Moody, urban and dark all serve as words to describe Marvel's recent "Noir" line of alternate reality comics. At the same time, those descriptors would easily fit with any series starring the publisher's vigilante the Punisher, so it seemed only a matter of time before Marvel combined the two ideas into one project.
Yet despite the announcement at the New York Comic Con of a five-issue "Punisher Noir" comic book starting in August, series writer Frank Tieri attests that the marriage of character and world was more of a happy accident than any grand strategy. "What a lot of people might not realize is, the idea for 'Punisher Noir' actually predates the whole Noir line itself," Tieri said. "Long story short, I was up at Marvel one day talking with Axel [Alonso] and [Joe] Quesada and a couple of other people, and the conversation turned to this notion about a Punisher before the Punisher – basically a Punisher the Marvel U at large didn't know about that actually existed in an earlier time period. The funny thing about this is, creators have thousands of conversations like that at Marvel or DC or wherever, and that’s the end, nothing ever comes of it. But in this case, the next thing I knew, I get a call from Axel a few months later, and he says, 'Hey dude, remember that thing we talked about? We might have a vehicle for it.' It's just really funny how those things work out sometimes."
With his idea out on the lamb, Tieri and series artist Paul Azaceta set to work on building up a version of the Punisher's world, full of gangland twists. "The gut reaction is to say this project is simply the Punisher killing a lot of people, only set in the 1920s and '30s," the writer explained. "But there's quite a bit more going on than that. When you get past all the violence – and believe me, there's plenty of it – and all the over the top killings and the maimings and all that fun stuff...when you get past all that, what this story’s really about is a father and a son. I kid you not."
Aside from crafting the violent familial story conflicts, Tieri set about tying his Punisher's world to the real-life crime lords who defined the early 20th Century. "Anybody who knows me knows that I am a bit of a history nut. I watch all those shows on the History Channel and Discovery Channel, and I especially love that whole time period of Al Capone's Chicago and Baby Face Nelson and Dilinger and all that great stuff," Tieri said. "So I know the period pretty well, and it just stands to reason that if you plucked the Punisher of the modern day and put him back then – who would he be fighting? Lucky Lucciano and Bugsy Siegel...guys like that. Which is why the main villain of our piece is none other than [famed real life criminal] Dutch Schultz. If you know the real life story of Dutch, you’d know he was bat s--t crazy, was a major loose canon within the mob and will make for quite a formidable opponent for our Punisher. The tricky part was weaving in and out of Dutch’s actual history with us throwing the Punisher in there, but I think we ended up with a nice balance."
As for how the main vigilante comes to play in the story, the scribe admitted, "There is a bit of a mystery as to who the actual Punisher is" although certain elements had to be kept together. "One thing Axel stressed to me when we were talking about having this be part of the Noir line is that, no matter what the differences would be to our regular Frank Castle, this had to be a 'Punisher story.' Now what he meant by that is that, no matter what, this had to be true to who and what the Punisher is. To me, simply put, the Punisher has always been at it’s core about loss and a man's response to that loss (extreme though it might be, as we all well know). That’s what the Punisher is, if you were going to boil it down – and it’s something that is very much intact in 'Punisher Noir.'"
When it came to Paul Azaceta's involvement, the up-and-coming artist known for his stark, dramatic style was asked for and answered the call. "My style tends to be grim, gritty and over the top, and Paul is a perfect fit for that and for what I bring to the table," Tieri noted. "As a matter of fact, when Axel and I were going back and forth on which artists we wanted for the project, I had seen Paul's art here on CBR – in particular, the interview he did about his work on 'Potter's Field.' I had actually known Paul a bit previously through mutual friends, but when I saw that stuff I thought, 'We gotta get this guy' – which was a sentiment Axel certainly agreed with."
Once teamed up, Tieri and Azaceta got to work finding the visual flair that would make "Punisher Noir" feel like its own piece of the pulpy crime comics world. "We worked on the redesign of the character and, I think, came up with a really interesting take on how a Punisher in the '20s and '30s would look like compared to what Frank Castle looks like today," the writer said, adding that plenty of stand outs from the main Punisher series would work their way in where possible."The usual trappings of a Punisher story are all here. We have versions of the Russian, Barracuda, Jigsaw – and even Soap and Mr. Bumpo. We had a lot of fun playing with that, these little winks at the audience. (We even threw in there a speakeasy called Mike O’ Chip’s). So while yeah, there’s going to be differences from the Punisher we all know and love, there’s certainly going to be enough to very much recognize it as a Punisher story."
Finally, while "Punisher Noir" obviously takes a stylistic and spiritual cue from the other Noir books on the stands, Tieri made the point that "by no means is it a reflection of the other Noir books, but I haven't read any of them—and I very much did that on purpose. The truth is, the Noir line is a very specific idea, and I just wanted to do my own thing and didn't want to be influenced by anything anybody else was doing. After all, Punisher very much lends himself to this idea as it is. In fact, I’d say out of all the Marvel characters, he's the definitely the best fit for something like this."