Ron Marz Finds Some Justice in "Punisher/Witchblade"

In real life, we're told that there are only two sure things: death and taxes. But in the world of the Punisher and Witchblade, the wicked can be sure of two more things: pain and justice. The Punisher is the man once known as Frank Castle, whose time in the military coupled with the brutal murder of his family have turned him into Marvel Comics' most popular (and brutal) vigilante. In the Top Cow Comics universe, Sara Pezzzini is a member of the NYPD and wields the mystical Witchblade artifact, that grants her immeasurable power to use to fight crime. Coming this April, the two heroes team up in the aptly named Punisher/Witchblade, a 22-page one-shot written by Ron Marz, who is quite familiar with both characters, and artist Adriana Melo . CBR News caught up with Marz to learn more about the book and how this project came together.

Well, it was one of those really complex situations: they asked, and I said yes, Marz told CBR News. This is part of the deal Marvel and Top Cow signed earlier this year, which included some of the Cow artists, like Marc Silvestri and Mike Choi and Tyler Kirkham doing work for Marvel, and a number of crossover projects. 'Punisher/Witchblade' jumps out as a pretty natural one, in that both characters are based in New York City, Sara Pezzini is a cop and Frank Castle is someone who would logically cross paths with the cops.

As the regular writer of the monthly Witchblade series, Marz has come to understand Sara quite well, earning rave reviews for his portrayal of a strong female lead. But he's also got a lot of affection for the Punisher, as he explained. I've really come to enjoy writing Sara because I've been allowed to write her as a three-dimensional character. I think people who don't read Witchblade have the 'bimbo in a metal bikini' thing in their heads, but that's pretty far removed from what we do. I try to make her as real as any woman you'd pass on the street, with the strengths and frailties that everyone has. My goal has always to make the book compelling even if the Witchblade itself wasn't part of it.

The Punisher is closer to a force of nature. Whether we admit it or not, there's something attractive about a character who metes out justice in a way the police, or society at large, can't. I think most of us, at one time or another, have seen a story on the news about someone so reprehensible, whose crimes are so hideous, that you just think, 'Okay, let's save the expense of the trial, the jail time, the appeals and all that, just take this guy out into the woods and put a bullet in his brain.' Maybe it's savage, but that kind of eye-for-an-eye vengeance has an allure at times.

So the dynamic is the clash between the cop - who's supposed to slap the cuffs on the criminal and send him to jail - and the vigilante - who has a more permanent solution in mind.

For those fans of continuity, or who fondly remember how the crossover between DC Comics' Batman and Top Cow's Darkness actually affected the latter's series, Marz revealed that this crossover is an out-of-continuity experience. Obviously with Sara currently pregnant, and someone else about to be wielding the Witchblade, we'd have been dealing with a lot of elements that would needlessly complicate the story, he explained. So early on we decided we needed to go with, for lack of a better term, the 'classic' versions of the characters. Sara is a cop bearing this ancient powerful artifact. Frank is a guy who kills people that need killing. It's not out of continuity, per se, but the readers can decide where in continuity it takes place.

When two heroes meet for the first time in comic books, it seems that there's always an immediate misunderstanding, leading to a physical confrontation after which both parties decide to work together. It's a cliché that Marz intends to avoid in Punisher/Witchblade. I've done a lot of inter-company crossover projects, and I'm not big on the whole 'fight and then team up' formula. This one definitely puts the heroes - though I'm not even sure that's the right word here - on opposite sides. Their team-up will consist of sticking guns in each other's faces.

Both Frank Castle and Sara Pezzini are characters driven by notions of vengeance and redemption, which has made them interesting vehicles to explore the human condition in past stories. Marz said that he'd continue that introspection, and explained, When you get right down to it, if you're not exploring some aspect of humanity in your stories, who cares? I don't see the Punisher as a character given to a lot of angst-ridden soul-searching. He does what he does, and he doesn't lose sleep because of it. So the real character stuff revolves around Sara, and her reaction to the Punisher and his methods. As a cop, she should despise the fact that this guy is taking the law into his own hands. But there's also a part of her, maybe the part that wields the Witchblade, that understands what he's doing, and maybe even sees the brutal practicality of it. Sara's going to be forced to confront some of her notions of crime and punishment.

The Punisher is fighting a war. He's still a soldier, it's just the uniform and the enemy that's changed. Sara's a cop, but it's more than just a job, it's a large part of who she is. Both characters are defined by what they do. Sara is sworn to uphold the law, while in Frank's view the law has failed. That's why he's doing what he's doing, because in his mind, the legal system isn't doing the job.

Witchblade fans can rest assured that this crossover isn't the only big event in Sara's future, as the Witchblade series continues to heat up. Issue #100 shocked quite a number of fans, and Marz said he's happy to see that fans never know what to expect anymore. Fan reaction to the revelation of Sara's pregnancy, and the mystery surrounding it, was a collective gasp. We kept it all under wraps, with just a subtle hint or two, so when Sara said, 'I'm pregnant' at the end of issue #100, the reaction was shock - which is exactly what we were hoping for. You want to be able to take the audience by surprise every once in a while. Right now, I think there's a sense of 'wait and see' in the audience. They know Sara's pregnant, and they know, because of the Free Comic Book Day pages, who the new bearer will be. The intriguing part is how it all goes down, and what happens to everyone. I've said that we're adding to the book, not taking away. Sara is still going to be a big part of the book, despite not having the Witchblade anymore. This whole thing grows into a much larger story that will stretch into places other than just the 'Witchblade' book. The payoff - the baby - arrives in 2007.

With Punisher/Witchblade still a few months away, fans have time to decide if they want to pre-order the book, and Marz urges fans to check out this unexpected crossover one-shot. Readers complain that stories are decompressed, that there's no such thing as a single-issue story anymore. Well, just like the 'X-Men/Cyberforce' crossover I wrote, this is one and done, a complete story in 22 pages. The Punisher wants to kill somebody who deserves it. Sara is put in the position of saving that person, even though they might not deserve it. Obviously somebody's not going to get their way.

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