After Marvel's announcement that they were bringing Joe Kelly and Deadpool together, it's time for another pairing that makes perfect sense: Jason Aaron and The Punisher.
Marvel has announced that in November, Aaron and artist Steve Dillon will relaunch Punisher MAX with a new #1 issue. This series will return Dillon to the character he drew for his frequent collaborator, Garth Ennis, when the title was under the Marvel Knights imprint.
The new series will see the introduction of the MAX version of Kingpin and Bullseye, as well as a mafia that is distressed and depleted by their encounters with The Punisher.
Aaron, who currently writes Ghost Riders: Heaven's on Fire and Wolverine: Weapon X for Marvel along with his ongoing Vertigo series Scalped, previously wrote Punisher in last year's The Punisher: Frank Castle MAX.
Newsarama talked to Aaron about the gig, drawing comparisons between his work and that of Ennis, as well as finding out why seeing Dillon's interior art has been a surreal experience for the writer.
Newsarama: When we did our big Behind the Page interview a few months back, you said that your next project wouldn't come as much of a shock to readers. And there's no doubt your style fits with this character and comic. Was this something you asked to do?
Jason Aaron: Yeah, when I first started talking to Axel Alonso at Marvel, one of the first things I mentioned was Punisher. I told him I really wanted to do something on Punisher.
NRAMA: You wrote Punisher once before, right? You had an issue last year?
JA: Yeah, just that one. I did the Punisher Max Christmas Special. I think I already had the Punisher gig at that point. I think Axel knew as soon as Garth was done that he wanted to bring on Gregg Hurwitz and Victor Gischler and Duane Swierczynski, to bring in a trio of crime writers to do some stand-along arcs right after Garth.
So he'd been talking to me for awhile about being that fourth guy, you know, the guy after that. Things evolved over time. So I've known for awhile that I was going to do Punisher in some capacity.
NRAMA: When you first got a Wolverine gig, we talked about the challenge of finding a new way to tell a Wolverine story. Is it the same kind of challenge with Punisher, since there have been so many things done with him?
JA: Well, with Punisher, it's a challenge to follow Garth. And what Garth did was set up this blueprint that he followed with story after story, creating these incredible crime stories with Punisher as this unwavering center around which this craziness evolved.
I didn't want to just try to come in and do more of that. I think that's kind of a recipe for disaster after an extended run. So it was Axel's idea to bring in Kingpin, which seemed like a good twist. He's a character we could bring in and play with and do a fresh take on, but something that readers would respond to. So when it was suggested to bring in Kingpin, I said, well, if we're using him, then Bullseye can't be too far behind. So the idea of getting to do my own take on those two characters was really exciting and gives it a different twist around which Marvel can market it and toward which readers can gravitate.
NRAMA: What's your take on Kingpin and Bullseye going to be?
JA: I'm a big Daredevil fan, but the idea with the Max series is that these are characters and events that actually happen. These are things that could exist in the real world. So Bullseye as established in the Marvel Universe can't happen in the real world. We can't have him running around licking toothpicks and killing people and throwing playing cards and stuff like that. So that aspect will be gone, and you'll be left with the assassin who never misses. And that means not only is he a crack shot, but once he sets his sights on a target, he never fails to bring them down. So when we see him finally go up against Frank Castle, it won't just be Frank's greatest challenge physically in that how does he defend himself against this, but how does he defend himself mentally from a guy who is able to get into his head, really, like no one else has. And that will kind of lead down a bit of a different road, and we'll not only be looking at how Frank faces these enemies, but we'll be exploring part of his character and an aspect of Frank's origin that's never been explored before.
But with Bullseye, I don't want to say too much because we're not going to see him initially. He's not in the first arc.
The first arc is kind of the introduction of Wilson Fisk, and when we meet him, he's a body guard for a mob boss, Don Rigoletto, which is kind of the same thing we learned about Fisk in Frank Miller's Daredevil: Man Without Fear. Fisk is a mob hood, but a guy with, obviously, much bigger aspirations. So he begins to chase after a bigger position within the New York organization. And Punisher plays a part in that.
NRAMA: Well, Punisher likes to play his special part in mob activities, doesn't he? At least he has during Garth's run, and I assume you're continuing that part of the character.
JA: Sure. I mean, Punisher is a great tool for mob promotions, because he's always whacking the guys at the top, and there are always going to be plenty of opportunities to move up. Once you move up, the bigger target you're going to get on you. And pretty soon you're going to have Punisher coming after you.
I'm writing Punisher like a direct continuation of what Garth did on it, really. So the first issue, I reference characters like Barracuda and other characters that Garth introduced. Initially, we see the widow of the don who was the 100-year-old mafia boss that Punisher shot way back in [the original] Punisher Max #1. And you'll see how Punisher's 30-plus-year war against the mafia has taken its toll. It's crippled the mafia. They're at the point where the guys who are running the organization who, under normal circumstances, would never be allowed to run the organization. But the mob is on the brink of extinction. They realize something has to be done. If they don't do something now, they'll go the way of the DoDo and there will be no more mob in New York City.
So they've implemented a drastic plan, which won't have the ramifications they hope for, but will drastically change the status quo for organized crime in New York.
NRAMA: We've talked before about some of your favorite comics when you were younger. You've been a Punisher fan for a long time, haven't you?
JA: Yeah, since the Steven Grant/Mike Zeck book. That was probably the first Punisher thing I read. And I think the Garth Ennis stuff are not only the best Punisher stuff that's been told, but it's my favorite comic in general for the last several years. I think it's one of the best things that Marvel has published for a long time. I was a huge fan of what Garth did on the book. I'm a huge fan of Garth's not just from what he did on the Punisher, but I was a huge Preacher fan and a fan of his War Stories and everything.
NRAMA: Obviously, your style depends on what you're writing, but having read most all of your work, you've definitely got a voice that...
JA: What do you mean "most all?"
NRAMA: [laughs] I'm pretty sure I've read it all, actually.
JA: [laughs] I think this might be our last interview. This is it.
NRAMA: Oh come on. I even read your Hellblazer story, and that was disgusting.
JA: One of the biggest thrills of my career, other than when I met Grant Morrison, which you were there for, was that Garth Ennis liked my Hellblazer story.
There were a lot of Hellblazer fans. There's this huge group of Hellblazer fans online, and they were not a big fan of my stuff. But in general, they're not a big fan of Americans writing Hellblazer, and they're not a big fan of Azzarello's. So that was a little disheartening. But as long as Garth Ennis liked it, it's all good. That's the only acknowledgement I need, is that Garth liked it.
NRAMA: But my question was... I know you've said before that Grant Morrison has influenced the way you write, and we discussed how you're paying homage to him in your upcoming story for Dark Reign: The List - Wolverine, but do you think being a fan of Garth Ennis has also had a significant impact on your writing style now?
JA: Oh, most definitely. Most definitely. Preacher was a big influence on me. And his War Stories were a big influence. You know, I'm only in comics because of a war story I wrote. And one of the main influences on that, besides my connection with my cousin, was Garth Ennis' War Stories for Vertigo. That's the reason that I took my pitch for The Other Side to Vertigo and Will Dennis. That's the reason I'm here writing Punisher and everything else I'm doing. So, yeah, I mean, Garth and Grant are probably the two guys at the top of my list. I love Alan Moore as much as the next guy, and From Hell is one of my all-time favorite books, but just in terms of two writers I've been following since the moment they broke in and in terms of me just devouring everything they've written, those two guys stand alone.
NRAMA: Having been a fan of those comics, how does it feel to work with Steve Dillon on the series?
JA: It's pretty surreal. I've never met Steve or spoken to Steve. I'm sure I'll meet him soon. But it's been very surreal working with him because I'm a huge Preacher fan. I've read all the Punisher stuff that Garth and Steve did together.
His first pages that I had got in, seeing something I'd written drawn by Steve Dillon was a really surreal experience.
So far, I've just been trying to give him at least one really disgusting thing to draw each issue.
NRAMA: Is he coming through?
JA: Oh yeah. But I figure, just from Preacher alone, he's probably drawn pretty much everything a person could think up in terms of being bizarre, perverted and disgusting. There's probably not much that's going to shock Steve. But I've just been trying to feed him the kind of stuff that he's going to knock out of the ballpark. And so far he has.
NRAMA: How long are you on Punisher? Is it for the foreseeable future?
JA: Yes. Different from Garth's run on the book, this will be a long-form story. It will be one long story that will be told over several arcs. So yeah, this will be a nice, long run. Beyond this story, hopefully this isn't the only Punisher story I've got in me. I'd still like to tell some more Punisher stories. Whether that's right after this or further down the road, I don't know. But for now, I'm just excited to do this one.