War is a brutal and ugly phenomenon from which no one escapes unscathed and when the mental damage is left untended, it could change a person in drastic and frightening ways. This is what happens to Marvel Comics' The Punisher (AKA Frank Castle), but before he became brutal vigilante, Castle was a highly decorated marine with a wife and two kids. When he returned home from fighting in war, his family was taken from by the forces of organized crime.
So what happens when Castle's tragic history threatens to repeat itself with another soldier? How far will the Punisher go to keep this soldier from becoming another version of himself and what happens when saving this soldier means confronting a seemingly unstoppable enemy?
Those questions and more will be answered by writer Scott Gimple and artist Mark Texeira this January in "Punisher: Nightmare." CBR News spoke with the creators about the project, announced during the Marvel NOW! Cup 'o Joe panel at New York Comic Con. Marvel Comics provided CBR with a preview and cover gallery of the five issue miniseries.
CBR News: Scott, you co-wrote the "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" film and you have an extensive background in television, including working as a writer and producer on "The Walking Dead" Television series. How does it feel to be working on your first Marvel Comics miniseries and how did this assignment come about for you?
Scott Gimple: I've done two short stories for Marvel in the past but this is my first mini-series for them and it's pretty much a dream come true -- the Marvel universe is something that made me want to be a writer. My goal was always to be a working comic book writer first and foremost; it just worked out a little differently.
This assignment came out of a story I pitched to Tom Brevoort, who had been introduced to me by the amazing Mark Waid. Mark and I came to be friends after he read a series I wrote at Bongo Comics called "Heroes Anonymous." I've always dug the Punisher and I had a bunch of stories bouncing around my head for him.
You also did some work for Bongo's "Simpsons" series; what's it like shifting from writing primarily humorous comics to a character whose adventures are much darker in tone?
SG: It's kind of the same thing that's happened to me with TV -- I started in children's television at Disney, eventually doing a show I created there called, "Fillmore!" Now I'm working on some seriously dark stuff for more of an adult audience. I think any great story has emotion and character at its center -- it doesn't matter if it's a comedy or drama. Frank Castle and Homer Simpson both have their issues, obsessions and struggles -- we see them go through journeys of change. One deals with death, the other one deals with donuts, but in both cases, their emotions should seem real.
What do you find most interesting about Frank Castle? Which aspects of his character do you really want to explore in this series?
SG: I love that Frank's inhuman mission is based in the very human emotions of grief and loss. It would seem Frank is beyond human emotion, but he's not -- he wouldn't be doing this if he'd never loved his family. So that spark of humanity persists in him and it often complicates his sole purpose in life, to punish the guilty.
Mark, your first Punisher story dates back to the late '80s and since then you've come back to him a number of times, most recently for a sci-fi/space opera take on him with "Space Punisher." What is it about Frank Castle that keeps you coming back and as an artist, which elements of the character do you find most interesting?
Mark Texeira: I don't know why I'm so associated with this character, but having finished this last "Space Punisher" adventure, I'm all in for more outrageously fun tales.
I don't love guns -- I never owned one but I always get called back to Frank. I would much rather work on characters like Wolverine, Spidey, Hulk, Daredevil, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Conan. These characters are raw and dangerous in their own right. That's the fun of it; human-expression in the extreme.
Ever since Punisher's first appearance in "The Amazing Spider-Man" #129, I've always had this love/hate relationship with him and his obsession with balancing right and wrong, but through only his myopic view. I guess even the wronged need to be heard. Some therapist would tell Frank, "He's never been listened to as a child and it's OK to be expressive." That wouldn't make for fun comic books, though.
What is it about the story of "Punisher: Nightmare" in particular that made you want to accept this project?
MT: I've never worked with Scott before and here was another chance to show Frank's more human side as the Punisher. In this story he helps a military member take on their cause which Frank can relate to -- family. With the military on everyone's horizon this one seemed more like a statement for those unheard, if that makes sense.
Marvel has provided readers with a variety of takes on The Punisher, some like "Punisher MAX" are more extreme than others. Tell us where "Nightmare" fits in.
SG: My favorite of all time is Garth Ennis' portrayal in his MAX stories; that stuff is some of the best comics storytelling I've ever read. The Frank Castle in "Nightmare," however, is from the Marvel Universe -- some decidedly Marvel Universe stuff happens along the way. The villain the Punisher will come to face has certain powers specifically making the Punisher's mission very difficult.
What else can you tell us about the plot and themes of "Punisher: Nightmare?"
SG: I think the story works on two levels -- one side of it explores that little human spark in Frank that still exists and thus trips him up in his very inhuman mission. He meets a soldier who, like him, lost his family after stumbling into the crossfire of a mob hit. Frank comes to learn the soldier struggled with the idea of humanity during the war, affecting him -- a millisecond of doubt by Frank puts a series of events into play making up the story.
Another side of the series deals with the "Marvel Universe" -- Frank faces a new villain, Johnny Nightmare, who, if injured or wounded only gets stronger. Stab him, shoot him or blow him up and he only gets more powerful. This ability makes things difficult for the Punisher since he doesn't stop villains by chatting with them.
What can you tell us about the soldier who returns home in "Punisher: Nightmare?" How different or similar is he to Frank?
SG: The soldier's name is Jake Niman. He's just returned from Afghanistan and when his family is killed in mob crossfire, he winds up in a coma. Frank learns about Jake through a blog he kept while serving in Afghanistan. He learns Jake had demons he wrestled with overseas and Jake's story affects Frank. They're very, very much alike in a lot of ways.
What's it like working with Mark on this book? What do you feel he brings to this story as an artist?
SG: I loved working with Mark -- I can be a detail oriented writer and he was very game to portray my madness. His stuff in this book is tremendous. I've loved Mark's work since I was in high school and I feel lucky we got him to draw "Nightmare." His art has always been incredibly immersive to me -- I've felt very drawn into the environments he creates and he's outdone himself with this series.
Mark, how does the overall look of "Nightmare" compare to your previous Punisher work?
MT: It's some of my best work before the space adventure where the whole thing is painted. I enjoy all aspects of this storytelling medium and bringing Scott's words to life is always a great challenge -- especially with the extremely talented Frank D’Armata at the digital-coloring helm.
Is this a darker and more emotionally intense story as the title suggests or is there still some room for a little dark humor?
MT: Humor may have little to do with this. "Nightmare" seems to describe the intensity of Castle's emotional unrest until something is done on his part in the name of justice.
Scott, would you like to revisit Punisher some day? Are there any other Marvel characters you'd like to get a shot at writing in comics?
SG: Absolutely. I'd love to tell more stories with the Punisher -- he's one of my favorite characters of all time and this was a terrific experience. As for other characters-- the Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Punisher from the MAX universe, the X-Men and an insanely grandiose dream would be doing "Secret Wars III."
I hope people dig this series. I aspired to make something layered and emotional while having the kind of Punisher action and insanity readers have come to expect. Each issue tells a full chapter of the story -- a lot happens in the five books over a few different timelines, so we get a real look into Frank's past. I hope readers feel they've gotten a great deal of bang for the buck -- both literally and figuratively. I assure you, there will be no zombies or three-eyed fish anywhere in this miniseries.
"Punisher: Nightmare" goes on sale January 2013 from Marvel Comics.