Frank Castle has been through a lot in his tormented life, from his experience in Vietnam to the murder of his family to, recently, being cut into pieces and restored as a Frankenstein's monster. But with the "Punisher" set to relaunch with two issues in August, Frank may very well be Marvel's Next Big Thing. Writer Greg Rucka and editor Stephen Wacker are currently holding a press conference call to discuss the series, along with moderator James Viscardi, and CBR News will have live updates throughout the call.
Viscardi joked that the Punisher would be "Marvel's newest mutant," with "eye beams and claws." Rucka quipped that, "It's worked so far."
Wacker then said he'd long wanted to bring Rucka over to Marvel, which came together in a short story before Wacker inherited "The Punisher" relaunch.
Rucka said that the premise of the series is "not just the Punisher, but the Punisher in the Marvel U." "That's not an idea that comes easily, and I had to think of a way to make it work before I accepted."
The writer said the new series "follows up on 'Fear Itself,'" reflecting the new status quo, "but does not touch on 'Fear Itself.'" The first arc deals primarily with the crossfire of mob bosses fighting to reassert himself. "For Frank, there's a specific reason this catches his attention, but I'm not going to tell you because I want the reader to wonder."
Rucka also said that "we won't be spending much time in Frank's head—we know what he's thinking." But, he said, his methods toward killing evil people might change. Wacker added that there would be a departure from the "War Journal" narrative device.
Rucka offered that the Punisher has not always appealed to him. "That death-wish vigilante never really appealed to me," he said, but added that he no longer feels that way about the character. "He has the image of a bull in a china shop, but he's anything but," Rucka said. "I love how smart he is."
He continued that "Punisher" is basically a revenge story, "but what happens after the revenge is over, that isn't a story that's often told," noting that, "in 'Moby Dick,' it ends with everybody dead!"
"How it is that he can keep going, that he survives, that he hasn't eaten his own gun, those questions are really interesting to me," Rucka said.
Speaking of how he "carefully" uses other characters, Rucka said "we get a supervillain in #3." "The nature of the universe means the bad guys bring different tools into play," he said. "The other problem with Frank in the Marvel universe is that Frank kills people, and Marvel U is full of heroes who have a problem with that." This, then, will require Frank to at least attempt to keep a low profile. "But this is not a place to start; that's a complication for further down the road."
Rucka described artist Marco Checchetto as "a great storyteller," a skill which is "much harder than I think a lot of people realize." "That's just a delight, to be able to give him a script, saying this is what I'm thinking, this is what I'm hoping for, and seeing him turn it around into something better than I imagined." Rucka added that he and Checchetto "were on the same page before we'd even spoken to each other."
"There's a bit of the Punisher in Marco," Wacker added. "He has a very strong, Italian work ethic—I can get pages from him any hour of the day." He added, "this book does not look like any other Marvel comic right now, because of the intensity."
Wacker said Castle has killed 48,502 people, counting back to his first appearance, but Rucka said he does not have a favorite. "I will say that the best Punisher kills are the ones where you want to cheer when he does it. The book hinges on killing people who you really want to see dead."
Viscardi then opened the call to press questions.
The first question (from CBR) focused on Frank Castle's knowability or accessibility to readers—more directly, whether Frank is someone you'd ever want to have a beer with. Rucka said flatly, "No." "If he needs information from you, he might buy you beer... and not kill you, if you don't need to be punished." He added that he won't be delving back into why Frank does what he does, which has been covered in previous series.
Wacker said that "Punisher" is "a different kind of fantasy" for Marvel. "I don't think people are reading it and saying, 'I want to be the Punisher.'"
For the next question, Rucka said that Frank would begin "below notice" of heroes like the Avengers because "they're busy," but there would come a point when the Punisher's actions can not be ignored. Further, "the reaction that Spider-Man would have in facing the Punisher is very different from if Logan ever faced him." "The Punisher is not going to shoot Peter; but by the same token, there's no way he's going to let Peter take him in," adding, "there is no version of Peter I believe in that would be ok with what Frank is doing."
Wacker said that "for now, Frank's working alone," with Rucka adding that "Frank doesn't want to work with anybody," though some others have occasionally offered to help in "the war."
The next question touched on capital punishment in the real world and how this relates to "The Punisher." "If you'd asked me ten years ago, I would say it's the worst sort of capital punishment fantasy. Frank is never wrong; if he kills you, you're guilty." In the real world, though, there is the danger of executing an innocent person. Rucka added that he hasn't really considered this angle for this series and "that's not how Frank views it." For Castle, this is more of a military operation. "You don't turn to soldiers and say, 'this is capital punishment.' This is war." Frank Castle, Rucka continued, would not be doing what he does if he believed in the criminal justice system.
Rucka said Frank would be confronted with "a really good detective" whose job is made harder when "everyone you want to question has two .45 rounds in his forehead." "Frank's reaction would be, I'd like to make your job easier, but you're not doing your job," Rucka said.
There was a question about the lack of "War Journal" captions, which could obscure the differences between the Punisher and common mobsters, "so we know he's the good guy." "Hm. I'm not so sure he is the good guy," Rucka said. "I'm rooting for him, but I'm not behind him," Wacker added. "This take of Greg's and Marco's really fuzzies the line."
"Frank to me is not a hero; he's an anti-hero," Rucka said. "He's a cool anti-hero. He's a badass." The writer added that Frank is not someone who will always do the right thing, though he is a man with a code. And, though he won't harm the innocent, "he doesn't always know who's innocent, and that's a problem."
Wacker compared the series to an acting adage, that characters are judged by what they do rather than what they say. "I don't know that everyone who reads this book, especially after the first few issues, is going to be on Frank's side."
Asked about established heroes and villains that may be turning up, Rucka laughed that he does not want to say yet. "If Frank encounters a supervillain, the only way that can end is with that character killed; the list of villains I can kill is not as long as you'd think," he said. Then, "The Punisher/Dazzler crossover is all speculation at this point."
Rucka said "you're not going to meet a lot of mobsters" in the series, because "anyone mob-affiliated living in New York is an idiot." "Once you hunt something to extinction you need to hunt something else."
Ozzie, the detective mentioned previously, and Nora, a reporter, will play significant roles, as will a third supporting cast member whom Rucka would not yet identify.
Wacker added that the series will "redefine what crime means in New York City in 2011," rather than the 1970s take previous iterations have been mired in. He also noted that the real-life Hell's Kitchen no longer resembles Daredevil's, and Wacker said tinkering with the criminal elements is a priority for the next year.
The Exchange will be a major criminal organization seen in the series, with another organization seemingly run by the Owl. Some costumed villains will realize that they can ditch the costumes and get more done, without getting "a face-full of Mjolnir."
"Take just one piece of tech from an Avengers-esque eschelon ... and take it down to street level, you can completely change the playing field," Rucka added, though this would of course catch the attention of the major-league players it was stolen from.
"Frank's going to kill Captain America, guys," Wacker joked.
Asked if Frank would then be required to upgrade, Rucka cited DeNiro's line from "Ronin" that what he uses is "a toolbox; you use the tools for the job." It will be more difficult for Frank to acquire such tech, though, is more of a challenge than it would be for Tony Stark, but "he wouldn't need much; even an ounce of this stuff could make it a dark, dark day for anyone who crosses his path."
Talking about the level of violence, Rucka said that any extreme violence would be implied rather than explicit. "I think the benefit of having it implied is it sort of amps up the emotional anticipation," he said. Further, Frank "has seen body configurations no one's ever seen," but "he's doing that; for anyone else to come across it, it's going to evoke an emotional reaction." Still, Wacker added, the series will carry a Parental Advisory label.
Rucka said he "is not trying to top" previous "Punisher" writers, but "I want to deliver."
Frank will travel outside of NYC, Rucka said. "He will travel as the story requires." "Marco emailed me that 'I want to see Frank in Iraq.' I said absolutely not. I'm not sending Frank to Iraq. But Afghanistan..." He added that "if things get too hot for him in New York, he might decide it's a good time to move to Rio for a year."
Wacker added that Punisher will be traveling to "Spider-Island" for that crossover, appearing in a digital preview issue. "It's funny," Rucka added mischievously.
The final question came to Frank's endgame, what would cause him to stop his mission. Rucka said this speaks to the series' theme, "How do you survive revenge?" "Frank is incredibly damaged; he's a broken, broken human being," he said, "and yeah, we'll be talking about that."
"Punisher" #1 is on sale August 3, with #2 following August 29.