When you're waging war against the most powerful people in the Marvel Universe, you've got to expect the unexpected. Frank Castle - The Punisher - is one of the world's most experienced soldiers but even he will be caught off guard by the events of October's "Dark Reign: The List- Punisher," a special one-shot that escalates the Punisher's war against Norman Osborn and sets the stage for new chapter in the Frank's life that kicks off in November's "Punisher" #11. CBR News spoke with "Punisher" writer Rick Remender about "The List" and the new "Punisher" storyline - "Frankencastle" - as well as the remaining issues of the series' current arc, "Dead End."
Featuring art by Tan Eng Huat, "Dead End" finds the Punisher bringing all his combat skills and high tech weapons to bear against the Deadly Dozen, a team of formerly deceased supervillains that were resurrected by the Hood. The penultimate chapter of the arc, "Punisher" #9, is in stores now, and before the story concludes in October's issue #10, Frank Castle will have finished his business with Microchip, The Deadly Dozen, and The Hood, Osborn's general in the supervillain underworld of the Marvel Universe. Tying into that story is "Punisher Annual" #1 by Remender and Jason Pearson, which features Leetha and Lascivious, two of the Deadly Dozen.
"Issue #10 is pretty exciting stuff. Without giving too much away, the Hood has come up with a way to torment and mess with Frank," Rick Remender told CBR. "Frank is no schlub when it comes to tormenting and messing with people either, so these two going at it is more than just fisticuffs. They're trying to tear each others' guts out."
The Punisher and the Hood won't be engaging in a straight forward hand-to-hand combat. Remender feels the Hood would use his sheer mystical power to overwhelm and kill the Punisher. "Frank is well armed, though, and by that I don't just mean his weapons. I'm also talking about his combat skills and cunning and the fact that he knows he's going to have a face-to-face with the Hood before it happens," Remender explained. "He's been anticipating this and he's ready for it in a way that gives him a nice card to play. So they basically square off and start playing cards against each other. They've been targeting each other for some time now. Each one is obsessed with hunting the other down. So the end result here is a lot of preparation and by the time it's over with Frank is in a new place, which will lead into 'The List' special."
"Dark Reign: The List-Punisher" is in stores October 14 and features art by John Romita, Jr. " I've seen John's pages and they're astounding. They're just painfully beautiful," Remender said. "The Hood plays his hand in ['Punisher'] #10 and Norman Osborn plays his in 'The List.' Everything that we've set up since the first issue has a payoff here."
The action in "Dark Reign: The List-Punisher" involves bad things happening to a number of people, especially the title character. "I think people will be surprised at how it all goes down while still being classic Punisher stuff. It's a survival story. Frank lives with a singular purpose, he stabilizes himself with his mission, but he may have it all taken away from him," Remender revealed. "In 'The List' he's dealing with the repercussions of that. He's a man broken down to his lowest point being hunted by Norman Osborn, the Dark Avengers, and all of H.A.M.M.E.R., which has dedicated an entire afternoon to finding and killing Frank.
"Frank was prepared for the Hood. He knew the Hood was coming and was a threat that he'd have to face. So he just might have an ace up his sleeve that he can use to deal with Norman as well. This will lead into the new chapter of Frank's life, 'Frankencastle.'"
Marvel has teased the "Frankencastle" arc with a series of "Rest in Pieces" variant covers and a special "Build a Frank" download from Marvel.com. These seem to suggest that after the events of "The List," the Punisher will become some sort of patchwork Frankenstein-style monstrosity. "The Punisher is a very changed character, but tonally the core of the book is the same," Remender said. "When we catch up with whoever or whatever Frank Castle has become he's/it's at his lowest point. Everything has been taken from him -- the tag line for this arc is 'Monster inside. Monster outside.' The things that have always been inside Frank are now represented externally.
"In issue #7, I played around with the idea that the Frank and Jigsaw dynamic is what it is because the scarred, cut up nastiness of Jigsaw is an external representation of what Frank is on the inside. [Former co-writer] Matt Fraction and I played around with that dynamic a good bit in the 'Jigsaw' arc of 'Punisher War Journal' and I fell in love with the potential for real depth in their relationship."
Along with his monstrous new looks, the Punisher will also have some monstrous new allies. "There are some familiar supporting characters playing roles in this story arc, but basically the Punisher is going to find himself in league with the Legion of Monsters," Remender revealed. "We'll reveal what's been going on with the Legion. They're sort of where mutants were in the '80s. They're misunderstood and hated and they'll play a role in what's coming up."
Many of the ideas for "Frankencastle" came from discussions Remender had with his longtime collaborator, artist Tony Moore, with whom he created the Dark Horse series "Fear Agent." "For about the last five years Tony and I have been working together on various things like 'Fear Agent' and 'XXXombies,' so we've got a history together and one of the things that always got us excited in our work on 'Fear Agent' was genre mixing," Remender explained. "We did things like sci-fi westerns, or sci-fi horror, and it's the same thing [in 'Frankencastle']. Tonally it's the same, it's a Punisher book, but the result was something that everybody got excited about. Based on that encouragement this new direction is going to be the face of the book for the next year at least."
Remender knows the idea of mixing the traditionally street-level Punisher with the supernatural might make some fans uneasy, especially ones who remember a late '90s incarnation of the character who operated as an angelic agent of vengeance. Remender cautions those fans that "Frankencastle" isn't what they're expecting. "I know there's going to be some people who are going to judge this before they actually see it, but contempt prior to investigation is low thinking," he said. "Ultimately what we're doing here is very different than giving Frank the power of God and guns that shoot hellfire. What we're doing is high concept but it's much truer to the character. If you've read any of the work that Tony and I do, you know that we do fun, pulp-style stuff and the aesthetic here is going to be reminiscent of things from '50s and '60s comic books, films, and television shows. That's what we like. Using the trappings of kitsch and pulp for the visuals we then work tirelessly to tell a hopefully solid story with a modern sensibility. We're taking an area of the Marvel Universe that's been underutilized and throwing the Punisher into it to see what happens."
Remender usually plots out "Punisher" in ten-issue arcs, so the next few months are a good time for new readers to jump aboard. "If you're not currently reading this series, 'Dark Reign: The List-Punisher' is a great place to start giving the book a try. Or if you want to start with the beginning, the 'Punisher: Dark Reign' hardcover -- which collects the series' first five issue arc, 'Living in Darkness.' -- is out and it printed Jerome OpeÃ±a's magic art perfectly," Remender said. "I really hope people pick up this series and give it a chance. I'm damn proud of it, and I'm especially proud of the things we've got coming up."