When the Marvel Universe’s criminal and metaphysical underworlds get out of control, it’s the job of two men with very different methods to strike them down. As the Punisher, Marine-turned-vigilante Frank Castle uses his combat training and an arsenal of weapons to wage a one man war on organized crime, while Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Stephen Strange, calls upon his mastery of magic to exorcise and eliminate any and all supernatural threats.
While Strange and the Punisher walk somewhat similar paths the different natures of their missions means they rarely run afoul of each other. This October, a new threat will emerge with a toehold in both men’s worlds in “Doctor Strange/Punisher: Magic Bullets,” an eight-part Infinite Comic that kicks off in November and will see print in December. CBR has the exclusive first news about and look at the series, featuring a story written by John Barber, art by Jason Muhr and Andrea Broccardo, and a cover by Michael Walsh.
CBR News: A huge appeal of “Doctor Strange/Punisher: Magic Bullets” has got to be the chance to bounce your very different title characters off of each other. I understand you first became a fan of the dynamic between Stephen Strange and Frank Castle when you saw what Jason Aaron did with the characters back in the 2014 “Original Sin” miniseries.
John Barber: Yeah, I remembered the way Jason had wrote the characters in “Original Sin” and I thought they played off of each other really wonderfully. Jason has a good history with both Punisher and now Doctor Strange, and he’s such a great writer in general.
So it was really cool to see those two guys play off of each other on a mission that pulled them both out of their normal wheelhouses. They were off investigating a space murder, and that’s not where either of them typically live. That was a lot of fun, and I thought it also suggested this possibility of what would happen if their regular worlds slammed into each other. That’s one of the fun things about the Marvel Universe — how elastic some of this stuff can be, and how you can smoosh stuff together and unite characters you might not see together on their own adventures.
One of the things I find fascinating about Strange and the Punisher is that they both live in the dark recesses of the Marvel Universe. They’re very different dark recesses, but I wanted to see how the two would merge together.
Jason and Chris Bachalo are doing such a great job on “Doctor Strange,” and “Punisher” is in a terrific place with Becky Cloonan and Steve Dillon working on the book. Both of those teams add a little bit of wry humor to both of the characters. “The Punisher” has a different humor from “Doctor Strange,” but that combination of the different darknesses and the different senses of humor seemed like an interesting dynamic that could really work. You get Frank and Stephen in a room together, and they’ll start to bounce off of each other. That’s a lot of fun. Also, putting them in a situation where they both need each others skills kind of pushes them to the limits of what they’re both capable of.
Doctor Strange’s world was recently redefined thanks to “The Last Days of Magic” arc. Is that something you’ll be dealing with in “Magic Bullets?”
We are absolutely dealing with the fallout from “Last Days of Magic.” When I pitched “Magic Bullets” to my editors, Nick Lowe and Darren Shan, “The Last Days of Magic” was just starting, so I didn’t know what kind of impact that story would have. They talked to me about it, and it made this story much richer. It added a whole next texture and dimension that really helped solidify what the story was.
After “The Last Days of Magic” Strange is in a situation where there’s not much magic any more. So any manifestation of magic anywhere is an important and unique event. Also, Strange isn’t quite as powerful or adept at dealing with magic as he used to be. One of the things that’s really interesting about how that plays is he’s used to memorizing spells from books and going through his library. Now he’s in this world with a magic axe and a bow and arrow. So he’s using a physical form of magic and that’s really where Frank Castle lives. There’s a real physicality to what he does. It’s personal violence and personal action.
In this story, Frank gets in over his head, realizes that he’s in over his head in something that involves magic, and goes to Strange to try and get help. He doesn’t realize that Strange is not as all-powerful as Frank imagined he was.
I think Strange can kind of learn from the way Punisher approaches this stuff. The tactics of an ex-Marine turned vigilante can help the Sorcerer Supreme in a way they wouldn’t a few months ago.
Frank has an interesting perspective on the supernatural, given how his history involves periods where he was transformed into both an angel and a Frankenstein-style monstrosity. How does he feel being back in the world of the arcane?
If you’re like me and know your Punisher history and read through all the stuff that has come out, you know Frank has what you might call an uneasy relationship with the supernatural. None of his past history is required reading for this story, and there’s no call backs to his time as FrankenCastle or an angel, but it’s clear that this is a world he doesn’t like being part of. He doesn’t think reasonable people should like living in this world, either.
What can you tell us about the threat that brings Castle and Strange together?
Livio and Lucretia Fusilli are restauranteurs that are trying to build their small organized crime family into a criminal empire. They luck out when a manifestation of magic appears right on their doorstep. They know a reclusive H.P. Lovecraft type writer who has these visions of horrors and transcribes them. Now, here he is, literally coming into contact with these shambling monstrosities from another universe. He sees them as existential horrors, and he’s sort of fascinated and horrified by them. The Fusilli’s absolutely see these things as opportunities to increase their power and status in the New York City underworld. When those characters get together, things get a little out of hand.
The threats are all new, but the story will have some ties to not only the histories of Strange and Punisher, but the history of magic in the Marvel Universe. There will be something that dates back to the events of World War I. I think these unexpected appearances as the series goes on will be a lot of fun for long time readers.
I understand writing “Magic Bullets” as an Infinite Comic has sort of allowed you to get back in touch with your original roots as a writer.
Yeah! I really got my start back in the late ’90s when [digital comics were] first becoming a thing that people were doing. Myself and a couple of other colleagues were using Flash as an interface to tell comic stories. Not as a type of motion comic or animation, but as as way of presenting the comic page on the screen.
Years later, I had worked at Marvel and IDW, and my focus definitely turned to clear storytelling as opposed to the early grad student-style theoretical stuff I was doing on how to re-contextualize panels on a screen. Then the Marvel Infinite Comics started coming out a couple years ago and I saw, really by chance, they were doing similar stuff with the medium that we were doing back then. So it was neat to see these digital comics come back and to get to work on them again, like, 15 years later.
I’ve actually been working on the “Ultimate Spider-Man” Infinite Comics that have been coming out. There are several available right now for free on the Marvel website, and they were a lot of fun. Getting back into the possibilities of the digital format is exciting; it allows me to stretch different muscles.
When I’m writing a comic script, I’m completely aware of page breaks and everything is structured around those. Infinite Comics are much more like writing a movie script. The way they usually work is an artist will take the script and do layouts. They’ll figure out what happens on each screen.
We have a really talented layout artist in Jason Muhr. He’s been doing some fantastic work. Then Andrea Broccardo does the finished art. He’s fantastic too. His work has a real exciting and distinct feel. Both Jason’s storytelling and Andrea’s finishes are spectacular. It’s a really cool melding of the gritty realism of the Punisher and the — gritty magic of Doctor Strange? [Laughs] It also really carries some humor through with some great character acting.
[Laughs] There’s a funny story with Andrea, too. I didn’t know this until a couple days ago, and he didn’t actually realize I was the same guy either. I was a Senior Editor at IDW until a couple months ago, and last New York Comic Con I did a portfolio review for Andrea. I kind of remembered that. The name seemed familiar, and once he mentioned a couple details, I completely remembered him. I guess at that same convention he got his portfolio reviewed by somebody at Marvel and I believe he got a job doing the “Star Wars” comic “Kanan,” as well as some Spider-Man stuff. His latest work, “Civil War II: X-Men,” is still coming out, but he’s finished his work on that.
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