Frank Castle had been stalking and eliminating the street criminals of the Marvel Universe for years when, suddenly, the villainous Norman Osborn took control of literally everything. In order to hold back what he saw as a rising tide of darkness, the former Marine turned vigilante began targeting Osborn's associates, many of whom happened to be super criminals. The Punisher's first campaigns in his new war proved to be quite successful; so much so that he attracted the ire of Osborn himself. Osborn dispatched Wolverine's villainous son Daken to take care of Castle permanently, and when the man known to readers as Dark Wolverine sliced the Punisher to pieces, it appeared to the Marvel U that he was successful. However, death wasn't ready to take Frank Castle yet.
Castle's remains were dumped into a NYC sewer where they were discovered and stitched back together by Morbius, the Living Vampire. Morbius' allies in the Legion of Monsters were locked in a battle with a vicious and unscrupulous group of monster hunters and the Living Vampire saw Castle as a potential weapon in that struggle. So the Punisher was reborn as an undead patchwork style monstrosity, and in honor of this new era of his existence the title of his current series was changed from "Punisher" to "FrankenCastle." Being an undead monster isn't so bad though. Currently he's in Tokyo where he's using his new found superhuman strength and endurance to hunt down and punish his killer, Daken.
The Punisher's vendetta against Daken has come to an end with the release of "FrankenCastle" #20, which is in stores now. Next, in late September, the "FrankenCastle" era of the Punisher comes to a close with issue #21. Finally, in November, Frank Castle returns to the land of the living, ready to wrap up unfinished business in the five issue miniseries "Punisher: In the Blood." CBR News spoke with writer Rick Remender about what readers can expect from all of these stories.
Frank's current feud Daken has been told in "Punishment," a four part crossover story with "Dark Wolverine." Thus far, Frank's vengeance has been complicated by several factors, most notably the rage he feels towards Daken. That anger has been amplified by the fact that Frank is currently in possession of a mystical artifact known as the Bloodstone.
"The Bloodstone empowers you via the amount of rage you feel. It sort of becomes an infinity loop, where the more rage you feel, the more power you get from the Bloodstone - it kind of goes on and on," Remender told CBR News. "The Bloodstone is feeding off of Frank's rage and empowering him so he can go toe-to-toe with Daken."
Further complicating Frank's vendetta is the fact that his target's father, Wolverine, decided to get involved. In the middle chapters of the crossover, the two Marvel icons came to blows as Wolverine tried to stop the Punisher from murdering his son. It's not an unusual occurrence for the two characters to fight when they cross paths, but Remender feels that the relatinship between the two characters has taken on a different feel in recent years.
"I think their dynamic has changed because the mutant population has become almost a cornered animal. Wolverine has had to run X-Force and go out and really immerse an element of the X-Men into 'wetworks.' He used to see Frank Castle as an unrepentant killer who he didn't agree with, but I think they probably have more in common now than they used to," Remender explained. "The reason that they square off at the initial onset of 'Punishment' I think is obvious; Wolverine knows that his kid is a bad seed, but he's not going to let Frank kill him. That's a pretty clear cut motive for them to fight.
"At the end of the third part of 'Punishment,' Daken was able to take the Bloodstone from Frank. As things progress and we see what Daken does with the Bloodstone, the current adversarial dynamic between Frank and Wolverine will probably change," Remender continued. " Their dynamic at that point will naturally sway as they both come to realizations. Frank realizes that by coming to kill Daken, he has handed over the Bloodstone to him. Wolverine realizes that by stopping Frank from killing his kid, anything that his kid does from here on out is on his hands. So they both have to make a decision about how they're going to deal with Daken."
Daken is dangerous enough on his own, but now that he has his hands on the Bloodstone, he just might be more than the Punisher and Wolverine can handle even with their combined powers and talents. In "FrankenCastle" #20, the final chapter of the "Punishment" crossover, Remender and artist Tony Moore chronicle the Punisher and Wolverine's struggle to attempt to prevent Daken from exploiting the power of the Bloodstone.
"Anybody is dangerous with the Bloodstone. It's one of those great Marvel relics. I love the idea that the amount of power it grants you is proportionate to the amount of anger and rage that you have inside. It makes it fun to explore both good and bad characters who get their hands on it. You can look at their origins and explore the questions of how much rage does this person have inside? Or, are they grounded and meditative?" Remender remarked. "Daken is neither of those. He leans into the uglier aspects of his personality, and now you have him in a situation where he's been soundly beaten to shit by Frank Castle. The Punisher came back in part two of 'Punishment' and would have killed him. He would have been buried in 30 feet of wet concrete, and by the time he came to, it would have hardened and he would have been done. He's basically had his life saved by his dad, who he hates, and was definitely going to be killed by Frank Castle, somebody he considers a cockroach. So he's pretty pissed off and now he's got the Bloodstone. It's unfortunate for Tokyo."
In "FrankenCastle" #21, Remender and artist Dan Brereton both pick up after the fallout from "Punishment" and bring the "FrankenCastle" era of the Punisher to a close. "This issue is a pretty special book for me in terms of getting to see the fruition of the initial idea and the initial story that we had put together. To see it all painted by Dan Brereton, who is one of my favorite artists and all time heroes, is wonderful," Remender stated. "In this issue, we see Frank in a pretty bad place after the events of the 'Punishment' crossover. Frank's mind has deteriorated. His young computer expert partner, Henry, sees this and sends Frank to a nearby island. The island turns out to be Monster Island, a place where Henry feels that whatever Frank does is not going to hurt anybody. Frank is broken at this point. Henry knows it.
"We then have a wrap-up of everything that was started in the first arc with the Legion of Monsters. They recognize that Frank is their responsibility since Morbius brought him back to protect them. Henry goes to Frank's friends in the Legion and says, 'He's out of control and we've got to do something.' They all head to Monster Island to deal with Frank. They're accompanied by someone else who has a vested interest in the journey, and that person is - spoilers - Elsa Bloodstone."
What Henry, Elsa and the Legion of Monsters discover when the reach Monster Island is that Frank Castle's mind may be broken, but thanks to the magic of the Bloodstone, his body no longer is. "By the time we get into issue #21, he's been on Monster Island for a few months and he's been healed by the Bloodstone. It's a regenerative artifact. He's got the body of a 30 year old again. He's healthy, hard and mean as shit, but the Bloodstone is driving him crazy," Remender revealed. "He's got some sideways ideas about what he's going to do to the world to punish it, and this puts the Legion of Monsters, Henry, and Elsa Bloodstone, in a predicament. They have to decide whether or not they kill Frank Castle to get the stone."
In "FrankenCastle" #21, the undead era of the Punisher comes to a close with Remender ready to take the adventures of the Punisher in a different direction. "'FrankenCastle' wasn't something that was taken away from me," Remender said. "I think there was one encounter with the Deadly Dozen [A group of murdered and resurrected super villains that were tricked into going toe-to-toe with the Punisher in the second arc of Remender's series] that we didn't have space to do, and that will be shifted to my next Punisher project, 'In the Blood.' It made more sense as we broke things down."
Remender's five issue "Punisher: In the Blood" miniseries takes place about month after the events of "FrankenCastle" #21. "There's a short story by Andrea Mutti and me in the back of issue #21 that leads into the 'In the Blood' miniseries. It chronicles the time from Frank's final moments on Monster Island to his return to New York, where I think he's involved in the current 'Shadowland' event storyline," Remender explained. "When he gets back to New York, Frank realizes that during his absence nobody's been paying attention to the things he used to monitor. His sort of archenemy, Jigsaw I, Billy Russo, is back. As is Jigsaw II, Stuart Clarke, who Frank himself created in the 'Punisher War Journal' series that Matt Fraction and I did. They've teamed up, and the Jigsaw brothers have staked a claim in New York."
Readers of Remender and Fraction's 2008 "Punisher War Journal" arc, "Jigsaw," might be under the incorrect assumption that Jigsaw I is dead, which is understandalbe since it looked like he was shot in the head at the end of the storyline. "We never really saw Billy die. He was in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody when he was shot, and S.H.I.E.L.D. is an organization dedicated to espionage. So The Golden Rule isn't necessarily at the top of their list. During the time of Norman Osborn and the organization he replaced S.H.I.E.L.D. with, H.A.M.M.E.R., Osborn was doing things to Jigsaw. There was the Thunderbolts program where they were trying to brainwash people to be controlled soldiers for Osborn (which was featured in 2009's "Thunderbolts" #137 by Remender and artist Mahmud Asrar) and there were a number of other programs. Billy was lost in that system and we'll see the results of that in 'In the Blood'. But mostly, at the heart of it all, he's looking to rekindle his relationship with his son."
Jigsaw I's son just happens to be the Punisher's current tech savy assistant, Henry. Henry's relationship with his biological father and his surrogate one, Frank Castle, plays a big role in "Punisher: In the Blood." "Henry is basically stuck between these two worlds, these two families," Remender remarked. "There are some revelations coming about Henry that I think will be pretty shocking. We'll reveal what his real motives are."
The Jigsaw Brothers aren't the only bit of unfinished business that the Punisher will be taking care of in the upcoming mini. He'll also be looking to put an end to his original computer hacking associate, Microchip, who teamed up with the super villain crime boss The Hood in a scheme to take down the Punisher in the 2009 "Dead End" arc of Remender's "Punisher" series. That scheme also involved the Deadly Dozen, some of whom, as Remender mentioned, will also be appearing in "In the Blood."
"The common thread in this story is family. It's all of Frank's supporting cast - Microchip, Stuart Clarke and Henry Russo. These three guys have each served time as Frank's right hand men and tech gurus. They all play a big role in this. This is the story that everything has been building towards," So you've got Microchip out there pulling moves. The Jigsaw Brothers, The Deadly Dozen and Henry. You've got a story that's all in the family. Hence the title, 'In the Blood.'"
"Punisher: In the Blood" will also feature a mysterious supporting character who is destined to have a big impact on the Frank Castle's life. "In issue #17 of 'FrankenCastle,' we saw a mysterious woman assassinate some members of the villainous group known as the Shaolin Scientist Squad," Remender recalled. "Her identity is going to be a revelation, especially when Frank figures out who she really is."
When Remender first began his "Punisher" series, he armed his protagonist with an arsenal of fantastic and high tech weapons, and during "In the Blood" Frank Castle will once again be making mayhem with some of the Marvel U's most dangerous gadgets. "Frank lost a lot of his arsenal, but he's still got plenty of toys and he's still employing Henry to develop and buy him certain things. I think Frank needs to have an interesting arsenal beyond just guns and knives to survive and work in the Marvel Universe. As far as I'm concerned, Frank would always be on the lookout for bigger and better weapons. I don't see Frank stopping that. It's a classic Punisher story set in the Marvel Universe," Remender continued. "There's something for every kind of Punisher fan here, whether you dug 'FrankenCastle,' 'Punisher' or both . This is the best of both worlds. You've got all the craziness of Frank in the Marvel Universe in a very traditional and classic Punisher story."
For "Punisher: In the Blood," Remender is collaborating with artist Roland Boschi who brought to life two issues of "FrankenCastle" along with a recent "Punisher MAX" Christmas special with writer Jason Aaron. "Roland is on a tear. I'd work with Roland on anything," Remender said. " If somebody wanted me to do 'The Smurfs' and Roland was drawing it - I'm in! He's just one of those guys. What he brings to the page is so magical, it's just great storytelling - he's a joy to work with. What he brings to this is a classic Punisher feel with masterful storytelling technique and smart use of heavy black and silhouettes. Part Goran Parlov and part Mike Mignola. His art is like looking at storyboards for a well-made action film. The art tells the story sans text. It's always a pleasure to work with a true storyteller like Roland."
After three years as one of the main chroniclers of Frank Castle's Marvel Universe based adventures, Remender has come to an end of the story he wanted to tell, and "Punisher: In the Blood" is designed to serve as the writer's action packed and explosive farewell to the character.
"This entire miniseries involves taking all these Punisher related character and using them to tell what will hopefully be my be-all, end-all Punisher story. I would love to go out with my best foot forward and just blow the roof off this thing one last time. Hopefully people will think that I did," Remender remarked. "If you've been reading the book for the last couple of years, you'll be very happy with what we're delivering here because it takes every loose thread and everything I've been seeding since I've been on the book and you get a big, bloody pay-off.
"I like to know that when things are seeded in a story that they were seeded for a reason. I think it's the responsibility of the writer to let you know that he's thought things through enough to let you know that when something happens it's not arbitrary. Anything you see seeded is important to this story, and in order to do that, you need to have a big wide scope and big plan.On the Punisher stuff, I had a huge outline covering the beats up to this mini from around the second issue. My editor on the series, Sebastian Girner, has a very intrinsic sense about how these relationships play off of each other. We spent months slowly building the beats for the story, going over the logic, the reveals, the motivations. I rewrote the outline for the entire arc a couple few times as we tore it up and rebuilt it. I think we locked this one down. I think this is going to be something special. It will be great to be able to show people that all the things that have been happening and the things we've been seeing throughout, with Henry, Frank's family, Jigsaw and Microchip are all building towards this big explosive climax."