The heroes that make up the Marvel Comics super team known as the Avengers have banded together to face the foes no single hero could confront on their own. They spend the majority of their time battling villains who can conquer worlds and wipe out entire planets. They usually leave smaller crimes to the police or other heroes that operate more on a smaller, street level. What happens, though, when someone at the street level does something to attract the Avengers' attention? And what happens when that someone is the gun toting anti-hero known as the Punisher (AKA Frank Castle) who fights crime, but does it with a more aggressive take no prisoners approach?
The creative team of Marvel Comics' current "The Punisher" series, writer Greg Rucka and artist Marco Checchetto, will start to answer these questions and more in October when their five-issue "Punisher War Zone" miniseries begins. CBR spoke with Rucka about the project which was announced yesterday at the "Marvel: Amazing Spider-Man" panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego.
In their current "The Punisher" ongoing series Rucka and Checchetto are detailing Frank Castle's crusade against the high tech organized crime ring known as the Exchange. That crusade comes a close in "The Punisher" #16, which set the stage for "Punisher War Zone."
"The stories are related, but one is not predicated on the other. You can pick up 'War Zone' and understand what's going on if you haven't read 'Punisher,'" Rucka told CBR News. "If you read 'Punisher' through issue #16 though, you will have a better understanding of how Frank finds himself in the position that he's in at the beginning of 'War Zone.'"
The aftermath of "The Punisher" #14-16 creates the situation that forces the Avengers to pay attention to Frank Castle. Being targeted by Earth's Mightiest Heroes is an intimidating scenario, but it's one the Punisher has prepared for.
"I don't think Frank is at all surprised when this happens. He knew it was inevitable, but he of course has a contingency plan. He's got a contingency plan for everything. That doesn't mean Frank is happy with the situation though," Rucka remarked. "I never felt that Frank looks at the heroes with contempt. I don't think he looks at the Avengers and says, 'You guys are laughable.' When Galactus shows up Frank is not up to the task of defending the Earth. So if hammers fall from the sky, which has happened recently, that's outside of his bailiwick."
The heroes that confront Frank Castle won't be happy to deal with him either, because the Punisher isn't like their typical adversaries. It will prove more than a little difficult to prevent him from carrying out his agenda.
"The heroes that regularly run into the Punisher, like Spider-Man and Daredevil, would have brought him in a long time ago if they thought bringing him in would do any good. As I have said elsewhere and many others have said as well, what do you do with him? Send him to prison? Great, that's a paid holiday for a guy like Frank. The beds are more comfortable, the food is better, he's getting regular meals, and everybody he needs to kill is right there. So what's the other alternative? It's not to kill him. They cannot become him. They're heroes," Rucka said. "So while this series looks like it's been dipped in the heroes-fighting-heroes-sauce, it isn't as simple as that. This is not an excuse for Frank Castle to go beat up the Avengers. Nor is it an excuse for the Avengers to beat up on each other or Frank Castle. There's more going on here. The members of the Avengers will have differing opinions on how they should handle this.
"Spider-Man is of the mind that they should have absolutely done something about Castle years ago. Avengers like Black Widow or Wolverine may have a much more pragmatic view of killing and that puts them in a different position. They've got to ask themselves what they believe and what they're willing to do," Rucka continued. "So there is dissension in the ranks of the Avengers on how to deal with Frank and what to do. There's a legitimate argument to be made, and you can probably guess which Avenger makes it, that says, 'What the Punisher does is ugly and messy and I don't believe for a second that he should be allowed to continue, but saying it's up to us to stop him is a waste of our time and resources. We have to deal with global issues. Why are we chasing one guy around the five Boroughs? Yes he's racked up a huge body count over the years, but there are threats out there that will kill millions if we don't do something about them. So why are we doing this?' It is, to steal a phrase, 'ruthless calculus,' but really what's the best use of their time and resources?"
The dissension amongst the Avengers ranks means that initially the Punisher won't have to face their combined fury. Once "Punisher War Zone" gets rolling and Frank Castle realizes the Avengers are after him he'll start taking steps to keep various Avengers from pursuing him.
"It would be rather stupid of Frank to stand still and let the Avengers come to him. That would be poor planning on his part," Rucka said with a laugh. "Much better planning would be for him to make it very, very difficult for them to come at him."
Rucka is unable to reveal the identities of all the Avengers involved in "Punisher War Zone," but readers can expect a mix of characters from the line ups of the current Avengers teams. "When my editor Steve Wacker and I were talking about this in-depth he said, 'Let's pick and choose,'" Rucka explained. "So I picked some of them because there are certain scenes I imagined right from the start. When I started 'Punisher' #1 I was thinking about those characters. So I knew I wanted certain characters. Other characters I went to because I had precisely no idea how Frank was going to deal with them and I was going to have to come up with something."
The various Avengers teams feature both god-like and more human characters. For the Punisher, one of the more dangerous human Avengers is Captain America both because of Cap's combat skills and the immense respect the Punisher has for him. In past stories like "Civil War" that respect has kept the Punisher from fighting back when Captain America attacked him.
"I've got a friend who's fond of quoting a Marines' saying, 'One brother Marine is worth the life of any other worthless son of bitch, no matter how much you may hate that Marine,'" Rucka remarked. "When you talk about Cap you have to think who Frank is going to have the most respect for as an American and as a soldier? As a Marine who's the one person he's going to look to and think, 'You're the model.' I don't want to give too much away, but that's a crucial element when thinking about how Frank might deal with Cap."
Another low-powered Avenger the Punisher will be wary of tangling with is Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow. "They're from a much more similar world," Rucka said. "I think Frank respects Natasha for who she is and what she can do, but not in the same way he respects Cap. This is adversarial respect. I think Natasha is the one person he's been very careful not to underestimate."
Rucka feels the Punisher also has a good grasp on what the more powerful Avengers like Iron Man and Thor are capable of. "I think he's gone down this road before you and I have. He has come to tactical conclusions about all of the Avengers, and I think for him Thor is the most problematic. How do you deal with him? Someone like Tony is a little easier because Tony is tech reliant. If you can figure out a way to cut out those tech legs, you've won that fight before it even begins," Rucka explained. "With Thor though, you're not going to separate him easily from that hammer. So you have to deal with him in a separate way. By the same token I don't think Thor has a real easy grasp on Frank because he comes from a different culture and a different world and has got a very different view on things. So of everybody there I think the person most likely to underestimate Frank is Thor."
Guerrilla warfare and cat and mouse style battles between Frank Castle and the Avengers will be part of "Punisher War Zone," but ultimately the series is about what a person like the Punisher represents and what groups like the Avengers should represent. "I'm not interested in telling a story about Frank trying to beat up on the Avengers for five issues straight, because frankly that's boring. Will there be beatings? Yes, but there's more to it than that and I think it will be a fun ride," Rucka said. "And this isn't a misunderstanding that leads to a team-up style story either. No Marvel villains with a capital V will be showing up, and there isn't an insidious mastermind out to exploit or manipulate the Punisher and the Avengers."
Readers of "Avening Spider-Man," "Daredevil," and "The Punisher" know that artist Marco Checchetto has a knack for depicting the street level characters of the Marvel Universe, and Rucka feels part of the fun of "Punisher War Zone" will be seeing his collaborator's depictions of Marvel heroes that operate on a larger scale, like the Avengers. "People who haven't seen Marco's work better put rubber bands around their socks. I think he's tremendously talented. One of the things he's done beautifully in 'Punisher' is play with the street level characters, but here he's taking these character who are so shiny and bright and fly up above things and bringing them down. That's going to be a treat to see," Rucka said. " I think people are going to see beautiful art, and on top of that, some really excellent story telling. Because Marco absolutely knows how to do both. He is a remarkably talented professional and a great collaborator."
"Punisher War Zone" will be easily accessible for new readers that are discovering the Rucka-Checchetto collaboration for the first time. Longtime fans of the creators work will find "War Zone" to be a payoff and culmination of all the stories they've been building since "The Punisher" #1.
"If you've been reading 'Punisher,' 'War Zone' is the inevitable result. It's where we were going all along. If you haven't read 'Punisher' go back and read it because I'm very proud of it. Marco has done amazing work and you should get it for that alone," Rucka said. "There are more Punisher stories I could tell after 'War Zone.' I don't think I will be telling them though. This is sort of my farewell to Frank."
"Punisher War Zone" by Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto begins in October.