He’s cut a blood swath through the Marvel U, only to get cut up by Daken, the son of Wolverine, only to then get resurrected as the protector of monsters, FrankenCastle. Now writer Greg Rucka (Gotham Central, Queen and Country, Stumptown)–with artist Marco Chechetto (Daredevil, Amazing Spider-Man, Squadron Supreme), have put the Punisher, the seemingly unstoppable Frank Castle, smack dab in the middle of the Marvel U again.
Bringing Frank back as part of Marvel’s “Big Shots” initiative which saw new number 1’s for Moon Knight, Daredevil, and Ghost Rider, Rucka has taken the helm to show readers a different take on the antihero, while both attempting to stay true to “the mission” while trying to keep Castle under the radar of the rest of the 616. So of course we had to talk about this debut issue with the man responsible for all of the horrible things the Punisher is about to do in his new series.
Geek: Could you tell us a little about where Detective Clemons comes from? On the surface he has hints of the Morgan Freeman character in Se7en.
Greg Rucka Yeah, that Morgan Freeman thing hit a little harder than I’d intended. In the script, I wrote something like “think Morgan Freeman in Seven” and Marco took me a little too literally, I fear. It wasn’t my intention to mirror that look as much as to establish him as a middle-aged, African American, and very smart.
But where he comes from? He’s one part Sherlock Holmes, one part Bobby Goren from L&O:CI, and the rest a mix of what’s been bouncing around inside my head. As will become apparent in later issues, I needed a good cop’s perspective on Frank Castle and his actions, and that’s really the primary reason Ozzy exists. And when I say he’s a “good cop,” I mean it both as a moral, just, incorruptible officer of the law, and as a detective who is almost alarmingly observant and smart.
That’s Ozzy Clemons. You do not want to cross Detective First Ozzy Clemons.
Geek: At this point, what can you tell us about Detective Walter Bolt?
GR: Ah, Bolt. Well, I could tell you a lot about Walter Bolt…or I could wait until you get to the 8-pager at the end of the issue.
All you need to know here is that Bolt is a new promotion to Major Case, this is his first time meeting his new partner–Ozzy–and he’s not unreasonably overwhelmed to be working a crime scene with almost two dozen dead and more blood than he’s seen since he returned from combat. Not a bad guy, but a man very much out of his depth… as you’ll soon see….
Geek: What was behind your decision to keep Frank mostly obscured or off-panel in this first issue?
GR: I really wanted to control what we see of Frank, what we know of him, and in doing that try to force the reader’s perspective and view of him through the eyes of those around him, the Good Guys and the Bad. Frank has been expertly explored by so many writers in recent years–Garth Ennis probably the foremost amongst them, but Jason Aaron, Rick Remender, Matt Fraction, all of them–that it seemed to me following him closely, getting into his head, that had been done, and done quite well.
There’s an odd paradox in this, too, because I really feel that Frank is one of the most isolated, lonely people in the entirety of the Marvel Universe. By separating him like this, by keeping him silent, I wanted to emphasize that isolation.
Geek: In the comments at the end of the issue, your Editor Stephen Wacker talks about your stories being set “within the world of Marvel superheroes, but not at the center of it.” What were some of the decisions you’ve made or rules you’ve had to set for yourself to strike this balance?
GR: Ah, well, that’s the heart of the matter when you’re talking about the Punisher within the Marvel U. As soon as he makes too much noise, becomes too visible, he draws the attention of those heroes who live and breathe in the world around him, and when that happens… well, they’re superheroes. Frank is an anti-hero. They’re morally obligated to come after him, to try and shut him down. Frank’s many things, but one thing he absolutely isn’t is stupid. He knows that’s an eventual loss for him.
To do what he feels he must do, he must avoid attention. That means he works at the fringe, he hunts at the periphery where he can, for as long as he can.
That being said, this is Frank Castle in the Marvel Universe, not in the MAX line. And the Marvel Universe is filled with men and women–good and bad–possessed of extraordinary abilities and talents. Eventually, inevitably, he will come into contact with those super-powered forces.
Like I said, Frank is very, very smart. He has to be to survive doing what he does. He’ll be as ready as he can be when that time comes.
Geek: “The Exchange.” It sounds like the kind of thing that’s going to be a problem for the Punisher down the line. Am I on to something?
GR: You are, indeed, on to something. And I think I’ll be leaving it at that for now.
Geek: In a number of interviews, you’ve talked about the problem emblematic of writing the Punisher in the mainstream Marvel U: that is, how long can he go around killing people before Captain America or someone decides to take him down? Why doesn’t Frank just figure out a way to stay under the radar? Or is that even possible for him?
GR:It’s an interesting question, because Frank certainly could change his game to go after those targets he knows no one will miss. But ultimately, that can never satisfy him. He’s fighting a war, and that means, eventually, he’ll strike at the head of the beast, not just at its limbs. And that means that, ultimately, he’ll set his sights–quite literally–on someone nearer the top. When that happens, the rest of the Marvel U is certainly going to notice.
But Frank poses an extraordinary problem for those same heroes. They will not kill him. They cannot truly imprison him–it’d be like locking him in a funhouse. But they cannot allow him to go around acting as judge, jury, and executioner, either.
Geek: Now that we’re able to see him completely, it looks like Frank has gotten a little bit of a visual overhaul. What were some discussions about the Punisher’s look that you had with Marco Chechetto?
GR: There were some very basic things we hit on. We wanted him younger, for instance (MAX Frank is at least 60). We wanted him leaner–not only physically, but also in regards to how he worked, his hardware, his tactics. He’s fighting this war alone, and as far as he is concerned it is a war, and he is alone, and that means he has to use everything at his disposal, and he has to use it well.
Marco’s earliest sketches showed the “dripping paint” design on the skull, and I loved it at once. He’s not a guy who’s going to be silk-screening t-shirts, you know? But slapping a coat of paint on his Threat Level IV body armor? That made much more sense to me. In its own way, I think it’s a far more intimidating design, something very raw and very savage and very dangerous about it, and of course, that would be exactly the message Frank would want to send. It’s a psychological attack as much as a tactical decision (hey, shoot me IN THE ARMOR!).
Geek: Embedding a portion of the story in the goings-on of the NYPD: would it be fair to say that you’ve got characters like Clemons and Bolt around to keep the stories human with the Punisher running around, doing what he does?
GR: I think that’s very fair. It’s easy to forget the cost of having Frank Castle running around Manhattan, even a fictional Manhattan. But it’s a terrible cost in so many ways–he wreaks bloody havoc wherever he goes, and while he does so with incredible precision, the violence is tremendous, and, honestly, I think far more visceral and tangible than that which comes from most superhero/supervillain fights. People like Ozzy and Bolt reflect that, and allow us to put Frank into a more relatable–or at least understandable–frame.
Frank walks the same streets as Ozzy and Bolt and others we’re yet to meet. It’s important to remember that. What he does, he does where the “normal” people live and sleep and laugh and cry. It doesn’t happen in the skies or in orbit or flying between buildings (…well, mostly not…). It happens on the ground, and it leaves an impact on all it touches.
Geek: Along the same lines: do you think a character like the Punisher needs some kind of supporting cast to keep things at least somewhat grounded?
GR: It’s an interesting question. I don’t think he needs a “supporting” cast perhaps as much as he needs a cast that provides different perspectives on what he does, how he does it, and what he leaves behind. Rather than supporting, I’d say he needs foils, characters who really illuminate and define him because of their differences, and even–sometimes–opposition and/or disapproval.
Geek: These days, it seems like more Marvel heroes are willing to pull the trigger (so to speak) to save a life. Case in point: Wolverine has racked up nearly as healthy a body count, but doesn’t get the same bad rap as Frank Castle. What’s the dividing line between them and the Punisher?
GR: I think one could argue, persuasively, that Logan–despite his best attempts at appearing otherwise–has asserted a moral authority. In other words, his judgment is sound. Or, at least, is perceived as more sound than Frank’s. After all, Frank is still driven by an unquenchable need for vengeance, a vengeance that, in truth, he attained long ago.
That may be the biggest difference. What we’ve seen in others has been conditional, situational. But Frank isn’t playing that. He isn’t looking at killing the enemy as a last resort. That’s option A. And Frank isn’t looking to kill any one specific target. His ultimate agenda is well known. He’s after ALL OF THEM. He won’t stop at one, or one hundred, or one thousand. He won’t stop until he truly, absolutely, cannot continue. And even then, he’ll drag himself to the next target, still on mission, still trying to destroy this enemy that he cannot ever eradicate.