no surprises and is typical of the draftsman. Characters are clean cut, but oftentimes they appear to be built from similar molds. His action scenes pack an appropriate amount of weight and violence, and are nicely gory when needed. In short, it's typical Dillon work. It's comfortable and familiar, and while it's by no means bad art, it's not cutting-edge or terribly exciting. If you're familiar with his work, you know what to expect here.
PunisherMAX: Bullseye successfully balances violence and characterizations, presenting a bit of psychological depth for both the central title characters in order to rise above the typical killer-for-hire plot. More important, it marks a successful gambit on Aaron's part to firmly grab the reins of Punisher and make it his own, stepping out from the shadows of the previous series writer and deliver an important measure of growth for a staid character.
Reviewed by Michael Hicks on July 13, 2012