It's one of the simple facts of war. Kill enough of your enemy's troops and you weaken him significantly. What happens, though, when you're facing an adversary like The Hood, who's armed with dark magic that's capable of resurrecting the dead? Frank Castle is about to learn the answer to that question. CBR News spoke with writer Rick Remender about his plans for Marvel's "Punisher," which include pitting Frank Castle against an old ally, a horde of resurrected villains, and... Earth's Mightiest Heroes, The Avengers?
Remender kicked off the first "Punisher" arc, "Living in Darkness," with Castle attempting to bring to an end the Dark Reign of Norman Osborn with a bullet to the head. The Punisher's assassination attempt failed, but it served as the opening shot in a new war between Caslte and Osborn, a war that's seen the Punisher target Osborn's underground criminal operations. Unfortunately for Frank, these areas are overseen by The Hood, Osborn's general in an endless army of supervillains.
"What I think people have responded to in the first five issues of the series is the stakes," Remender told CBR. "Frank is a street warrior who's normally taking out groups like the Mafia and now he's targeting world leaders like Norman Osborn, so that escalates Frank's role. I think when you put a character like Frank in that situation he is so terribly outclassed by everything around him that it forces you to see the strength of the character. Frank is a bright guy. He's Marvel's ultimate street soldier and ultimately he's in this situation where he's got the deck stacked highly against him. Fortunately he's got this new arsenal and how he uses it will hopefully continue to impress people with its uniqueness and show Frank's ability to think on his feet."
Indeed, in "Living in Darkness," The Punisher acquired a small arsenal of powerful Marvel tech weaponry like Pym Particles, energy guns, and freeze rays. In "Punisher" #5, in stores now, Castle used his new toys to stage an assault on one of the Hood's primary bases of operations, where he came face-to-face with the Hood's newest recruit: Linus Lieberman, a.k.a. Microchip -- computer expert, arms supplier, and former dead friend of Frank Castle.
"Microchip was killed at the end of the first Punisher series before Garth Ennis came and relaunched the book. He was resurrected by the Hood," Remender revealed. "One day he's dead and the next he's climbing out of his casket and the Hood basically tells him, 'I brought you back to help me kill Frank Castle. If you do it I'll leave you alive and bring your son back to life as well. That's all the motive Microchip needs. This guy will bring his son back and he doesn't have any qualms about how, why or what. He's alive and if he and his son can live out their lives together, which is all he ever obsessed about and why he spent time with the Punisher hunting criminals, he wants that. If it means he has to kill or bring Frank Castle to the Hood in order to achieve that, that's what he's going to do. Plus, he's sort of got a mad on for Frank based on the last dealings those two had. [Before he died, Microchip tried to replace Frank Castle with a new Punisher. Castle responded by attempting to murder him. It was a rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. agent though that proved to be Microchip's undoing]."
Microchip wasn't the only person the Hood brought back from the dead in "Living in Darkness." In the final pages of "Punisher" #5, the criminal kingpin also used his black magic to resurrect 17 supervillains who had been murdered several years ago by a vigilante known as the Scourge of the Underworld. The Hood's augmented those villains' powers and sicked them on the Punisher. "Think about the potential of Cyclone's power, which couldn't do much against anyone. Once augmented you think about the potential of Cyclone's power if it was magnified by say 20 times and he could focus it to a pin point," Remender explained. "With that much power you could blow a hole through Colossus of the X-Men, or practically anything. That's real power."
On sale June 17, "Punisher" #6 kicks off "Dead End," Rick Remender's his second arc on the series, which sees Frank Castle and his youthful new ally, a hacker named Henry, making the most of their war against Norman Osborn and the Hood. "When we first see them again, it's business as usual. They've become quite the team. They're working together to continue to hit Osborn and the Hood and they're doing it well," Remender said. "They're getting news coverage and there are ramifications throughout the Marvel Universe. It's a PR campaign that's hurting Norman."
In "Dead End," Remender plans to further explore the dynamic between The Punisher and Henry. "It's a strange father-son relationship that's forming. We've got some big reveals coming up as to the origin of Henry and they explain a lot about why he sought out Frank and what's going on with those two. Cracking it open and understanding why Henry is doing this in the first place, beyond just that he's a good hearted guy, will definitely lead places no one is expecting. There's a lot of fun stuff coming up."
The Hood oversees a criminal empire, and when "Dead End" begins, he has his hands full dealing with several threats to his power. "The Hood has a lot of stuff going on right now and what's coming up in 'New Avengers' is some big stuff as well. So the Hood might seem to be too wrapped up and too busy, which is part of the beauty of the 'Dead End' arc because you realize it all ties in with the New Avengers' stuff," Remender revealed. "By issue #10, we get a nice big pay off with Frank and the Hood, but the focus of the first three-to-four issues of the arc really is Microchip and the Scourge victims. They're highly motivated to quickly find Frank and eliminate him at all costs."
One of the reasons the Scourge victims are so motivated is because the Hood's given them a deadline -- literally. "He says to the Scourge victims, 'Kill Frank Castle or you all go back to being dead in 30 days. This spell is not permanent I want Frank Castle brought to me dead or alive. If that happens, I'll grant you all a natural life span. If not 30 days is at least something,'" Remender explained.
The Punisher will be haunted by more than just undead supervillains in "Dead End." In "Punisher" #5, Microchip told Frank Castle that if he gave up his crusade against the Hood that the crimelord would resurrect Castle's murdered wife and family. It was an offer the Punisher rejected, but that doesn't mean he's forgotten about it. "That's the undercurrent of the second arc. That offer is driving Frank slowly insane," Remender said. "In his waking world, if you were to talk to Frank it's business as usual, but he hasn't been sleeping and it leads to a claustrophobic feeling as the Scourge victims descend on him. Microchip and the Scourge victims aren't on the board by Frank's thinking. Microchip is out there but these guys are all new. So they do manage to get a good upper hand on Frank and Henry and things get pretty ugly. The climax of the arc deals with the Hood, Frank, and the Hood's offer on Frank's family in a way that people aren't going to expect at all."
Many of the Scourge Victims were thought of as C and D-List villains in their previous lives, but that doesn't mean the Punisher is going to have an easy time with them now that they're back among the living. "People are considering the Scourge Victims cannon fodder and that would be way too easy and that's not what we're doing," the writer stated. "Do some of these characters die in interesting and terrible ways? Possibly, but I wouldn't discount these characters. You've got characters like Basilisk, Death Adder, Letha, and the Hijacker and I think in six months when this story is finished and people look back, there's going to be a new respect for some of these characters. They manage to shine and I think we breathe new life into them."
Frank Castle has no qualms about giving the Scourge Victims a second dirt nap, but the "Dead End" arc also pits him against a formidable group of characters he'll have strong reservations about taking down; an Avengers team that just may have time-traveled forward from the past: Captain America, Thor, She-Hulk, Dr. Druid, Captain Marvel, and the Black Knight. "The things Microchip is employing to kill Frank Castle- the technologies he's able to get his hands on via the Hood means that we're able to escalate the stakes here quite a bit," Remender said. "If time travel is involved, and I don't want to say if it is or it isn't, but if it is, it's possible that these Avengers were misinformed and told that Frank needs to be taken down in the future. To them, he just might a nightmarish thing they left unsolved in their own time and now have to go to the future and solve that. I'm not saying that's what's happening, but it is a possibility."
Complicating matters even further is the presence of G.W. Bridge, the S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent who hounded Frank Castle in the most recent volume of "Punisher War Journal." "Bridge is a compelling character in that he was the one guy who continued to locate Frank Castle as a hunter. Of all the S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives and other people involved in hunting down Frank, Bridge had a number of successes, but he never killed Frank," Remender explained. "Eventually he ended up working with Frank on a number of occasions. So S.H.I.E.L.D. is gone and Bridge is out of work and I can't really say what's happening other than he plays a crucial role in this coming arc."
The tone of the "Dead End" arc is even more relentless than that of "Living in Darkness." "The first arc was all setup. We had to meet Henry and see this new war that Frank was in," Remender said. "I really want this comic to be a shotgun blast to the face every issue. There shouldn't be a quiet or dull moment; it's not that kind of comic. Nobody's buying this to see a lot of heads talking. As Frank sinks deeper and deeper into this quagmire, things become very ugly and very personal."
For "Dead End," Remender is collaborating with artist Tan Eng Huat ("Ghost Rider"). "I've been a fan of Tan's since his 'Doom Patrol' stuff. When we were looking for somebody to take over 'Punisher' and my editor Axel Alonso brought him to the table, we all thought he was perfect. We've got a giant cast of insane super villains in this second arc and we need somebody who can make them shine, but also capture that insanity and intensity. Tan is an iconic artist. His work is immediately recognizable. He's a fluid storyteller. We're already three issues into this arc and the pages just get better and better and by the time you see his Avengers come up in issue #8, you'll see why this guy won the Russ Manning Award."
Huat is the second of a series of artists that will bring Remender's "Punisher" scripts to life. "Every arc we're going to swap," the writer confirmed. "Tony Moore will join me for the third arc and Lee Loughridge, our 'Fear Agent' colorist, is working on the second arc with Tan. So it's been a lot of fun to have some of my 'Fear Agent' cohorts working with me on this. We're all friends and those collaborations always yield great results, as we are bluntly honest with each other about the work, always pushing each other to do better. Tan and I became fast friends as well and the collaboration is has been seamless"
September sees the release of both "Punisher" #9, the fourth installment of "Dead End," and a "Punisher Annual" which also fleshes out the arc in important ways. "I'm doing a 'Punisher Annual' with Jason Pearson that deals with and develops Letha and Lascivious quite a bit," Remender revealed. "They used to be members of the group called the Grapplers and Lascivious used to be known as Titania. She's taken on a new name that goes hand in hand with the new powers she's been augmented with. So the Annual develops a lot of that and leads back into 'Punisher' #10. So it all ties in."
"I used to love Annuals that were drawn by masters and also fed into the regular ongoing series. They felt important," Remender continued. "There was cohesiveness when the regular series writer would take on the Annual. It would be connected and I worked hard with Axel to make sure that this does that. It's going to be a great Annual."
Rick Remender and his fellow creators have worked very hard on "Punisher" and they find the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the series to be incredibly rewarding. Those who've enjoyed the series will be happy to know the writer's long term plans for the series are to continue to develop the Punisher as a character and flesh out his unique role in the Marvel Universe. "We're really working hard to establish a mythology for Frank. He doesn't necessarily have any personal vendettas against anyone except Jigsaw, who is dead. Stuart Clarke is out there and we'll be developing him as the new Jigsaw eventually," Remender confirmed. "But the point of the first four arcs is to give Frank his rogue's gallery and not just one or two, but three or four good batches of villains who he has personal grudges against as well as establish a mythology and a Punisher world."