Hunting the Hunter: Fraction talks "Punisher War Journal"

The first year of the Punisher's new crusade against super crime has been a taxing one. 2007 saw Frank Castle joining the superhero Civil War; dealing with the murder of Captain America; donning a special costume to confront the evil of the new Hate-Mongers high tech militia; and before the year is finished, the Punisher will be thrust into the events of "World War Hulk." CBR News spoke with "Punisher War Journal" writer Matt Fraction about his upcoming plans for the Marvel Comics series.

In "Punisher War Journal" #7, Frank Castle moved from being simply an armed vigilante to a full blown costumed superhero when he donned an outfit inspired by the uniform of the late Captain America. "It was for a very specific job and a very specific reason that he wore the costume," Matt Fraction told CBR News. "It wasn't the kind of thing he was going to do in perpetuity. It was for a one-time purpose and when he was done he was as relieved as perhaps Bucky was."

The Punisher surrendered his costume to Bucky Barnes in "Punisher War Journal" #11, when the Winter Soldier confronted Castle about his costume's striking similarity to Captain America's uniform. Barnes believed the Punisher was corrupting the symbol of Captain America and was unaware the reason the Punisher wore the uniform was to redeem the Sentinel of Liberty's image from the Hate Monger, who was perverting that image by wearing another costume similar to Captain America's. "I think Frank is just taking the costume off and no longer trying to pretend at that particular throne," Fraction said. "He's not Captain America and everything that entails. That costume isn't appropriate for him and I don't think he ever thought it was but he did what he had to do. He finished Hate Monger and that was as long as he could tolerate carrying that extra weight."

The Punisher's crusade against the Hate Monger was successful, but it also led to one of the series' most tragic events. Under the influence of one of Hate Monger's machines, which overwhelm a person's mind with intense feelings of hate and rage, the Punisher murdered an innocent woman, Tatiana Arocha, the girlfriend of his ally Stu Clarke. Stu is ignorant of what the Punisher did, but Frank is painfully aware of the innocent blood now on his hands.

"At the end of issue #10, as Frank is sort of grinding the mask in his hands, he's clearly thinking about it," Fraction said. "He's also thinking about it when Stu says, 'We're going to find the son of bitch who did this and we're going to kill him.' Frank knows what he did and that really is the engine that drives a lot of the second year in ways that might not be 100% obvious at first.

"One of my favorite Punisher stories was 'Peter Parker: Spectacular Spider-Man' #82, where Jigsaw basically drugged Frank and he went crazy," Fraction continued. "He killed litterbugs, jaywalkers, and a cabbie who ran a red light. It was so scary. He's so willing to cross the line and kill people; the idea that this a hero for all intents and purposes who could be so easily turned against innocent people always stuck with me.

"A long established part of his character to me is that in spite of the Punisher perhaps masquerading as having an iron will he really doesn't," Fraction said. "He is just a man and he can be manipulated and controlled. So I wanted to tell a story about that. What happens when the ultimate weapon gets pointed at someone innocent? Historically it's a part of the character. Steven Grant and Mike Zeck dealt with it in their series, when it started off people were wondering about it. If the Punisher has a kryptonite it's his own humanity."

G.W. Bridge, the ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent tasked with apprehending the Punisher, also dealt recently with some of the shortcomings of his own humanity. Bridge realized his extralegal pursuit of Frank Castle was turning him into someone he didn't like. "I like Bridge as a character and what we've been able to do with him. He's sort of the moral center of the book," Fraction remarked. "He's the good guy and in pursuit of the Punisher he broke and bent all kinds of rules and laws. He went absolutely against his character to get the job done and ultimately it repulsed him."

In "Punisher War Journal" #11, Bridge told S.H.I.E.L.D. director Iron Man what his pursuit of the Punisher was doing to him. Stark responded by reinstating Bridge as a S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent and officially tasked him with bringing in Frank Castle. Now Bridge is back on the Punisher's case with a refreshed sense of purpose, but this time he won't be hunting him alone. Bridge will be assisted by a "crew."

"It's an all new 'Six Pack' consisting of three people [Laughs]," Fraction explained. "Some of whom Bridge has worked with in some capacity before and others, to my knowledge, we've never seen Bridge work with before. It should be a lot of fun."

The biggest revelation at the end of "Punisher War Journal" #11 came when it was revealed Jigsaw and an unnamed blond doctor were using a mental hospital as a front to create their own army of brainwashed Punishers. The bombshell made many Punisher fans think of Steven Grant and Mike Zeck's classic 1980s "The Punisher" miniseries, which is exactly what Fraction intended. "If you notice all of the interns and doctors in the hospital are wearing black shirts underneath their scrubs and lab coats," Fraction said. "I was a real jerk about that in the script [laughs] 'Make it clear everybody is wearing a black costume underneath their scrubs and coats.'"

Jigsaw's scheme is an enormous development, but for now it will remain a plotline lurking in the background of future "War Journal" issues. "It's important to kind of plant the flag and say it's coming," Fraction stated. "We're going to be building towards it. It's kind of the centerpiece storyline of the second year. Jigsaw is conspiring."

Over in the pages of "New Avengers," Jigsaw is also conspiring with the Hood. The Punisher's heavily scarred nemesis is a member of the Hood's gang of super criminals, but readers shouldn't expect a crossover or tie-in between the two books just yet. "I don't want to step on anything that Brian [Bendis] is doing," Fraction explained. "Brian is writing an awesome story and he doesn't need me mucking it up."

In "Punisher War Journal" #12, Frank Castle discovers that while his battle was away from Manhattan, another war took over New York: "World War Hulk." "Basically Frank and Stu come back from this soul crushing adventure and find Manhattan has been shut down, 90% evacuated and the superheroes are once again occupying their time by beating the crap out of each other while there are innocent people left behind and rampaging alien barbarians run wild," said Fraction. "So Frank again comes to the plight of the normal guy, the non-super-powered refugees left behind who couldn't or wouldn't evacuate. Frank finds himself taking care of one family in particular. Basically he and Stu try to get this family out of Manhattan."

The biggest obstacle standing in the way of the Punisher and Stu's evacuation of the stranded family is named Mung the Inconceivable. "He's sort of like Conan the Barbarian if Conan was a cockroach from space," Fraction explained. "He's one of the aliens that arrived on Earth with the Hulk and his Warbound allies and just looks to fuck shit up. He and Frank perhaps recognize something in each other."

The Punisher is at a disadvantage when battling an alien barbarian in a fair fight, but in "War Journal" #12, Frank will have a way of evening up the odds against him. "Frank is a normal guy and he's facing inhuman super beings from outer space, so he has so he to try to level the playing field and confront these beings in a way that doesn't get him killed immediately," Fraction remarked. "I'm also kind of amused and delighted at the chance to change Frank's costume up a bit [laughs]. I think it's kind of funny to put him in different outfits. You know how there would be 17 different Batman action figures each with a different costume but you never saw them in the comic? Well here there's some special weaponry and special armor that Frank uses to level the playing field in a way so that he can go out and fight a nine foot tall alien super bug."

"Punisher War Journal" #12 is the last issue for regular series artist Ariel Olivetti and Fraction wanted to make sure it was a special one for his partner. "When I first met Ariel he told me that his three favorite characters were Punisher, Hulk and Venom," Fraction said. "I promised him I would do everything I could to get them all in one issue for him to draw. Then the 'World War Hulk' thing happened and we could do it. It's sort of my farewell present to Ariel."

Issue #13 of "Punisher War Journal" marks the beginning of a new three-part storyline that brings the Punisher face to face with the inheritor of a dark legacy. "Kraven the Hunter's son Al [Short for Alyosha] has a mutant ability to control animals with his mind and in this story he's decided the only thing that would make that better would be if he started to drink some of Dad's potions, too," Fraction explained. "So he does and it makes him kind of crazy. He taps into the Kravinoff family madness, goes nuts and reinvents himself as Kraven the Hunter, as we know and love him; the animal vest, the hunter motif, all that stuff. I always loved that character. 'Kraven's Last Hunt' was one of my favorite Spider-Man stories. I didn't want to disrespect that story or undo it but I've missed that character since then so much.

"So the son has gone crazy and he's begun to assemble a zoo of animal themed villains and characters," Fraction continued. "He's capturing these characters and putting them in a zoo. In the middle of this is Frank who's hunting the Rhino. Kraven shows up and decides he wants the Rhino for his zoo, which gets Frank interested. Spider-Man shows up in the story as well."

"Punisher War Journal" #13 also marks the debut of artist Cory Walker, who is scheduled to pencil the entire three-part Kraven arc. "Cory does the action stuff beautifully and he's really great with the joke stuff too. His character design is impeccable. He's just really great," Fraction stated. "It was tough learning that Ariel was going away because so much of the book in my head looks like Ariel's stuff. So to be able to write for Cory and see him just tear it up is a little like being in a rebound relationship that ends up being longer than a rebound relationship. It stops being a rebound and it's like, 'Oh I will love again!' That's what Cory's art is to me on this book. I hope he can stick around after this arc because he's just phenomenal."

Once the Kraven story wraps, a new storyline called "Misfits" begins. "After the Kraven arc we're doing a series of one-shot issues that tie together thematically," Fraction said. "They look like one-shots but they're laying the ground work for what comes next."

In future issues of "War Journal," Fraction plans to follow up on the Punisher's initial declaration of his war on super crime, his assault on the super villain bar in issue #4. "Frank just blew up the bar and walked so he knew he didn't kill everybody in there," Fraction remarked. "I don't think he was necessarily trying to kill everybody in there but he was definitely trying to send a message. We're going to see what happens with the survivors of the bar."

Frank Castle's war against super crime in "Punisher War Journal" has thrust him into the middle of some of the Marvel Universe's big events like "Civil War" and "World War Hulk," but Matt Fraction is still deciding if Frank will confront next year's "Secret Invasion" by the Skrulls. "That kind of falls at the end of the Jigsaw story and I'd love to find a way to do it," the writer stated. "I'd love to figure out a way to make it work it work but I don't know if we're going to be able to in a way that doesn't just feel like a tie-in. 'World War Hulk' worked perfectly because we had a one-shot issue and Ariel was going to leave the book. So everything fell into place. If we can't do a 'Secret Invasion' story with the same kind of organic ease, I just as soon not do it or do some kind of tie-in special. If it's going to interrupt the flow of the Jigsaw story and come between parts four and five it just seems crass."

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