Every Marvel Comics hero has an archenemy that defines him or her. Captain America has The Red Skull. The Fantastic Four have Doctor Doom. And even Frank Castle, The Punisher, who's not a hero and whose enemies usually end up with a fatal case of lead poisoning, has his own implacable foe. That enemy's name is Jigsaw, and he's got big plans for The Punisher. CBR News spoke with "Punisher War Journal's" Matt Fraction and his new co-writer Rick Remender about their plans for Jigsaw, The Punisher, and the series as it heads towards its third year.
In addition to the Marvel Universe adventures of Frank Castle in "Punisher War Journal," Fraction also writes "The Immortal Iron Fist," "The Order" and his new ongoing series "The Invincible Iron Man" launches in May. It was because of the heavy workload that Fraction asked acclaimed "Fear Agent" and "The End League" creator Remender to co-write "War Journal."
"I felt like with The Punisher I had just finally gotten to the point where I had been heading the whole time; this Jigsaw story and what follows immediately after, so I couldn't leave," Matt Fraction told CBR News. "It wouldn't be fair to bail at this point. So I needed a co-writer, somebody to help me share the burden and ultimately kick things up a notch. It's a really hoary cliché but I had gotten to the point where all I could see were the trees and I couldn't quite see the forest. Rick came out here for a couple of days and the story became even better than I could have hoped. Jigsaw and everything we have planned after is just going to be a blast and it's because Rick was so magnanimous in his acceptance of my request for help."
In addition to helping out a friend, co-writing "Punisher War Journal" offered Remender the chance to explore something very compelling -- what lies beneath the grim facade The Punisher shows to the world. "He didn't seem to have any emotional connection to the world around him. He was supposed to just shoot at people and not care. I don't think that's possible," Rick Remender told CBR News. "I like that Matt has hinted at the Punisher's humanity in his run and the absurdity of certain things. Plus, Matt's been building to a story which sort of reaffirms Jigsaw as The Joker to The Punisher's Batman. He always kind of was but I think with this story Matt has some really smart ideas on how psychologically that would work in a way we haven't seen before."
Before he and Remender begin their journey into the psychology of Jigsaw, the solo Fraction takes a look at the twisted mind of The Punisher's ally and weapons supplier, Stu Clarke, in "Punisher War Journal" #17, in stores this week. "That's sort of our 'Times Past,' our '80s issue," Fraction said. "We get to see Stuart Clarke's criminal career from beginning to end as a couple of loose ends in the form of Sunset Bain, Parnell Jacobs, and his old War Machine cohorts come a calling. We use their presence as a chance to look back at the entire insane sweep of Stu's career.
"Plus there's a secret he's been holding onto and once it's put out there anybody who's read the book will understand we've put another ticking time bomb under the table. Sociopaths are always good when they have to work a room. The Punisher is a means to Stu's end. And, ultimately, Stu wants to take out as many super powered people as he can get to until he gets to Tony Stark. Stark is still his number one objective. In Stu's mind, Stark is still the main reason his life sucks."
In "Punisher War Journal" #18, on sale April 2, Jigsaw takes center stage. "It's almost a monologue or theater piece," Fraction explained. "It's almost like Jigsaw, the one-man show, because he's got some one tied to a chair and he's talking. It's a lot of Jigsaw talking and filling the space of the room with his story, ideas, and plans."
One of the things Jigsaw talks about in issue #18 is why he feels The Punisher, a figure notorious for his cold-blooded streak, has yet to actually kill him. "That question is at the root of Jigsaw's spotlight issue and everything that comes after," Fraction said. "Why hasn't Frank killed him? What does it say about a man who keeps tearing the wings off of flies because their pain amuses him?"
"Matt and I got really excited when we began talking about the psychology and what was going on behind the scenes with these characters," Remender said. "Matt had a lot of great theories to use as a starting point to decipher the primary motivation of someone like Jigsaw. Because it seems like that hasn't been really established in a lot of his confrontations with the Punisher. It's always changed. So the overlying motivation of Jigsaw always seemed a little mysterious."
At first glance, vanity may have seemed like motivating force behind Jigsaw's vendetta against the Punisher, as Jigsaw's famous facial scarring was the result of a defenestration at the hands of The Punisher. But with all the advances in plastic surgery both in the real world and the Marvel Universe, Jigsaw could easily repair his face. "In issue #18, we see how Jigsaw sees himself when he's a criminal and we see how Jigsaw sees himself when he's dealing with Frank Castle," Fraction said. "There's a little bit of 'the eye of the beholder.' Jigsaw could fix his face but it would be like cutting off his head. That's not who he is. That's not his identity. His outside matches his inside."
Jigsaw's latest scheme against The Punisher came about when the disfigured criminal had an epiphany. "The Punisher and Jigsaw have a very parasitic relationship and in a fucked up way they kind of need each other," Fraction remarked. "And Jigsaw's kind of inciting deal is he's realized that. Jigsaw's plan is very long. We've been building towards it since our fifth issue. It all comes to a head now and it comes from Jigsaw realizing that they need each other."
Because past portrayals of Jigsaw have never depicted the villain as a master criminal, some longtime Punisher fans might wonder if Jigsaw has the smarts to pull off his ambitious plan. "He's got an animal cunning that makes him dangerous," Fraction stated. "We actually have this great little piece of monologue that didn't make it into issue #19 but I suspect will make it into #20, where Jigsaw talks about how he's middle management, that's his lot in life. He's not a Captain, he's a lieutenant, but the one thing he's good at, the thing he was put on Earth for, was to fuck with Frank Castle."
"The fact that Jigsaw is not a genius almost makes him more interesting," Remender added. "Jigsaw is fucked up and like Matt said, Frank keeps tearing the wings off of him but doesn't kill him. The long and short of that is you end up with somebody who isn't a criminal mastermind but whose gut instincts on how to fuck with Frank are pretty dead on."
Jigsaw won't be carrying out his master plan alone. In "Punisher War Journal" #11, a mysterious blond psychiatrist was shown to be working with him. "You've seen her before," Fraction said. "She kind of quickly became my favorite character when we were breaking the story."
"It was interesting because once her arc was established she went from a supporting character to one of the foundations of the story," Remender explained. "Matt and I got really excited as we were plotting out the reveals for this story, which hopefully won't be telegraphed. She's involved in a couple of them, which will hopefully have some resonance."
Alex Maleev's cover to "Punisher War Journal" #19, on sale May 7, looks to be a twisted family portrait of Jigsaw, the blond psychiatrist, and Ian, a young cop who was last seen in issue #11 being brainwashed by the psychologist into believing he was The Punisher. "I think between almost every one in the cast of this arc there's a fucked up family dynamic going on," Remender said. "That's one of the most interesting things, to explore the motivation, in all the reveals about interpersonal relationships. All of the characters and all of the connections are not what they seem."
Jigsaw and the Psychiatrist's brainwashing of Ian and the fact they seem to be wearing versions of The Punisher's costume may remind some readers of Steven Grant and Mike Zeck's hugely popular, classic 1980s Punisher miniseries, "Circle of Blood." In that story, an organization called The Trust began forming their own assassination squad by brainwashing criminals and dressing them in Punisher outfits. "That's such an iconic and wonderful piece of Punisher lore that we wanted to pay homage to it," Fraction explained. "It's sort of a psychic call back to that story. This story is about identity, who you are, who you say you are, and who you think you are."
It was also revealed in "War Journal" #11 that Jigsaw had taken over a psychiatric hospital as part of his plan and had plenty of men backing him up. And as the story escalates in upcoming issues, Jigsaw will bring in more allies. "This is a trap that's so perfect he's even going to have to go out for some freelance help," Fraction remarked. "Which will result in a collection of guest star appearances and fight scenes that will blow your fucking mind!"
The Jigsaw story arc will have ramifications for the entire cast of "Punisher War Journal." No one escapes unscathed. "Everything changes," Remender stated. "The character arcs are not easy ones. One of the things I enjoyed about this story was we could take hard left turns in places where people aren't going to expect them. I don't think any character ends up in the same situation they were in the beginning."
"Frank especially has really changed at the end, which is super exciting. I think the Punisher is too easy to write static," Fraction added. "He can become just the angry, kill everything guy but at the end of this he's really somewhere we've never seen him before."
Bringing to life issue #17 of "Punisher War Journal" as well as the entire Jigsaw epic is legendary artist-writer Howard Chaykin, whose work was most recently seen in "Blade" and "Wolverine." "He's a prince," Fraction said. "We're honored to be working with him. It's great to know we're writing for him because his work is just super."
While working together on "Punisher War Journal," Fraction and Remender discovered the story they told was much better than any they could have come up with separately. "I went into this a little intimidated because Matt's parts were so dead on," Remender explained. "But it became like the situation with my book, 'Fear Agent,' where I have two artists, Tony Moore and Jerome Opena. Each arc, the art gets better and better because they're constantly challenging each other. Tony will lay something down and then it's like the gauntlet is cast to Jerome who has to come back and go, 'Oh yeah? Well check this out!' "A lot of times you end up pouring your best A-List stuff into your creator-owned work, but this is a situation where Matt and I became more invested as were going along. So I think this is going to be a very important arc."
"Fuck it! I'm going to say it! This is the ultimate Jigsaw story," Fraction proclaimed. "From Day One, I knew I was coming to this story and I know what's coming after. Even the early 'Civil War' issues have been leading to the next year of stories. It starts with Jigsaw and the only thing more fucked up than Jigsaw is what we have planned next."
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