As announced at SDCC 2012, it's official: in October, The Punisher comes face to face with The Avengers. And while the start of the new mini-series Punisher: War Zone does mean that the current Punisher series is ending, the good news is that this mini is the culmination of everything writer Greg Rucka and artist Marco Checchetto have been working on since they relaunched the title more than a year ago. To find out more, we chatted with Rucka about why the series was ending, whether he had more Frank Castle stories in him, and just how a guy with a gun takes down gods:
MTV Geek: Talk about Punisher ending… What was the story of that series, to you? And why does War Zone feel like it could break off into something new?
Greg Rucka: When Wacker convinced me to take on the book, one of the things that hooked me was Frank himself. I've said this in other interviews, but the fact is, he's deceptively simple at first blush. You look at The Punisher, and you see echoes of Charles Bronson in Death Wish, a countless number of lone-wolf survivors against a wall of evil needing bullets put into their brains. And all of that is there, certainly, all of that applies to Frank.
But revenge stories, they end one way, really. They end with the death of the protagonist - I'm loathe to call them the hero - the ultimate price for their vengeance. Frank long ago achieved his personal vengeance; the people responsible for the murder of his family, they're long in the ground. Yet Frank goes on, he continues his war, he continues his mission, and if you give that the credit its due, you're left in a place where you have to ask, How? How is it he can keep going, how is it he continues?
That opens up a whole new slew of questions. What has he sacrificed to become the man who does this? What is the price?
From the start, I wanted to tell a story about how unique Frank is in literature - comics, novels, films, you name it - because I really have come to feel he is that unique. And the best way to tell that story, for my purposes, was to contrast him with another in a similar place. That other is Rachel Cole-Alves, who in all apparent respects is pretty much a variation on Frank Castle. Similar skillset, similar trauma, similar goals.
But she cannot be Frank. She can never be Frank. There is only one Frank Castle.
The end of the series, as well as War Zone, were always stories that Steve and I knew we'd tell. This was the plan, though War Zone as a mini-series wasn't the initial form. War Zone is the inevitable result of The Punisher, and while I absolutely believe people can come to it blind, having not read a single issue of The Punisher, if you have been reading the series, you'll have seen hints this was coming for a while. Certainly, Frank has always known this day was coming - there was only so long he'd be able to run below the radar before the Big Heroes noticed him, and concluded it was time they did something about their Punisher Problem.
Geek: After this, do you feel like you have more Frank Castle stories to tell? Or have you said your piece about the guy?
GR: I've called Frank "deceptively simple," because he's pretty straightforward. But that ignores a depth that I find, personally, compelling as hell in the character. So, yes, there are more stories I could tell, but for now, this is it. Frank is moving on to other writers, and I've been lucky enough to have my time with him.
Geek: So The Avengers are coming to take Frank down… This is something you’ve been promising for a good long while, but what finally puts him on their radar?
GR: Oh, c'mon! That would totally be telling! Let's just say that the events of Punisher 14-16 become such that Frank's concerted efforts to stay out of the spotlight no longer work.
Geek: Who are we going to see on this Avengers task-force? And how prepared is Frank for this assault?
GR: He's as prepared as he can be, but it's the Avengers, so take that as you will. This doesn't start with the whole might of the Avengers crashing down on him - that would be overkill, after all. But as the series progresses, more and more of them will become involved. And frankly, they're not in agreement as to how they should deal with the Punisher.
As it stands, the Avengers in question - for this story - are Spider-Man, Wolverine, Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow, and Captain America. Imagining this as a team response is incorrect; rather, it's a situation that the Avengers feel they have to respond to, and the series is as much about them doing just that as it is about Frank refusing their, ahem, "solutions" to the problem he poses.
Geek: This is taking a little step back, but this plot is very much vaunting Frank Castle back to the world of superhero comics. How does that affect how you approach his character, and the writing?
GR: That's a harder question to answer than you might think. Frank doesn't change; his tactics change, but he stays the same. He's not suddenly going to learn how to fly. He may have scavenged tech that will help him out in this situation or that one, but he's not about to be bitten by a radioactive assassin, for instance. He's Frank Castle, he's made of flesh and bone. So, in that sense, the writing doesn't change.
But having said that, the moment you introduce Thor into your story, you're playing on a whole new level, and that definitely changes things. So perhaps the best way to view it is to say that yes, the camera is still "street level," but it's looking up far more than it has in the past.
Geek: When it comes to Avengers vs. The Punisher… Who is in the right there, at least in your opinion? Do the Avengers have valid reasons for taking Frank down?
GR: Mean question! You're asking who's right, in what sense? Morally? Legally? Look, Frank Castle has served as judge, jury, and executioner in the Marvel Universe for years, and no matter how much you may agree with his brand of justice, the fact is, what he does is entirely illegal. He breaks the law so much the law has become irrelevant to him, and, if he were inclined to actually talk about it, he'd probably tell you that law is the domain of society, law is society's rules, and he long ago divorced himself from the society those laws were made to serve. They simply do not apply to him any longer.
In that alone, the Avengers have the moral high ground. And you can argue they've got a lot to answer for in letting Frank go about his business for as long as they have. So, in that sense, Frank is surely in the wrong.
But from where Frank stands, what are the options? There's a fundamental disagreement between him and the rest of the hero community (or, heh, at least most of them), which is they put a much higher value on human life than Frank does. Or, to put it another way, Frank absolutely believes there are people the world would be better off without, permanently-like. Frank is doing what he feels he must do. It's his choice, his job. He doesn't expect anyone else to do it, and he absolutely knows the price he's paying for taking this work on. Simple as that. That's not a view Spider-Man, for instance, can agree with, even on his worst days.
Geek: What’s it been like working with Marco Checchetto now for well over a year? How has the way you communicate changed – or not?
GR: In my experience, working with an artist for the first time, that can be really tricky. You never know how you'll communicate, if your expectations for the book and story are shared, or if you're going to be butting heads at every turn. I have been incredibly fortunate to be partnered with Marco on this, because he is an outstanding collaborator. We understand each other very well, language barriers notwithstanding, and, more crucially perhaps, we trust each other. I genuinely think he's a super start in the making, and - and I know how this sounds, trust me - but it's been a privilege working with him. We could never have told these stories alone, I don't think, not like this. I'm going to miss working with him when War Zone is over.
Geek: Anything else you want to tease? Horrible new ways of killing people you “had” to research for this mini-series?
GR: It's called War Zone, and it's the Punisher and the Avengers, and there's an immediate assumption that means that Frank is going to be sniping at Black Widow and Thor will be knocking down buildings to get at him. It's not that simple. It's not that clear-cut. This isn't simply a 'hero v. hero' battle. Frankly, if it was, it'd be over pretty darn quick. There's more nuance at work, and potentially more at stake for both Frank and the Avengers.
And I think it's going to be a hell of a lot of fun for people to read.
Punisher: War Zone #1 hits from Marvel Comics in October!