Now that his Dark Reign over the Marvel Universe has begun, Norman Osborn is a very well connected man. He's the U.S. government's top superhuman law enforcer, director of the intelligence agency known as H.AM.M.E.R , and with his secret criminal Cabal, Osborn's tied into the supervillain underworld as well. So how much of a threat can one man with a few guns be to a guy like Osborn?
Plenty, as it turns out, if that man is Frank Castle --The Punisher.
In our latest installment of THE OSBORN SUPREMACY, CBR News speaks with "Punisher" writer Rick Remender about his work on the Jerome OpeÃ±a-illustrated series, and what's coming next in Frank Castle's guerrilla war against Norman Osborn.
Remender feels The Punisher's training as a soldier and grim perspective on life makes him well suited for stories set in Marvel's Dark Reign era. "Frank Castle always sort of anticipated this. He's like John Connor in 'Terminator.' He's the only guy who's absolutely ready and he's got nothing to lose. Then you take someone like Norman Osborn and put him in a position of political prominence, and this story almost tells itself," Remender told CBR. "Frank is the kind of guy who can go out and kill the kind of people that will change things, and things in the Marvel U might just be bad enough that people need to start dying to get it back on track."
In "Punisher" #1, Castle hoped to take out Norman Osborn quickly by shooting him with a sniper rifle. Unfortunately for The Punisher, Osborn's bodyguard, The Sentry, ruined his shot and then came after the vigilante. "Frank did a pretty great job by himself against a character who for all intents and purposes is as powerful as Superman. I think that should help people understand who Frank is. To me that's the defining moment of how I plan on writing this series," Remender said. "I don't necessarily like the idea that anyone with something like superhuman strength or a super powered suit would automatically have their way with Frank. Frank will find or create an opportunity against whoever he's up against, and he's a force of nature in that there's no internal conflict in Frank; no trying to figure out if something is right or wrong. When you place Frank in any situation with a batch of characters he's going to do the same thing; find the bad guy, move towards them, and try to kill them."
Also starring in "Punisher" is Henry, a computer hacker who offered to assist Frank in his war against Osborn by turning it into both a ground war and public relations campaign. "Henry is a far left '80s hardcore punk kid who stuck around after his friends all moved to Vancouver," Remender explained. "He recognizes that the smarter way of getting at Osborn is a P.R. campaign to show that Norman is saying crime is on the decline and things are getting better and that's in fact total bullshit. So that goes a long way to deflate Osborn's public persona.
"Henry is hacking and investigating things he's uncovering, stuff Frank wouldn't normally uncover just by investigating things on the street; even more so than some one like Microchip [a former ally of the Punisher who served a similar function] used to," Remender said. "Henry is a subversive who is in the back stream. So the dynamic is that Frank can get the information for great busts given to him by Henry and he can do what he normally does. Just now, at the end of each operation, he takes a couple of snapshots and Henry filters them to various newspapers and websites."
Henry and the Punisher's partnership is an effective one, but the question is, can it last? In issue #2, readers saw Henry examine one of the snapshots of Frank Castle's grisly handiwork, and the reality of what the Punisher does to criminals made him violently ill. "This is Henry's arc. He realizes there's only so much he can do. He's discovering all these ugly things that are happening, but he's just a 22 year old kid in a basement with a computer and he's not quite ready to strap on a gun and play vigilante," Remender explained. "So he sees someone like Frank as the solution to his problems, but once he sees what Frank does and gets a look at the people that have been murdered, it hits him like a ton of bricks. And he sent Frank to those locations. He's aiding in murder. So do the ends justify the means? That's what Henry's trying to figure out; if his end goal of ridding his country of people like Osborn is worth it."
Further complicating the dynamic between Henry and the Punisher is the fact that Henry is about the age the Punisher's son would be today had he not been brutally murdered all those years ago. "There is sort of a patriarchal aspect to their relationship, but also Henry is in a strange situation because both of his parents are dead," Remender said. "So he's seeking approval from Frank even though he has his own issues with what Frank ultimately does. That plays into a lot of what is interesting about these two characters. The sort of father and son relationship creates strange bonds and brings out weird things that didn't ever occur when Frank was working with Microchip or Stu Clarke [another one of the Punisher's past sidekicks]."
While the ultimate goal of the Punisher and Henry's PR campaign is to hurt Norman Osborn, the way that their conducting it is also hurting one of Osborn's associates in his criminal Cabal, the Hood. "The kinds of operations Frank is tearing down in these photos are directly run by the Hood, who's the new crime Kingpin. So the Punisher is costing Osborn face and the Hood money," Remender explained. "He's becoming more than just an irritant to them. Frank has made himself some big enemies and the next year for him is going be pretty crazy because of it. The Hood isn't going to make the mistake others have and just send a group of guys to hunt and kill Frank Castle. It never works. So the Hood is bringing in somebody from Frank's past that we haven't seen in awhile; basically a Frank Castle expert. It's somebody Frank has a history with and I think it will be interesting to see people's reaction to the reveal of who it is. It's like a game of chess at this point. It's the Hood and his Frank Castle Kill Crew versus Frank and Henry who don't even know that the Hood is after them."
In stores this week, "Punisher" #3 continues the "Living in Darkness" arc and finds the Hood putting his initial plan into play. "On top of the hits Frank is scoring against the Hood, a fracture opens in the Cabal between the Hood and Osborn because Osborn handed what he feels is a menial task, the killing of Frank Castle, to the Hood, and by the end of the first arc, the Hood hasn't completely succeeded in that," Remender explained. "I'm not going to say that Frank or the Hood gets a big win, but what happens by the end of this first arc is that the Hood tried to cut Frank out of the scene with a scalpel and when he realizes that's not going to work, he brings in a dump truck. So the arc ends with an escalation in Frank's war on the Hood and the Hood's attempts to crush him.
"In the next arc, what happens is, since the Hood is a general of a supervillain army, he assembles an entire platoon dedicated to hunting and killing Frank. They're all established characters and I think people are going to be really surprised by who they are. These characters haven't been seen in awhile," Remender continued. "The second arc will establish them as a bunch of characters who are very, very motivated to see Frank Castle die. We're basically setting up a new rogues' gallery for Frank; a team of supervillains who really want to see him go down."
Even with the Hood and an army of supervillains out to take him down, readers shouldn't count the Punisher out yet. Frank Castle has many things going for him, and his enemies don't truly appreciate just how cunning and resourceful an opponent the Punisher is. "Not only that, but Henry has an ace in a hole that the Punisher has never had before. Henry has got a hack into a cold war era S.H.I.E.L.D satellite which he can use to tell Frank the lay of the land; where he is at, where other people are, and what's coming for him," Remender revealed. "He's an eye in the sky for Frank. He's running the mission for him.
"And as we saw in issue #2, Henry lead Frank to a treasure chest full of Marvel Universe weaponry. So now he's got a canister full of Pym Particles, Ant-Man's helmet, Blacklash's whip, a wall full of weaponry from Cable and the Skrulls, a glove from the Titanium Man armor and a lot of other powerful and crazy things. So armory-wise, Frank has now stepped up because Frank is only limited by the equipment he has. And now we've given him one hell of an armory and it really escalates and ups the ante on what he can accomplish.
"It was [editor] Axel Alonso who said, 'If you really want to get you head around Frank Castle, he's the guy who, if Galactus was descending into the city, would only be thinking about needing a bigger gun.' I always liked that quote. That was what ultimately gave me the idea to give Frank that bigger gun."
Though the Punisher began the his new series with the ultimate goal of toppling Norman Osborn, the next several months will see Castle dealing with Osborn's general, The Hood; a consequence of Remender's fondness for the clash between these two incredibly compelling characters. "Like I said, with the Hood, you're dealing with a general in the most powerful army on the planet. I can't think of any other figure who can direct that much force at one particular target and that's going to become a huge problem for whoever is targeted," the writer said. "So I think the interesting dynamic between Frank and the Hood comes from how high the deck is stacked against Frank.
"Plus, you always knew there was never going to be a final showdown between Frank and someone like Wilson Fisk, the former Kingpin of Crime, with them going fisticuffs. They had a couple of scuffles but the Kingpin was off in his sort of ivory tower disconnected from it all. The Hood is walking around the alleyways getting his hands dirty. He hands out jobs for the day but leaves one for himself. I really like the idea that this guy is hands on. He's on the streets working with his people and that means there's a potential and eventual encounter between Frank and the Hood, which makes things more visceral. There's more of a potential for face-to-face fisticuffs which I don't think you necessarily got with someone like the Kingpin."
Remender also has plans for The Punisher to eventually run afoul of his old armorer, Stu Clarke, who, at the end of the most recent volume of "Punisher War Journal," was set up to become the new incarnation of the Punisher's archenemy Jigsaw. "Clarke is out there. We killed Billy, the first Jigsaw, and ironically Clarke, who was involved in that whole fiasco, ends up with a disfigured face and some real incentive to harbor ill will towards Frank who murdered the only woman Clarke ever loved," Remender explained. "I've got a two-year plan built for this series and he's part of it. I want his appearance to be a big surprise, though. I want people to have forgotten about him and suddenly -- boom! There he is."
It won't be just villains that run afoul of Frank Castle. "He's going to have an encounter with a pretty prominent Marvel hero I think in issue #7 or #8," Remender revealed. "And I'm looking forward to that issue coming together."
For the second arc of "Punisher," Remender will collaborate with a new artist, but for now he's working with one of his collaborators on his "Fear Agent" series from Dark Horse, Jerome OpeÃ±a. "For the remainder of this arc, I think you can expect some of the best art and storytelling in comics," Remender stated. "Jerome is one of those rare talents that is not only stylized but he's also got a beautiful and cinematic sense of storytelling. There's also a strange sense of realism through the stylization that he brings. That's a perfect mix because there's so many people who demand realism out of their comic books but there's also a large number who prefer something expressive and dynamic. Jerome does both of those things."
In the past, The Punisher has operated on the fringe of the Marvel Universe, but Frank Castle's guerrilla campaign against Norman Osborn and his Cabal will keep him on the frontlines. "There's too much big stuff happening. So Frank can't worry about street crime as much as he did. He's thinking in terms of a bullet in the head of somebody like Osborn saves 10,000 lives as opposed to say the two people he can save from being mugged in an alley," Remender said. "So as these opportunities present themselves and Frank's targets start becoming bigger and bigger, he sort of starts playing the role of murderous Batman. He becomes a more entrenched and visible figure in the Marvel U. I don't think we've ever seen Frank Castle play a bigger role in the Marvel Universe. And just wait till around issues #10-12 when you start seeing what Frank achieves and what's going to happen. It's a good time if you enjoy reading stories about the Punisher."
Rick Remender hopes his "Punisher" stories resonate with fans, because he wants to have a long run chronicling Frank Castle's crusade against super crime. "I think this series is on par with anything else being produced," the writer said. "Jerome and I are killing ourselves to make this a really special comic book. I think anybody who has a predetermined opinion about this book and the character should give our first two issues a try, because I believe they can sell the most cynical of us."
"Punisher" #3 is on sale now from Marvel Comics.