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NOTE: This story contains content of an adult nature
With the Marvel Universe caught in the grip of a "Civil War" that pits hero against hero, the super criminals of the MU assume that they can do whatever they want. This September, in the pages of the new ongoing monthly series "Punisher War Journal," they'll find out that their assumption can lead to a very painful form of lead poisoning, or worse, as Frank Castle renews his war against crime by setting his sights on the supervillains of the Marvel Universe. CBR News spoke with writer Matt Fraction about the series.
Fraction's story in "X-Men Unlimited" #9, which featured another one of Marvel's grim bad-asses, Wolverine, was one of the reasons that he was selected to chronicle the Punisher's exploits in the Marvel Universe. "Axel Alonso at Marvel was a fan of my work as was Warren Simons who works in Axel's office," Fraction told CBR News. "We'd sort of been friendly and I did an 'X-Men Unlimited' story for Warren. We'd just had been looking for a thing that made sense and a project that we could all work on together and Axel really thought I was the right guy for this."
Even though he lacks super abilities, Fraction sees Frank Castle as believing that he's the right guy to take down the super powered predators of the Marvel Universe. "He has an utter contempt for anyone that would take innocent life," Fraction said. "I don't think my take and my approach to him are quite as psychotic as he's been portrayed in the past. I think Punisher probably is the sanest guy he knows. It's just sort of what he has to do to stay sane. He honestly believes he's helping people and doesn't quite see the moral complications in an eye for an eye that most heroes do."
The Punisher that dispenses eye for an eye style justice in "Punisher War Journal" is a lot different than the Punisher that metes out crimson stained vengeance in Garth Ennis' "Punisher" MAX book. "One will actually hack the genitals off a foe and shove them in his mouth and watch him bleed to death. The other one is a little bit more palatable," Fraction joked. "I love Garth's stuff, too. I want to make it absolutely clear that I fucking love it. We're just talking to a different audience. These are two different things. The MAX book is for adults. It takes place in the 'Real World.' They spell Rikers with an I. We spell ours with a Y. They are not cross-pollinated.
The little but lethally capable fish that is the Punisher leaps into the big weird pond because of the events of "Civil War" like the Stamford disaster. "He's been living in a van and he's on the run," Fraction explained. "Stamford is what galvanizes him and makes him realize that the heroes are too fucking busy fighting each other and fucking around with their greater moral points and innocent people are being killed. Supervillains have just declared that they're playing the game on an entirely new level, where hundreds of children die. Frank sort of realizes that maybe he needs to readjust his focus. This sort of galvanizes him back into action and lets the supervillains know, 'That it doesn't matter if you're a white slaver or a dude dressed up like a rhino. I'm going to fucking kill you to save lives.'"
Some readers might be wondering if the supervillains that the Punisher will be killing in order to save lives will be of any consequence, or if they will all be Z-Grade losers. "That was the first question I asked Axel when we started to discuss the book," Fraction said. "As both a reader and a fan and a writer, I don't want to see Spider-Man jumping in front of the gun at the last second any more than anybody else does. Frank's back. He's here and this is something people are going to have to deal with. It's a wide variety of folks. Do keep in mind just because he might want to go after Dr. Doom doesn't mean he's just going to go. There's research and strategy involved."
As he hunts the targets of his new war, the Punisher will be employing a wide variety of strategy, tactics and weapons. "Frank is all about proportionate response," Fraction stated. "Axel's sort of infamous line is, 'If he saw Galactus he would just get a really big gun.' We always talk about the cover of the 'Bullseye' mini-series. It had Bullseye with a deck of cards and the Punisher had this giant fucking rifle. He's all about asymmetric warfare. So, if he's shooting a mob goon who's eating dinner in a restaurant, he's going to use one kind of pistol. If he's going to shoot the Rhino he's going to use a different kind of weapon. These are waters he's not familiar with, but his mission has never been so clear. It will take all of his powers of improvisation and flexibility to respond to this threat, which is sort of one of those things that the villains and heroes don't know how to deal with as they are sort of set in their own ways. They are not used to an asymmetric warrior like Frank Castle."
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In the old "Marvel Knights" series, one of the asymmetric warfare tactics that the Punisher engaged in was manipulating other Marvel heroes to take out targets. Readers should not be surprised if Frank again uses living weapons in "Punisher War Journal." "Again, Frank is all about the appropriate weapon whether were talking about a gun or a knife or another person or somebody's family member," Fraction stated. "He's nothing if not improvisational in his tactics. He will play as dirty as he needs to in order to get the job done."
In order to get the job done, Frank Castle will have to come to grips with the fact that he can't effectively fight his new war all by himself. "We do sort of address that," Fraction said, "I would like to leave that ambiguous for the time being but no, he can't go it alone, at least not at first."
The first story arc of "Punisher War Journal" entangles Frank Castle in the events of "Civil War." "It is intrinsically tied into 'Civil War,' but it sort of stands as its own story, "Fraction explained. "People will not believe how Frank reappears on stage in the main 'Civil War' book. It's one of the coolest moments in the book. It's going to be one of those completely awesome incredibly gratifying moments, especially for Punisher fans who have wanted to see him in the Marvel U. It's kind of his TA-DA moment. The spotlight comes up and reveals him and it's fucking astonishingly great. Hats off to Mark Millar for such an awesome introduction."
Being caught up in the raging torrent of "Civil War" will force the Punisher to declare whose side he's on, but for Frank Castle that choice will be an easy one. "Frank is on the side of people who would be victimized by the 'Civil War,'" Fraction said. "Frank's side – as far as his internal compass is concerned – is protection. I'm not going to get too clear as to what side Frank falls on, but I will tell you this – he's back because he believes he can save lives. Frank is here to protect people. He's here to do the job that he feels the actual superheroes aren't doing."
The superheroes of the Marvel Universe won't be too happy with the return of a gun-toting soldier who thinks that he can do a better job protecting civilians. "Frank is a wildcard that nobody wants shuffled into the deck," Fraction stated. "He's unpredictable. He keeps his own council and he's absolutely ruthless in pursuit of his own objectives from moment to moment."
Fraction couldn't reveal which supervillains would be the Punisher's initial objectives in the opening arc of "War Journal," but he did say that Punisher fans should expect the return of a familiar and horribly disfigured face in upcoming issues. "It just wouldn't be Punisher without Jigsaw," he stated.
Readers shouldn't be surprised that if further down the line the Punisher expands his new crusade and begins to target the large, high-tech super terrorist organizations of the Marvel Universe like Hydra and A.I.M. "As a Marvel nerd, I love that stuff," Fraction explained. "That's my favorite part of the Marvel Universe, but I don't know. We'll see. That's a corner of the sandbox I would love to play in. I don't know if or when we'll get there, but I would like to play there."
Working with Olivetti on a big Marvel book that examines the role of the Punisher in an increasingly complex Marvel Universe has been incredibly fulfilling and gratifying for Fraction. "I'm having a great time," he said. "We're not as interested in telling stories about Frank going after pimps only to be thwarted by Spider-Man. It's a much different purview and the fun is seeing what happens when Frank meets the Rhino or when he meets Spider-Man and how this guy deals with these dudes who think, 'Well I use to be able to just tie him up with webbing and hang him from the street post. Now what do I do?' He plays a much different game on a completely different scale and that is where the conflict of the book and the interest in the character and the conflicts between the characters come from."
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