Soldiering On: Fraction Talks "Punisher War Journal"

"Civil War" may be over, but there's one Marvel Comics hero who will be waging war for as long as he lives. His name is Frank Castle AKA the Punisher, but he's not waging war against his fellow heroes.   His targets are the super villains of the Marvel U. Castle's crusade against super crime continues every month in the pages of "Punisher War Journal." CBR News spoke with writer Matt Fraction about the series.

New readers looking to accompany Frank Castle on his latest skirmish against costumed criminals should pick up the latest issue of "Punisher War Journal," #4 (in stores now). "Frank is back and playing in a big way in the sort of 'straight' Marvel Universe," Fraction told CBR News. "#4 deals with a little of the aftermath from Frank's latest and sweetest victim, Stilt-Man. It's kind of a chance for us to really examine our themes and have a good time."

The Punisher taking out Stilt-Man opened his new war on the costumed criminals of the Marvel Universe.   It also lead to his short-lived alliance with Captain America's resistance movement in "Civil War." It's not quite clear yet how Frank Castle's new war and his participation in "Civil War" are affecting him. "We're only kind of halfway there; we've got some ways to go before we see how he's going to come through this," Fraction explained. "I think he entered onto the field of battle a little cavalier and almost giddy. Believe me, no one is more aware of how chatty the Punisher is being than the guy writing the Punisher. This is deliberate. I think we see him exhibiting a kind of recklessness and excitability and I think it's clear he's not taking things entirely serious.

"These first six issues are about building that up and taking that away," Fraction continued. "So we're kind of at the halfway point. He sort of got his ass handed to him by Captain America and he's sort of realizing that just because he can cut the shortest path between A and B, that doesn't necessarily make him safe. He's not untouchable. There are stakes here. It's starting to dawn on him that maybe he should take this as seriously as he's taken everything else and issues #4-6 really kind of seize on that. It will still be fun, awesome good time Punisher comics and superhero stuff but thematically that's what's going on with Frank. His arc is taking him to a really, interesting and profoundly twisted place."

One interesting thing readers learned about the Punisher was that he may not have much respect for many of the heroes of the Marvel Universe, but there is one hero that he holds in very high regard, Captain America.   His respect for the Sentinel of Liberty prevented him from fighting back when Captain America attacked him. "I think the Punisher respects not just the symbol, but the meaning," Fraction said. "He respects the idea. It's not like he has a blind respect for the suit. He respects what the man was doing and understands that a house divided can not stand. He is nothing if not a soldier and Captain America is the ultimate soldier; it's sort of the ultimate respect for a soldier's life, for chain of command and for what that stands for. It's the idea and the ideal and the ideal can't be preserved if guys like Frank are taking shots at it."

The Punisher may have a huge respect for Captain America, but Steve Rogers feels the opposite about Frank Castle; to him one of the most discouraging facts about "Civil War" was that his side formed an alliance with the Punisher. "More than anything I think Cap was disappointed in himself," Fraction stated. "He made a Faustian pact, he compromised. It's the difference between George Washington and Francis Marion. Washington is clean above the board hits and Francis Marion and the Swamp Rats were the ones that actually won the war but they weren't invited to the inaugural.

"That's very murky history. I'm not speaking as an authority on the Revolutionary War but the idea is Cap knew exactly who he was getting into bed with and he hoped for the best but got the worst. So he's disappointed most of all in himself and that the war had lead him to such a place where he was forced to make a deal like that and to lie down with a dog like Frank."

Some readers of "Punisher War Journal" #2 may have thought they noticed a developing camaraderie in the scenes where Captain America and the Punisher fought side by side, but what they were seeing was the training of two of the Marvel U's top soldiers at work. "Frank is a good soldier and he understands the chain of command," Fraction explained. "When the chain of command works and the military apparatus is functioning Cap is a soldier and so is Frank. So there is a second where it looks like this is going to turn out okay. But of course it's not going to turn out okay! Look who you bargained with! The United States at one point were letting the Khmer Rouge do their thing. We hate to admit it as a people and as a country but we've made more than our fair share of devil's bargains with bad men. This is an example of that reframed for Captain America and the Punisher."

As readers of "Civil War" #7 saw, Captain America and the Punisher's relationship is far from over. When asked if he had plans to continue Frank Castle and Steve Rogers antagonistic relationship in the pages of "Punisher War Journal," Fraction's answered simply with just one word, "Absolutely."

Frank's adversarial relationship with another Marvel soldier, former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent G.W. Bridge, is escalating in the pages of "Punisher War Journal." Bridge has sort of become Frank Castle's Jean Val Jean or Lieutenant Gerard because he's been tasked by his former agency with capturing the Punisher. "He's the Jack Bauer. There's a whole other G.W. Bridge comic out there that nobody reads about him chasing the Punisher, which is totally awesome (laughs)," Fraction joked. "He's totally the coyote to Frank's road runner."

The Punisher's new war may have made him some enemies but he's also found an ally. Stu Clarke, an inventor who was formerly the armored super villain known as Rampage, has been providing Castle with arms and intelligence to use in his fight against costumed criminals. It's unclear just how much the Punisher can trust his new weapons supplier. "Stu very clearly has his own agenda and he's clearly not afraid of Frank," Fraction said. "Stu survived what he considers wrongful incarceration on the raft and also survived for several years as a fugitive. It's interesting. We are going to be looking at their relationship at the end of our first year. Their relationship gets incredibly complicated; where their both sort of mutually opportunistic in sections and they're forced to co-exist."

Having exhibited some bizarre behaviors which include a paranoid obsession with Iron Man, some readers might be wondering if Stu Clarke is insane. "No," Fraction answered. "We're all a little crazy and he just happens to be an eccentric Stark level genius who's making weapons."

Issue #4 of "War Journal" features the wake of Stilt-Man, the first victim of the Punisher's new war against super villainy.   It's also an escalation point in Castle's crusade against costumed criminals, where he targets many villains in one operation. "Issue #4 was a lot of fun to write and as sot of silly as it all seems, it really gave me a chance to explore the main themes of the book, to really look at what a character like the Punisher means to a world that has characters like Stilt-Man in it," Fraction explained. "On one level it's very silly and it's ridiculous, it's the Stilt-Man for God's sake, but at the same time it's a Punisher comic."

In issue #5 of "Punisher War Journal," Frank Castle runs afoul of a supervillain that he's battled before. "The issue has G. W. Bridge taking on Bushwacker," Fraction stated. "Bushwacker takes a hostage in Times Square and demands to see Frank Castle."

When Frank Castle first took on Bushwacker in issues #12-13 of the original "Punisher War Journal" series (as part of the 'Acts of Vengeance' storyline), it was revealed that Frank Castle almost became a priest instead of a gun toting vigilante. Readers shouldn't expect Fraction to address this plot thread soon, but it's something he'd like to explore. "Not in the first year," Fraction said. "I think there's something interesting to look at with Frank and his faith but we've got too much going on in our first year to get into the Frank versus God storyline (laughs)."

Issue #6 of "Punisher War Journal" begins a new story arc which sends Frank Castle to the Southwest in pursuit of a new target. "It involves the Hate-Monger and it's a grim fucking journey," Fraction explained. "The Hate-Monger is backed by a new National Force. For those that may not remember them, they we're sort of the super Klan and now they're under the direction of a reborn Hate-Monger working as kind of a hate militia along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"The key to the arc is a photo journalist, who depending on your perspective is in the wrong place or the right place at the wrong time and manages to documents one of the National Force's raids lead by Hate-Monger where dozens of innocent people are murdered and there's rampant wholesale slaughter. This woman is there to document the raid and get word out to the world and it's met with sort of a resounding yawn. She ends up being sort of the lynchpin. She struggles to get to the bottom of this and find out why people don't care and why no one is trying to stop it from going on. She's the one who kind of tugs the thread on the plot sweater."

The Punisher's battle with the new Hate-Monger and National Force will have an impact on him. "We're giving Frank a new look that will be real interesting," Fraction hinted. "I think that's in issue #7."

When the Hate-Monger story arc concludes, readers can expect the Punisher to continue to enact his own version of the 50 State Initiative by tackling super crime in other parts of the country. "Frank is out of New York for awhile," Fraction said. "Things between him and Bridge escalate very quickly and he has to kind of lie low. We're going to be staying away from New York for a little bit."

Wherever his hunt takes him, readers can expect Frank Castle's exploits in "Punisher War Journal" to be an action packed blend of elements from crime, thriller, and especially superhero stories. "This is the Punisher in the Marvel Universe comic. Garth Ennis is doing Punisher crime comics beautifully," Fraction stated. "I don't think its age appropriate or tone appropriate to chase after those stories. This is the comic for guys who to see Frank shoot Rhino in the face; that kind of stuff. There's a degree of crime but its super-crime. There's a degree of terror but its super-terror. It's written on a different scale and different place then the other stuff. It's the Punisher in the Marvel Universe and that's the goal. It gets dark, grim and weird but it never stops being about superheroes and supervillains on some levels."

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