Frank Castle--AKA the Punisher--spent most of his life hunting some of the more monstrous criminal figures in the Marvel Universe. Recently, though, Castle went toe to toe with Wolverine's villainous son Daken and was chopped to pieces. Those pieces were found by Morbius, the Living Vampire, who patched them together and brought Frank Castle back to life as a Frankenstein-style monstrosity. So Castle went from hunting monsters to literally becoming one.
He wasn't alone though. Frank found himself the reluctant citizen of an underground metropolis populated by monsters and protected by Morbius and his allies, The Legion of Monsters. In "Punisher" #13, the third and middle chapter of the current "FrankenCastle" arc, the Punisher's new home was invaded by a band of high tech monster hunters who proceeded to ruthlessly exterminate the city's inhabitants. They may not have been human, but in Frank Castle's eyes the city's inhabitants were still innocent. So the Punisher did what he does best and slaughtered the marauding monster hunters. Now the monster hunters are going to be hunted. But are the Punisher and his allies too late to stop the mysterious agenda of the hunters' leader? For the answer to that question and more, CBR News spoke with "Punisher" writer Rick Remender about his plans for the series.
When Castle took on the monster hunters in "Punisher" #13 he was aided by the superhuman strength and resilience to injury that his new form provides him. Those powers don't come without limitations, though.
"Frank's new body has a lot of metal and cybernetic parts, so he's super strong and his body is undead so he's not easily killed. If you stab him in the neck he's going to pull out the blade and keep coming at you," Remender told CBR News. "However, and we'll provide more details about this later, that thing on Frank's back is his energy supply. It's what keeps him going. Plus he needs to take his pills every few hours otherwise he'll be overtaken by a monstrous rage and become Hulklike or to be more apropos Frankenstein.
"So Frank being strong as hell and being able to take a licking and keep on ticking opens up some more possibilities for him. Before he had his brains to aid him, but your brain can only do so much. It's like, 'My brain is helping me fight the Juggernaut, but he's still breaking my body,'" Remender joked. "So Frank's new form in the Marvel Universe is going to be this for some time to come. He's able to drop himself into crazier situations and get involved."
The Punisher's involvement with the Legion of Monsters is viewed differently by different members of the group. "Manphibian and the Living Mummy understand what Frank's been through. All these characters have tragic histories one way or another, but Mummy has an especially tragic past," Remender said. "However, for some reason I see the Werewolf by Night hating Frank Castle and Castle hating the Werewolf. It was one of those things you instinctively kind of feel when you're putting characters together. I always lean into that. Someone asked me if I had a particular reason and I don't. It just felt like if Frank saw Jack Russell walking around that he'd be like, 'Suck it!' They continue to not get along very well for the next couple of issues. And Morbius, given all the trouble he went through to put Frank back together, is not a fan of the Punisher either. That's because of Frank's refusal to help the monsters when they first revived him."
Now that Castle has taken up arms against the monster hunters, many monsters are starting to see him as their leader. It's not something that the Punisher is entirely comfortable with, though. "He's been thrown into this insane situation. He wakes up stitched together down in the sewers beneath New York City and he's down here with all these monsters," Remender remarked. "So it's almost like the movie 'The Road Warrior' in that Mel Gibson's character wasn't one of the people living in the town in the movie, but he got thrown into a situation where for his own reasons as well as a dab of heroism he decided to take up their cause."
Being a leader isn't the only troubling thing on Frank's mind. He's still haunted by the events of "Punisher" #10, in which the Punisher had a violent and fiery confrontation with the supervillain crime boss known as the Hood. It was a confrontation that lead to Frank Castle's family being killed-for a second time, this time by Frank.
"In 'Punisher' #11, the first issue of the 'FrankenCastle' arc, the Living Mummy says, 'You're welcome here. We're all family.' And this is before Frank has taken his pills, the synaptic glue that holds his brain together. So just the word 'family' caused him go into a blind rage," Remender explained. "A lot of people have focused on Daken's murder of Frank in the 'Dark Reign: The List: Punisher' special, but it's the events of 'Punisher' #10 that are really going to linger. That's where the Punisher decided to rebury his family after the Hood used his dark magics to resurrect them.
"Those events will play a big role in the next arc and the arc after that," Remender continued. "We'll see the ramifications of what happened to Frank and his mental state because of them. So I would say based on that and the damage inflicted upon him, what you saw the Punisher do to those monster hunters in issue #13 was the very beginning. Frank is ready to rise up and start doing what he does, and that's take out all the terrible stuff he has inside and sharing it with the world."
Engaging in a vendetta against the monster hunters may not be so easy though. That's because Frank Castle has more in common with their leader, Robert Hellsgaard, then he might care to admit.
"Hellsgaard came about because of a conversation between me, my artistic collaborator Tony Moore, and our editors Sebastian Girner and Axel Alonso. We were looking for a villain for our fun comic romp, but if you're going to do something like this it's always better to give it some deeper meaning. The idea for Hellsgaard is that he's a mirror reflection of Frank, and ultimately it puts him in a precarious situation and forces him to look at some of the inherent hypocrisies in his war on crime," Remender said. "I try to put Frank in situations which make him look inward and investigate who he is and what he's about because I don't like writing the character as a construct. He's very black and white but even the craziest objectivist has something behind their thought process. That's the stuff I want to continue to dig up and make Frank look at. So Hellsgaard should be a nice foil for Frank Castle."
Readers will learn more about Hellsgaard's past and motivations in "Punisher" #14, on sale February 17th. "I just got the proofs back from the editors," Remender said. "There's a framing sequence by Tony Moore and the flashback sequences to Hellsgaard's past are all beautifully pained by Dan Brereton."
In the present day, Hellsgaard exists as a human head in a steam punk-style cybernetic body. Hellsgaard's robotic form is heavily armed and armored, and the flashback sequences in "Punisher" #14 will chronicle what it's capable of. On top of that, in "Punisher" #13, Hellsgaard stole the Bloodstone, a powerful mystical artifact, from Morbius. So he's now one of the most dangerous foes Frank Castle has ever faced.
"With the Bloodstone the connection to monster hunter Ulysses Bloodstone is important because we're dealing with monster hunters. I think people who are savvy to the comic mythos attached to the Bloodstone will probably piece together though the real reason why it might be important," Remender explained. "It's no secret that the Bloodstone has regenerative abilities. Ulysses used it to heal himself after his body had been destroyed. So Frank might want to get his hands on it."
The remaining chapters of the "FrankenCastle" arc will detail The Punisher and the Legion of Monster's quest to stop Hellsgaard and retrieve the Bloodstone. For the Punisher it's a mission about both protecting the Marvel U's remaining monsters and gaining revenge. "Frank's involvement in this story is mildly personal in that I don't think anybody had shown him any kindness in a long time. Then in 'Punisher' #12 we saw a moloid stumble into his cave and offer him a candy bar," Remender stated. "That simple moment of kindness when Frank was at his lowest would do a lot because it wasn't somebody going out of their way or putting on some pageantry to win him over. It was a genuine act of kindness from a kid and it woke something up in Frank. Especially when the kid was later killed by Hellsgaard's monster hunters.
"So Frank's finally waking up and climbing out of his self pity. He's recognizing that what he's capable of doing and what he's good at could be put to some good use here," Remender said. "However some of us get our stress out by doing things like running and playing video games, but I think Frank really enjoys killing bad people. And he gets the opportunity to do a lot of that in the remaining chapters of this arc."
The remaining chapters of "FrankenCastle" will take the Punisher and his allies across the globe and even into other dimensions. "It's going to be a wild ride," Remender said. "The events of issues #13-14 lead us on a journey to the Alps in Germany. From there things will get a little crazy. We're going to take a trip into Limbo and do all kinds of crazy things."
In order to stop Hellsgaard and his forces, the Punisher and his allies will need to obtain some good intelligence on their enemies, which mean Frank Castle is in for a reunion with a young computer expert he recently worked with named Henry. Before he was cut to pieces by Daken, Castle dissolved their partnership because he discovered that Henry's father was his old enemy Jigsaw. "Because his dad was the original Jigsaw Henry feels he owes the world. He's not out for revenge. He's out trying to right the wrongs that his father karmically dumped on his family name," Remender explained. "And his relationship with Frank won't be immediately healed, but it will definitely play out over the next four or five issues and that will lead into the next couple of arcs."
The "FrankenCastle" arc comes to a conclusion on April 28th in "Punisher" #16. Remender will use the issues immediately following the arc to lay the ground work for his next major storyline in the series, which finds the Punisher finally ready to dish out some payback.
"Ever since the "Jigsaw" arc of "Punisher War Journal" that Matt Fraction and I did a couple of years back, Frank has had one ass kicking after another. He's a resilient, bad-ass soldier, but when you put him in these situations in the Marvel Universe and you're honest the logic usually always brings you back to Frank getting his ass kicked," Remender said. "That's why it's great now that I've been working on the book for so long to come to a point where it makes natural sense that Frank could go out and hunt every single character that's given him a hard time and start killing them as he's wont to do. Frank is a lot stronger now. He leaves the 'FrankenCastle' arc very changed from where he's at in issue 13, pissed off, strong, and with a nice armory. Plus there's a couple of other crazy things that happen. Anyway, yeah, Frank is going to spend the next year killing a lot of people who done him wrong. But also people who the world is better off without."
When the Punisher begins his payback tour he'll have plenty of targets. "We've got Lady Gorgon and her clan of Hand troops; the new Jigsaw, Stu Clarke; Frank's former ally turned enemy, Microchip; the Deadly Dozen; Daken; the Shaolin Scientist Squad and even the Hood. We've got so many of these great characters who have thrown Frank around for the last couple of years that I'm really excited for the moment that Frank crawls out of the sewers with his new power set," Remender remarked. "For the rest of the MU the 'Dark Reign' is over and the 'Heroic Age' is upon us... for Frank it's bloody business as usual. The shiny and brave new world outside will have one dark corner and in it you'll find The Punisher going over his hit list. "
"The Punisher" #14 is on sale February 17.