SPOILER WARNING: This story contains major spoilers for "Punisher" #10 and "Dark Reign: The List - Punisher," both in stores now.
When the Punisher, AKA Frank Castle, realized that the psychotic Norman Osborn was becoming the most powerful man in the Marvel Universe, he knew he had to do something. Being Frank, the veteran soldier simply declared war on the former Green Goblin's Dark Reign. In "Punisher" #1, Castle (literally) fired the opening shot in that war as he tried to assassinate Osborn with a sniper rifle. The assassination attempt ultimately failed, and by pulling the trigger, Castle embarked upon a vendetta that would ultimately cost him everything.
Castle's war against Osborn quickly attracted the attention of the former Green Goblin's associate, and fellow Cabal member, The Hood, the head of the Marvel U's supervillain underworld. In "Punisher" #10, by writer Rick Remender and artist Tan Eng Huat, Castle walked away from his last battle with The Hood, but he was not unscathed. The supervillain capo corrupted the one thing in the world that was sacred to Frank Castle; his memory of his slain family. Then, in the one-shot "Dark Reign: The List - Punisher," by Remender and artist John Romita Jr., Norman Osborn escalated his war against Frank Castle by attacking him with the full might of the intelligence agency H.A.M.M.E.R. (formerly S.H.I.E.L.D.) and the Dark Avenger, Wolverine's son Daken. It was a strategy that proved successful, because at the end of the issue, Frank Castle had been cut to pieces by Daken.
So, now that he's dead, what's next for the Punisher? For answers to that question and more, CBR News spoke with Remender about his plans for Frank Castle and what he becomes in the series' next arc "FrankenCastle"
It was the murder of his family by criminals that transformed Frank Castle into the ruthless vigilante known as the Punisher, so in "Punisher" #10, the Hood did something that he thought would lead to Castle giving up his crusade against him and Osborn - he used his dark magics to resurrect Castle's family. However, this caused the Punisher to do something unexpected. Instead of welcoming his family with open arms, he forced the supervillain known as Firebrand to incinerate them; a coldblooded act that left some Punisher fans wondering why?
"It seemed important to me that readers draw their own conclusions for why Frank did what he did," Remender told CBR News. "Did he force Firebrand to end his family because he knew they were full of evil thanks to the Hood's magics? Or did he have them incinerated because he no longer felt he could be part of their world?"
The Hood wasn't the only one trying to manipulate familial feelings in "Punisher" #10. Frank Castle was able to walk away from his conflict with the Hood by threatening the lives of the supervillain crime lord's daughter and former girlfriend. "I was trying to come up with a way Frank could survive in a fight with the Hood, because power level wise, the Hood can take Frank. But in terms of pure tenacity and ruthlessness. even the Hood can't touch Frank Castle. Frank's ability to plan and purposefully follow through on things is one of his strengths," Remender remarked. "I knew Frank had to get some kind of a win out of his conflict with the Hood. and I hope I came up with a believable scenario."
The Punisher may have walked away from his encounter with The Hood, but not before the supervillain capo robbed him of one last thing by revealing that Henry, an 18 year old computer hacker that the Punisher had recently partnered with, was the son of Castle's former arch enemy Billy Russo AKA Jigsaw. At the end of "Punisher" #10 Castle acted on this information by dissolving his partnership with Henry.
"It came down to Frank's hardline stance in general. He trusted Henry and brought him in, not just as a partner, but almost as a son. In the past, Frank has partnered with Stuart Clarke and Microchip. That's it for his long term friendships," Remender explained. "So, with Henry, he basically adopts this 18 year old, straight-edge, punker kid, and then at the lowest point in Frank's life, the Hood twists the knife in his guts by revealing to Frank that Henry lied to him about what happened to his parents."
In "Dark Reign: The List - Punisher," Frank Castle was still recovering from the physical and emotional wounds inflicted by the Hood when Norman Osborn launched a surprise assault on him. Frank fought back as hard as he could, but at the end of the story, when he found himself surrounded by a horde of H.A.M.M.E.R. agents and Daken, the Punisher seemed to realize that death had finally come for him. But that didn't mean he was about to embrace it with open arms.
"It was really important to me that Frank's involvement in Dark Reign play out to it's natural conclusion, which is; Frank was outclassed. Frank has never really gone after someone as big as Osborn, in terms of his current power level in the Marvel Universe. There was no way Frank was walking away from this," Remender said. "At the end, though, it wasn't like Frank dropped his weapon and quit. Daken is slicing him to pieces, and Frank pulls out a knife and keeps coming at him. Frank is blinded, his throat cut open, and his guts shredded, but he doesn't stop till… he keeps coming until he's just a torso with legs. It was important that he fought as long and hard as he could against Daken. It had to be a death worthy of Frank Castle."
Death at the claws of Daken isn't the end for Frank Castle, of course. "Punisher" #11 kicks off a new six issue arc entitled "FrankenCastle," which sees Frank reborn as a patchwork monstrosity. "After his death, it was important to find some random hole in the Marvel U to drop him down, because Jason Aaron is doing amazing straight crime stuff in the 'PunisherMax' book, and this needed to be different. So we had to put on our thinking caps about where to take Frank after the end of 'The List,'" Remender explained. "I had two or three different ideas, and they were all tied to different corners of the Marvel Universe. We ended up going with 'FrankenCastle,' because it was the most fun and ties into a lot of stuff we're developing underneath New York; stuff that has a rich history within the Marvel Universe.
"The beginning of this arc needed to feel random, insane, just a total left turn, it couldn't be a contrivance." Remender continued. "The Marvel Universe has so much insanity. So, after Frank Castle is killed and dropped into the sewers, the next step had to be so out of the ordinary that no one would see it coming, which I thought was a fun approach. That's the beauty of the Marvel Universe; it allows for this explosion of creativity. You can keep sinking deeper and deeper into the layers of all the things that are out there."
When Frank Castle is reborn in "FrankenCastle," he's noticeably not the same man, returning from the dead with memory problems and a variety of other issues. "Whatever it is that comes back in issue #11 is something that's had its brain and heart destroyed. 'Punisher' #10 was the destruction of Frank Castle's soul, and then in 'The List,' his body is killed. Norman and the Hood succeeded when it comes to Frank. They knocked him completely off the playing field," Remender remarked. "Where Frank finds himself is this very strange situation that allows us to see the fabric of who he is. Whatever FrankenCastle is, it's an external representation of the monster inside Frank.
"So Frank has got a whole new set of rules and is barely alive, but this is a 'Punisher' comic," Remender continued. "He's still a ferocious killer at his core. At his very center he's still the Punisher; someone who sees misdeeds and wants to correct them. With murder."
As FrankenCastle, the Punisher will be more than capable of accomplishing his goals. In his new body, Castle is much more powerful than he ever was before. "He's crazy powerful now. With Frank and Osborn, it was David and Goliath. Frank fought hard, but the giant stepped on him, killed him, and dumped him into the sewers," Remender said. "Frank's slow climb out of the sewers is so much fun, and when he does crawl out of the sewers, there are a lot of people who screwed with Frank. You've got one, and possibly two, Jigsaws, Microchip, the Deadly Dozen [a team of villains resurrected by the Hood for the purpose of killing Frank Castle], Norman, the Hood, and Daken. These guys have all heavily messed with Frank. So when he climbs out of the sewers with these amped up power levels, he might just go looking for all of them . . ."
But before he climbs out of the darkness, the Punisher has to deal with the monster he's become - both physically and psychologically. "This arc has to deal with the philosophical ramifications of revenge. What happens when someone kills your family and you spend the rest of your life killing people? They may be the same type of people who killed your family, but the actual killers are long gone," Remender explained. "So in terms of clean cut themes, this story is about the monster that is Frank... and maybe him coming to terms with that."
The plot of "FrankenCastle" involves the Punisher being drafted into a new war against a new, yet uncomfortably familiar, villain. "The new villain is integral to the story, and in a lot of ways is a mirror image of Frank. The villain forces Frank to examine the way he's been dealing with things," Remender revealed. "I really want to challenge the notion that someone could spend their entire life murdering people and never have an issue with it."
The new villain's allies are a fanatical team of heavily armed high tech monster hunters, which leads to Frank forming a reluctant alliance with the hunters' archenemies, the reborn Legion of Monsters. "I'm handling the Legion of Monsters and all the other monsters in this story the same way mutants were handled in the '80s," Remender stated. "No one is on their side, and they're being hunted down and annihilated by this new villain and these monster hunters."
"This conflict is a distraction for Frank. He doesn't want to deal with it, but given the situation and where he's at, it's something he can plug himself into and maybe help some people who remind him of himself. It might even give him an opportunity to redeem himself from what he's been through," Remender continued. "So when Frank decides to help the Legion of Monsters, they become a new family for him. This story will be an unraveling of Frank in front himself. It's the natural third act to our first two stories. Frank realizes a lot about himself, but it's not in a touchy feely way. He opens his eyes to a thing or two, but ultimately he's going to kill a lot of bad people."
Remender is having a lot of fun writing the Legion of Monsters and their interactions with the Punisher. "I think N'Kantu, the Living Mummy, is a kind character. When I went back and read his old stories, I realized, because of who he is and what he says, he's a sage-like character. Then you've got the brilliant scientist, Michael Morbius, who's a little eccentric and does his own thing," Remender remarked. "Jack Russell, the Werewolf by Night, is the 'wild card,' as Charlie from 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' would say. Manphibian is a literal fish out of water and an alien on Earth who's wondering if he should leave. Then there's Man-Thing, who I think is now realizing, instinctually, that he's part of a group of creatures, a family. With someone trying to annihilate all the monsters in the Marvel Universe, Man-Thing is naturally drawn to helping his la familia."
The Legion of Monsters aren't the only important supporting characters in "FrankenCastle" - Henry also has a part to play. "When we meet Henry again, he's pulled into something that he can't quite believe is happening," Remender revealed. "And Frank doesn't necessarily have a conversation with him or make amends for anything. The way things play out, there are still some surprises to be had with Henry."
The "FrankenCastle" arc unfolds on familiar territory for longtime Marvel fans as it takes place in the Morlock Tunnels. "It's revealed that the monsters were hiding in those tunnels even before the Morlocks took refuge in them," Remender explained. "And there's a Marvel relic out there that the Monsters would love to get their hands on in order to protect themselves. The relic is something that's been a big relic in the Marvel Universe for some time."
Joining Remender for this chapter of the Punisher's (undead) life is an artist well known for his ability to illustrate horrific scenarios, Tony Moore. Having worked with Moore on their creator owned "Fear Agent" series from Dark Horse, Remender is familiar with the artist's strengths and the quality of his work. The writer feels, however, that the chance to draw all the monsters in "FrankenCastle" is bringing out a whole new side to Moore. "Tony has always been great. We've done a lot of fun stuff together, all of it wonderful, but it's clear from his pages here that this story has him charged up," Remender said. "His 'FrankenCastle' pages are like a blend of Jack Davis and Art Adams."
While The Punisher is underground and involved in "FrankenCastle," the topside world of the Marvel Universe will also be undergoing some big changes. In January, the event story "Siege" begins, which promises to bring the Dark Reign of Norman Osborn to an end. "Siege" won't have an immediate impact on "Punisher," but its fallout will be explored later on in 2010. "The relic involved in 'FrankenCastle' means there will be huge repercussions in 'Punisher' and across the Marvel U," Remender revealed. "So, what we end up with at the end of that arc will play a part as Frank climbs out of the sewers and back into the world of the post 'Siege' Marvel Universe.
"With the next three or four arcs of 'Punisher,' I want to establish a real mythology for Frank Castle. He's always had Jigsaw, and I think he needs more important characters than just Jigsaw," Remender continued. "So, now the Hood is an important villain for Frank, and so is Daken. Henry and Microchip and the monsters are all going to continue to be important characters. I'm hoping Frank comes out of this with a larger cast and a larger world."