Bullseye may seem pretty crazy in the regular Marvel Universe, but just wait until the PunisherMAX Universe gets hold of him.
In PunisherMAX, the new series by writer Jason Aaron and penciler Steve Dillon, villains from the Marvel Universe are getting a new twist in a title that exposes even their most evil and outrageous acts.
The series, which began in November under the Max imprint for mature readers, already brought the Kingpin into the PunisherMAX Universe, showcasing his brutal nature while pitting him against the angry guns of Frank Castle. In April, Kingpin brings an obsessive assassin named Bullseye into the fold as he's hired to target Frank, giving the Punisher one of his most challenging foes.
Newsarama talked to Aaron about the five issues that have come out so far – with this week's PunisherMAX #5 finishing up the Kingpin arc – and what readers can expect from the Max version of Bullseye that is introduced next month.
Newsarama: Jason, we talked about this a little before you started this series. But is the idea to kind of create your own universe where these Marvel characters can be explored without the limits of the regular universe?
Jason Aaron: Well, I feel like Garth had already created this universe. I don't know if that's what he intended. But if you look at his run in the Max universe, he brought characters along from the Marvel Knights run. So I treat it like it's a separate universe from the Marvel Universe.
Especially in my first issue, I tried to make references to stuff that Garth had done. Even in Issue #3, the mob widow I brought in was the widow of the 100-year-old mob figure that was killed by the Punisher in Garth's first issue of Punisher Max.
So I wanted to make it obvious this is its own universe; this is all the same universe; and I'm still looking at everything at everything Garth did as part of my continuity.
Nrama: Is that why you decided to focus on a couple new villains to this universe, like Kingpin and Bullseye?
Aaron: Yeah. The reason for bringing in Kingpin and Bullseye was just so I wouldn't have to follow this legendary run just trying to do more of that kind of stuff. I don't think I could have done that. I'm not Garth, obviously. It was intimidating enough to take over the book regardless, but to take it over and try to do the exact same kind of stories he did would be something I wouldn't want to do. So to bring in two big Marvel U. villains that I could do with whatever I wanted to do, that makes the book exciting and gives it another twist.
Nrama: Now that you've worked with Kingpin within the Max Universe, what's the main difference between him and his parallel character in the Marvel U?
Aaron: Well, Kingpin in the Marvel U is a pretty straightforward character, especially lately. He's a crime boss with a tragic family story. Sometimes he's borderline super-strong, but overall, he's just a sharp and cunning guy. But things don't always work out for him exactly the way he planned.
All that same kind of stuff translates perfectly to the Max Universe. I liked being able to tease some stuff: To bring in his wife, to bring in his son. Obviously, those are characters that have their own history in the Marvel Universe, so that means fans expect one thing or the other, and it's fun to play with that.
With his back-story, I didn't really stray too far from anything. But obviously, with Max you get to go a lot further than you ever could within the Marvel Universe. So I could show how brutal and ruthless a man he really is.
Nrama: What about this next arc? What's Bullseye like in the Max Universe? Is he very different from his Marvel Universe counterpart?
Aaron: With Bullseye, I changed him quite a bit. I didn't want a guy running around the Max Universe killing people with playing cards and toothpicks. Instead, he's the assassin who never misses. Once he takes on a target and a job, he never fails to finish the job and take that target down, no matter what it takes. No matter how crazy, no matter what he's got to do to himself, he'll get the job done.
Beyond that, I wanted to keep the idea that he's pretty mentally imbalanced. So I looked kind of to Thomas Harris, to one of my favorite movies, Manhunter by Michael Mann. It was the first Hannibal Lecter movie, and I always loved that guy Will Graham, who William Peterson plays, and Will Graham was the guy who caught Hannibal Lecter. And will Graham was the guy who could profile and get inside the head of these serial killers, sometime to his detriment because he couldn't get back out again. So I wanted Bullseye to be the Will Graham of hit men.
When you bring Bullseye in to catch somebody or bring somebody down, this may be a target who's impossible to find or get to, but he's going to find a way to get inside their head. He may use methods that seem absolutely insane at times, but slowly you'll see that his insanity gets results.
So when he's brought in to bring down the Punisher, he's a guy who can get inside Punisher's head and figure out his operation unlike anybody's ever been able to do. So he doesn't just come at Frank physically, in that he's able to figure out, well, this is where the Punisher operates or that he's able to figure out his safe houses, but he also able to get deep inside his head.
There's a big moment of realization later in the arc where Bullseye really figures something out about Frank that we've never seen before, something that goes back to this origin story and the murder of his family. Something that maybe even Frank himself has buried down deep and doesn't think about anymore.
Nrama: How does Frank handle somebody battling him mentally? Is Frank able to match him mentally, or is this a way he just can't fight?
Aaron: Something I love about the Punisher is, you know, the Punisher's not going to try to think his way around the problem. If there's a problem, he's going to show up in front of it and shoot it. He's so direct in his thinking. So yeah, him facing somebody like Bullseye is going to be a challenge, especially when he's really concerned about going after someone like the Kingpin. He's so focused on going after Fisk.
So a lot of the fun of this Bullseye arc is writing the triangle that these three are in, of Fisk, Frank and Bullseye, and how they're related to each other. And things just sort of come crashing down. So yeah, Frank is taken a little back initially.
Another thing I really dive into in that Bullseye arc is that, in Issue #4, Frank is getting the shit beat out of him. And that's not something I'll simply rescind. We don't start the next arc with him fully healed and ready to go again. He's got casts on his hands, he's pissing blood, and he's in bad shape. I wanted to deal with the ramifications of it. This guy, at his youngest, is in his early 60's, I would say. And for the past 30 years, he's been living this kind of life where he's been shot and has broken bones. So after 30 years of this, he's in tremendous shape for a guy his age, but he's been through much more damage than any other person his age would have suffered.
That shit's going to catch up to you eventually, so that's one of the focuses of this arc, is to make Frank more human. He's not going to have his back broken then suddenly be OK again. He'll have to deal with the effect of these injuries. If you break your hand, your fingers, your wrist and mess up your joints at that age, you're going to have problems even after it heals. How many brain traumas, how many concussions has he suffered over those 30 years? Whether he admits it or denies it, those things start to catch up with you, especially when he's under fire, like he is against Bullseye. That really backs him into a corner.
Nrama: That sounds like it might be a bad thing.
Aaron: Yeah, when you get Frank backed into a corner, God knows what he's willing to do to get out.
The Bullseye arc really changes Punisher's standing within the city of New York, maybe how the people of New York, and certainly the NYPD, view Frank Castle.
Nrama: One of the things Garth did in Punisher was incorporate comical and even almost ridiculous characters into the gritty, dark world Punisher occupies. You seem to be echoing that with the recent appearance of The Mennonite. Do you think that, because of the over-the-top violence of this world, you can get away with that type of bizarre humor and character?
Aaron: I don't know. When I started working on the book, I never really sat down and said, "OK, this is exactly the tone I want to go for." It just kind of developed, particularly when I knew Steve was going to be drawing it. I just kind of naturally gravitated to this point that I think is somewhere between what Garth did in the Marvel Knights stuff and what he did in the Punisher Max stuff. Sometimes I'll stray closer to one than the other.
But I think there will always be moments that are a little outrageous, and moments that are very real and gritty. I don't think I can wrap my head around doing a Punisher story that's too far real world. That's the kind of stuff I do in Scalped, and I'm certainly able to do it there, but I haven't felt like doing that with the Punisher. Maybe down the road I will. Things will change from time to time.
Nrama: But for now, things are pretty outrageous because of Bullseye?
Aaron: Yeah, the Bullseye arc is pretty outrageous at times. The opening scene of Issue #6 is, without a doubt, the craziest thing I've ever written. As I was writing it, I just had to think to myself, this has to be the first time anybody's done this in a Marvel comic. For the most part, it revolves around Bullseye's bowel movement, in some sense. So you have that to look forward to. [laughs]
I think the series, as long as I'm on it, will have outrageous stuff in it. It'll also be dark and real at times, because it deals with ramifications. But this is the only way I know how to do it.
Nrama: We've talked before about things that you were drawn toward as a reader, and the books that were influential to you as a writer, so I know you've read a lot of stuff by Steve Dillon. You mentioned before that you tweaked your story a little once you knew he was on the book. How much has it meant for you to have him working on Punisher with you? Did it influence you?
Aaron: Very much so. I think it just really cemented everything that was racing around in my head anyway.
All told, I've probably read more comics drawn by Steve Dillon than any other artist today. I don't know who would be close. He's been so prolific and has done so much stuff that I've loved. So it's one of those guys that, even though I've never worked with him, I can write something and know, "OK, this is how this is going to look," because I'm so familiar with Steve's stuff.
It made it a lot easier and a lot of fun. It's a lot of fun to write for Steve. And it was also surreal. Getting those first pages in from Steve was surreal. I've just read so much of his stuff, and now suddenly, here are pages I wrote being drawn by him. It's a really weird experience.
Nrama: Do you know what's coming after the Bullseye arc?
Aaron: Yeah, we're moving toward this dark, dramatic exploration of Frank Castle's character. So the third arc in the book is just called "Frank," and it's all about Frank's head space. It goes back to his days as a vet, just returning from Vietnam, while at the present day he's really at rock bottom, trying to crawl his way back up.
Nrama: Since the Kingpin arc obviously continues into the Bullseye arc, is your plan to do long-form storytelling with this series? And when that long story is done, will you leave, similar to your work on Ghost Rider?
Aaron: It's really one big story that I'm telling. All told, this is probably about a two-year story. Beyond that, we'll see how things play out. But I can only imagine this won't be the end for me, in terms of Punisher stories I want to tell. Now, whether or not I turn right around after this one and tell more, or whether it's down the road, I don't know. But I do know I'd like to tell more Punisher stories at some point.
But yea, this is one big story. And that's another difference between this book and what Garth did. Garth was so genius in telling these great stand-alone stories. You'd have villains who'd return for a second time and you'd have returning supporting characters, but for the most part, you could pick up any trade of that entire run and read a complete story. With this, it's a little different in that I wanted to do something that's a long-form story. Within that you'll still get complete stories. I think the first Kingpin arc is a pretty complete story, even though it sets up things that come after. Bullseye will be the same way. But to do something big, to really give the Punisher a challenge unlike anything he'd faced before, it needed to be a longer story.
Nrama: Just to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell people about what's coming up in PunisherMAX?
Aaron: We've seen Wilson Fisk and we're about to see Bullseye. Those won't be the only Marvel U characters we see pop up over the course of this story. There will be at least one more, as well as, eventually, we may see the return of one of the Marvel U characters that Garth used. So you'll see more Marvel Universe characters over the course of the story. It's not Daredevil. I will say that. There will be no superheroes or characters running around in costume or anything like that. But there will be another little connection to the Marvel Universe.