For decades, the Punisher has waged a one man war against the criminal scum of the Marvel Universe. In his mind, in order to protect the innocent he must take on an unending horde of human savagery. But what if suddenly there were no more innocents? What if everyone else in the Marvel Universe became violent monsters? Could one determined man survive in and take on an entire world filled with insane. super-powered predators?
Writer Jonathan Maberry and artist Goran Parlov will answer those questions and more starting in August when their four-issue miniseries, “Marvel Universe Versus the Punisher,” begins. CBR News spoke with Maberry about the tale, which is set in a dark, post-apocalyptic version of the Marvel U.
CBR News: Jonathan, let’s start at the beginning: how did “Marvel Universe Versus the Punisher” come about and what inspired it?
Jonathan Maberry: This is one of the first projects I ever discussed with my editor, Axel Alonso. We’ve been kicking the idea back and forth for over a year, and it’s grown in the telling.
The inspiration comes from my lifelong love of apocalyptic fiction. One of my favorite novels is Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend.” I’m not a huge fan of the film adaptations, but I love the novel, with the claustrophobic focus on one man’s battle against loneliness, despair and unconquerable odds.
When I first started writing for Marvel, I pitched the idea of a story in which the Punisher is that last man on earth. Axel agreed at once.
This is your second project with the Punisher (after 2009’s “Punisher MAX: Naked Kill”) and it’s clear you have an affinity for the character. What do you find most compelling about Frank Castle and what makes him a good candidate for the type of story you’re telling in “Marvel Universe Versus The Punisher?”
Frank’s a great and very iconic character. Psychologically and emotionally, he’s damaged goods. He’s also aware of it and he has found the one niche in life where he can function with a high degree of control and personal satisfaction: killing bad guys.
I can appreciate that purity of focus and intent. It’s a great creative opportunity to explore how a global catastrophe affects a person whose entire life has been defined by a mission to “punish.” When we step into this story, Frank has taken the “punish” concept to an extreme level because the world itself has become a battleground where everyone is trying to kill everyone else. Frank believes that this is all that there is left to him: to kill and kill and kill until his life winds down into nothingness. He even knows that it’s an unwinnable war, but he feels that it is his purpose to keep killing.
But very quickly we come to a watershed moment where the nature of his mission is changed. He is given a choice between “punishing” and “saving.” It’s a more difficult choice for Frank than you might think.
â€¨Speaking of affinities, you’ve done a few stories in both prose ( October’s “Rot & Ruin”) and comic form (“Marvel Zombies Return”) that are set in apocalyptic worlds plagued by flesh hungry monsters. This series also has that kind of setting. What is it about these worlds that fires your imagination?
I grew up in a deeply dysfunctional family and in a very violent and very poor neighborhood in Philly. Believe it or not, thinking about the end of the world was a moderately comforting thought at the time.
But the real influences were George Romero and Richard Matheson. “Night of the Living Dead” premiered on October 2, 1968, and I was there at the Midway Theater in Philly to see it. I was ten, and I snuck in and I stayed to watch it twice. Scared the living hell out of me, but I fell in love with the scope of it. So many monsters, so few options, so much storytelling potential. “Planet of the Apes” came out the same year, and I read the novel (“Monkey World” by Pierre Boulle). Then, when I was fourteen, I met Richard Matheson and he gave me a signed copy of “I Am Legend” and he gave me a lot of really crucial advice on writing. It was quite an experience.
With those two influences, I had the beginnings of a great love of dystopian and apocalyptic fiction. I have a huge collection of novels, short stories, movies and comics dealing with these themes. No surprise that it influenced my writing.
Also, I’m a very practical guy. I like problem solving, and trying to survive the end of the world is the ultimate problem. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I would survive, how I’d protect and provide for my family, and so on.
Let’s talk a little bit about the specific setting of “Marvel Universe Versus The Punisher.” What can you tell us about what happened to diverge this world off from the history of the Marvel Universe? When did this event take place?
There are a lot of spoilers built into those questions, so I’m going to have to be a bit vague. The short version is that a pathogen is accidentally released that was designed during the Cold War to allow humans to adapt to climate changes resulting from a nuclear or biological war. The pathogen changes human physiology so that it can survive in any environment; and it amps up the aggression/survival instincts. Unfortunately, it was never fully tested and it has dreadful, unforeseen side effects. The Punisher is there at the time of the pathogen’s release and gets a “super dose” of it, which renders him immune to the effects that transform virtually everyone else on earth.
Our story takes place “tomorrow.” It’s a Marvel Knight’s tale, so it’s outside of regular continuity, though it is the kind of story that could happen at any time. So…who knows? Maybe it will become part of Marvel’s timeline.
What can you tell us about the plot and themes of this story? It sounds like “I Am Legend” set in the Marvel Universe.
To a degree that’s true, but only in the broadest sense. It is a “last man on earth” scenario, and there is a massive threat – but our story goes off in its own unique direction. After all, this is the Punisher, not a scientist in a lab coat.
Who are some of the mutated Marvel characters that the Punisher runs afoul of in this series, and do the mutated cannibals work together and have a leader or are they sort of feral hunters?
They’re called “cannibal predators,” or CPs, and they have a leader – the first known case of infection. He’s called “Patient Zero” and he’s a real badass. The CPs do form tribes, though there is a very high attrition rate among them, even within a tribe.
One of the biggest enemies the protagonist faced in “I Am Legend” was loneliness. Does Frank Castle’s extremely driven nature make him immune to those feelings, or is that something he struggles with as well?
Frank is not a well-balanced person. Not before the events in this story, and certainly not during. In our story, he’s taken all of his fears, anger, hurt and guilt and channeled them into a level of predator aggression we’ve never before seen, even with him. That allows him to have focus, and the focus cancels out the loneliness. Sanity is a bigger issue for him than the need for companionship. He’s become a deadly hermit fighting what he believes is the good fight.
Goran Parlov is certainly no stranger to the Punisher,, having illustrated several tales featuring the character over the last several years. This is a different type of Punisher story, obviously, so how has your collaborator taken to it?
I know Goran’s work from other Punisher books he’s done, and he really has a feel for the character. He gets the moodiness and simplicity that define Frank Castle. At the same time, this is a new direction for Goran in that he gets to draw a lot of Marvel super heroes and villains, many of whom he hasn’t had to tackle. And he knocks it out of the park.
Overall, how would you describe the tone of “Marvel Universe Versus the Punisher?”
Dark. There’s humor in it, but that’s dark, too. This is a tragic story with a spark of hope, but it is not the “feel good story of the year.” We get inside Frank’s head from page one, and that is a very dangerous place to be. If you wanted to get specific, I guess you could call it an existentialist superhero social satire.
Some folks have asked if it’s another zombie story. No – it’s not. And it’s not supernatural in any way. Also, folks have asked if it’s tied in any way to the 1995 Garth Ennis one-shot “The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe.” Except for a coincidental similarity in the title, there are no similarities. In fact, the book has gone through a couple of name changes along the way. I pitched it as “Punisher: Last Gun on Earth,” and later it was changed to “Marvel: Infected.” But as the story grew in scope, Marvel decided to call it “Marvel Universe Versus. The Punisher.” I’m good with that.
I think readers will dig the story. It features a host of Marvel’s top characters: Spider-Man, the Hulk, Deadpool, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, Thor, Captain America, Iron Man – whew, the list goes on and on. It’s going to be a hell of a wild ride.
In addition to “Marvel Universe Versus the Punisher,” I imagine you’re also hard at work finishing “DoomWar.” Any other upcoming comic or prose projects that you’d like to hint, tease or talk about?
There are two other projects I’m doing, but the details are mostly under wraps. Both are limited series, and both will be action-driven stories with some of my favorite Marvel characters. That’s all I can say at the moment except that I’m having an insane amount of fun with both of them.