The costumed super heroes of the Marvel Universe regularly thwart the schemes of criminals and terrorists. For Frank Castle, stopping crime isn’t enough; he has declared war on it. Following his family’s murder by the forces of organized crime, Castle donned a costume with a stylized death’s head symbol on his chest and created the vigilante identity of the Punisher.
As the Punisher, Castle has used the skills he learned as a Special Forces soldier to wage a one man crusade against the forces of crime and terror in New York City. Announced today at C2E2, writer Greg Rucka and artist Marco Checchetto kick off Castle’s latest campaign against the scum of New York City with the launch of an all-new “Punisher” ongoing series in August. CBR News spoke with Rucka about his plans for the book.
“It wasn’t really a question of the universe as it was a question of the opportunity and the timing, which was right. This is an awesome opportunity and it would have been a shame to miss it,” Rucka told CBR News. “The world that Frank rolls in is a world that I’m very comfortable writing. I personally feel that I’ve never been aces at writing the lofty super hero stuff. I don’t think that’s my forte. I can do it and I absolutely love to work with people who do it well, but give me a story where a bullet can kill you and I’m much more at home! I write what I like to read and I like reading crime/noir stories. I like writing about cops, criminals, and the people in between.”
Once Rucka accepted the “Punisher” assignment he began to delve into the complex psychology that drives the character. “There are certain characters to me that need to stay the same. In fact part of their character arc is their inability to change and their unwillingness to grow. If you change the Punisher you break him,” Rucka explained. “Most characters come with all of this baggage. Frank does have a lot of baggage, but it’s already been sorted. His wife Maria and his kids are never coming back and he knows that. Everything he does now is because he has a termination point on the horizon. He knows he’s going to die eventually, but he’s got a lot to do before he gets there. His goals are very clear and straightforward and there is something genuinely wonderful about a character who is that pure.”
While Rucka feels the Punisher is a ruthless and utterly determined character, he doesn’t believe Frank Castle is psychotic. “There’s a documented syndrome among snipers. You’re sitting behind the scope, and then the word comes to fire and you reach out and touch somebody a thousand meters away. You don’t know them and you never will and you ended their life. You get a sense of power and almost godhood from that,” Rucka said. “There are documented cases of snipers who continue to just shoot even after they’ve taken down their target. In many ways that could be Frank, but it isn’t. Why isn’t it? Because a lesser person would have gone mad a long time ago and I refuse to accept that the Punisher is crazy.
“There’s no point writing the Punisher if he’s crazy because then you take away his ownership of everything he does,” Rucka continued. “One of the things that I think is so amazing about him is that you don’t really survive as a creature of vengeance after you’ve exacted your vengeance [Castle destroyed the crime family that murdered his love ones on an early mission] unless you’re working on some other level.”
In the Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon’s “PunisherMAX” series from Marvel’s mature readers MAX imprint, Frank Castle wages war in a world with no other heroes and villains. Rucka’s series takes place in the regular Marvel U, and if Frank Castle isn’t careful his crusade against crime may be complicated by the heroes and villains that inhabit it.
“In the last several years there have been a slew of fantastic writers on the book, and that’s aside from a rather epic run that Garth Ennis did. So in their own way, the crime stories have been done from just about every angle, but to me, Frank is the vessel. He’s the tank that’s going to roll through the countryside. The question is, who else is going to be in the countryside and who is going to manage to get out of the way of the treads? Those to me are interesting questions,” Rucka said. “Within the confines of the Marvel Universe, Frank has a certain amount of rope, and if he extends it too far then you have people with god-like powers paying attention to you. And that’s a problem. It’s a problem for him not so much because he’s afraid of that fight, it’s because that fight is going to take him off mission. If he has to deal with that stuff then he’s not dealing with what he wants to be dealing with, and what he wants to deal with is killing people who need to die.”
Rucka feels the best Punisher stories are ones where you meet an especially heinous target and then watch Frank Castle run that target down. For the writer’s initial stories he’ll introduce several new dangerous and demented characters for the Punisher to hunt. “At the start I’m less interested in dealing with the Punisher’s gallery of established rogues than I am with establishing a status quo,” Rucka explained. “Where I’m coming from will allow us to bring a couple of new organizations into New York and to set up some other criminal enterprises and adversarial forces that he could be facing, because frankly if you’re in the mob and you’re in New York you’re terribly dumb. At this point you really do know how that ends.”
Creating new foils for the Punisher has proven to be a fun but challenging experience for Rucka. “I’ve honestly been struggling with the question of what makes a good foil for Frank and I think there are different aspects of that,” the writer remarked. “One of the things we’re establishing is there is a There but for the Grace of God Go I character. There is also character who is potentially a mirror, but the fact of the matter is that Frank is unique and one of the things I want to get to is why. Because it’s not what he’s done, it’s that he maintains it.”
Rucka views the Punisher first and foremost as a soldier out to eliminate targets in his own personal war. “Target priority is based on any number of things, and to me he behaves in very mission specific ways. In our first issue he’s going to do something that may read as very out of character to some readers, but he does it to forward his mission.”
The Punisher’s missions are solo ones, but there will be a supporting cast that helps him prepare for and accomplish them. “I have no plan right now to use Microchip, but one of the things I’ve spent a fair amount of time on is the Punisher’s methodology and prep. How he goes about doing what he’s doing and the network that he’s established are core elements of that. That’s something I want to spend a fair amount of time getting into,” Rucka said. “This is the Marvel Universe and there are lots of very useful things in the Marvel Universe for Frank to bring on a mission. There is all sorts of technology that exists. It’s commonplace in terms of the Marvel Universe, but not for the public. It’s part of the lore of the universe and if Frank gets his hands on some of this stuff he can use it in some very inventive — and I think — entertainingly effective ways.”
Rucka’s initial issue of “Punisher” will establish who the character is and his status quo without delving too much into Frank Castle’s back story. “I don’t retell the origin, but there is a recap page. I don’t spend a whole lot of time on this-is-who-he-is and this-is-why-he’s-doing-what-he’s-doing. I feel very strongly that everything you need to know is in the title of the book at the start,” Rucka explained. “I’m trying to start from a relatively clean slate because it is an issue #1. So I don’t want it come with any previous storylines, etc. That’s simply an issue #1 decision, that’s just the choice that Steve [Wacker, the book’s editor] and I have made with regards to how we’re proceeding. Further down the line we may thread back into other things, but we want sort of a crisp, clean start.”
The Punisher’s war on crime makes him one of the Marvel Universe’s premier street level characters and Rucka is happy to be working with artist Marco Checchetto on the project. Checchetto has shown a real flair for gritty, street-level action stories with his work on books like “Daredevil,” “Amazing Spider-Man,” and the “Shadowland: After the Fall” one-shot. “His storytelling is wonderfully crisp and stylistically I love his art,” the writer said of his collaborator. “He and I have had a couple of e-mail conversations at this point and he came at me immediately with some ideas. Some of the things he wanted to do were ideas I had already noted down on my own and hadn’t shared with him. It was one of those wonderful moments where the writer and artist are simpatico. I was like, ‘YES! Exactly.’ He was including references and I was like, ‘Yes! I have that image!’ So I’m very happy to be working with him.”
When “Punisher” begins in August, the Marvel Universe will be in the midst of its “Fear Itself” event, but Rucka’s initial story arc will stand on its own. “I’ve talked to [‘Fear Itself’ writer] Matt Fraction a bit and I’ve read one of the ‘Fear Itself’ scripts, but I’ve utterly failed to find a way that was satisfying for me to thread it in,” the writer remarked. “That may change. Going forward the book will be affected by the larger Marvel Universe.”
It’s been seven years since “Wolverine” with Darick Robertson, Rucka’s last ongoing series for Marvel. During that time the writer has penned some critically-acclaimed, gritty crime comics including his recent “Elegy” arc in “Detective Comics” starring the new Batwoman and “Stumptown,” his creator-owned private detective series from Oni Press. Rucka told CBR he is having a blast on “Punisher” and encourages curious readers to try the series when it begins in August. “I suspect that there might be a lot of people going, ‘Rucka? Marvel Universe? Punisher? This ought to be interesting.’ I hope it is interesting and I hope it’s entertaining and people dig it,” the writer said. “I’m very excited. I’ve really got to say thank you to Axel [Alonso] and Steve for giving me this opportunity. It’s been really nice and I plan to make the most of it.”