In the song "Got the Time" off his 1979 album "Look Sharp," Joe Jackson sang about time "tick-tick-tickin in his head." Next week, The Punisher will find himself with a similar feeling when "Six Hours to Kill" kicks off in "Punisher: Frank Castle" #66 from Marvel's MAX Comics imprint. The new story arc comes courtesy of writer Duane Swierczynski and artist Michel Lacombe. CBR News spoke with Swierczynski about the storyline.
Punisher fans don't need to worry by the series' title. You haven't missed 65 issues of a new book starring your favorite character. The title once known as "Punisher MAX" will with issue #66 become "Punisher: Frank Castle," but the book is keeping its numeration. Writer Swierczynski weighed in on the cosmetic change: "After 30-plus years, three film adaptations, and countless story arcs, Frank finally demanded title billing. You gonna tell him no?"
Swierczynski's new Punisher tale takes place after writer Gregg Hurwitz's recently wrapped "Girls in White Dresses" arc, but the inaugural story arc of "Punisher: Frank Castle" is very new reader-friendly. "It's a completely different story," Swierczynski told CBR. "But I will say that my story's so bloody and violent, it'll seem like Hurwitz was wearing a white dress when he wrote his. (Oh, I kid Gregg. He knows that.)"
For "Six Hours to Kill," Swierczynski brings The Punisher's unique brand of justice to the writer's hometown, Philadelphia - the city of brotherly love. "Certainly, Philly's the town I know best, and it tends to be where my imagination goes to play," he said. "I also have a love-hate thing going on with the city. There's so much beauty and history here, but over the years that has been undercut by greed, apathetic leadership, grinding poverty, and a thirst for violence that strikes down innocent bystanders-and, far too often, the people who've sworn to protect those innocent people. This is the town where somebody shot a dude in the arm for talking during a Brad Pitt movie, for God's sake."
Frank Castle isn't the first gun-toting killer Swierczynski has sent after Philadelphia's underworld. One of the main characters in his crime novel "The Blonde" was Mike Kowalski, a highly trained intelligence operative harboring a major grudge against Philly's mobsters. "I've long joked that Kowalski's my 'Polish Punisher.' But they're very different characters," the writer said. "There's still hope of redemption for Kowalski-which you see a bit of in 'Redhead,' a novella sequel to 'The Blonde'. That's not the case with Frank Castle. Also, Frank's not Polish."
The Punisher's immediate goal upon arriving in Philadelphia is taking down a particularly deserving group of criminal scumbags. "In this case, it's a rehab center for 'disadvantaged youths' that turns out to be a child slavery ring," Swierczynski revealed. "That, however, is just the bait on a giant hook to bring Frank to Philly."
Shortly after biting on said hook, Frank Castle is reeled in and finds himself terminally short on time, with a lot of people to kill. "'Six Hours' uses one of my favorite noir devices: the ticking clock," Swierczynski explained. "The germ of the idea came from a piece I read about wounded soldiers and how the first 60 minutes-the so-called 'Golden Hour'-are essential when treating grievous injuries. Well, Frank has six golden hours left, and a certain shadowy group wants him to spend them in a particular way. Frank, being Frank, tells them to piss off. Fun ensues."
The shadowy group in "Six Hours to Kill" are men with "secret identities." No, they're not superheroes, but rather part of a clandestine "black bag" ops unit. " I am fascinated by secret agencies, especially ones who may or may not be funded by our tax dollars," Swierczynski said. "Think about it. You could suddenly be woken in the middle of the night, bag thrown over your head, and driven to a secret prison in the middle of nowhere-- for the rest of your life, for reasons you don't even know or understand. Doesn't that scare the crap out of you?"
"Six Hours To Kill" unfolds between the hours of midnight and 6:00AM, and finds everyone who's awake gunning for The Punisher. In addition to the previously mentioned shadowy group, Castle's enemies include an assortment of cops, crooks, killers, feds, and powerful people like his hizzoner, the Mayor of Philadelphia.
"I will say, emphatically, that this is not our real mayor. Our real mayor is a guy named Michael Nutter. He's a smart, driven guy who is a positive force in this city, except for the fact that he wants to close a bunch of libraries to meet a budget shortfall. Watch that, Mr. Mayor. I've got Frank's number," Swierczynski remarked. "But the Mayor of Philadelphia in the Marvel MAX universe is a tubby, corrupt blowhard-a throwback to the kind of leadership Philly was used to back in the bad old days."
The pacing of "Six Hours" is fast and frenetic, as each installment of the story roughly represents one of the titular hours. To heighten the story's tension even more, readers will see the clock The Punisher is racing against tick down with every issue.
Writing an arc of "Punisher: Frank Castle" has proven highly enjoyable for Swierczynski. Not only did he get to tell a story about one of his favorite characters running amok in his hometown, he also got the chance to work again with frequent collaborator Michel Lacombe. "Michel's art can be many things, often at the same time: Funny. Grotesque. Kinetic. Moody. And that's what I love about his work," Swierczynski said. "He's also been a real sport about all of these obscure Philly buildings/scenes I've asked him to draw."
Philly residents shouldn't expect Swierczynski and Lacombe to revisit their city anytime soon, though. The duo's next collaboration will probably take place in a city farther north. "He's made me swear to set our next project in his hometown of Montreal," the writer confirmed.
"Punisher: Frank Castle" #66 goes on sale January 21 from MAX Comics.