UTTERLY MENTAL: Spurrier talks Punisher War Journal Annual

When your job is to wage war against the many colorful villains of the Marvel Universe, you’re bound to see frightening, unusual, and, occasionally, some downright silly stuff. However, nothing the Punisher has witnessed in his campaign against the criminal underworld could prepare him for what he runs up against in November’s “Punisher War Journal Annual” #1 by writer Simon Spurrier and artist Werther Dell’Edera. CBR News spoke with Spurrier about the book.

In “Punisher War Journal Annual” #1, Frank Castle focuses his skewed perspective on the bizarre patrons of the Helter Skelter Club, a New York-based retro-themed nightclub populated with a very unique clientele. “The twist is that the Helter Skelter Club has become the premier nightspot for Wannabe Superheroes and Wannabe Villains,” Spurrier told CBR News. “Everyone gets dressed up in daft costumes, to sample crazy substances and party the night away with all the Z-List superfolk who show up to bask in the limelight. It’s deeply, deeply pathetic, and as you know, Frank totally isn’t the partying type.”

A matter of life and death brings the Punisher to the Helter Skelter club; the trail of an abducted child brings Castle face to face with the nightspot’s sinister proprietor. “Unfortunately, when he gatecrashes the party to investigate, it quickly becomes apparent the owner — a lunatic from Liverpool called Captain Pepper— has been expecting him, and has some deeply, deeply strange plans in mind for our pal Frank.

“Captain Pepper is obsessed by ‘60s and ‘70s musical culture and considers himself an artist whose medium isn’t paint or clay but dangerous narcotics. He has a pair of midget accomplices with feeding-tubes instead of hair, and he is utterly, utterly mental. Before he knows it, the Punisher is up to his skull-symbol in psychedelic hallucinations with a curiously childlike flavor. He’s stuck in the mind of a six-year-old girl. The aim was to create a sense of genuine danger, but to spice it all with a heavy of dose of incongruous ridiculousness. We’ve all seen Frank Castle in a fistfight before. We’ve never seen him in a fistfight in which his delusional brain tells him he’s up against a posse of, say, heavily-armed dollies.”

As if battling a psychedelic madman and his ferocious henchman while hallucinating wasn’t bad enough the Punisher must also contend with a number of familiar adversaries as well, including The Rhino, who gets blown through a wall with a rocket launcher, something Spurrier thinks is always fun. “Weirdly enough, I wrote this annual a long, long time ago; then got a call from my editor saying he’d just received a script from Matt Fraction for the main Punisher book in which, wouldn’t you know it, the Rhino gets blown through a wall with a rocket launcher,” the writer said. “Great minds thinking alike, clearly. Anyway, we just figured it made it even funnier if this sort of thing just keeps on happening to the big dumb thug, so I slipped in a concussive moan about dejà vu and left it at that.”

The odds are stacked against Frank Castle in “Punisher War Journal Annual’ #1, but the Punisher won’t be facing Captain Pepper and his twisted minions all by himself. Spurrier revealed that Stu Clarke, the Punisher’s arms supplier and a regular supporting character in “War Journal,” plays a part in the story.

Spurrier has seen the finished work of his collaborator, Werther Dell’Edera, and feels the artist's depiction of the story is the perfect mix of head tripping and head splitting action. “Werther’s fantastic. He’s the ultimate draftsman, and he really understands storytelling,” Spurrier remarked. “I was kind of worried about finding an artist who could handle the frequent transitions between ‘reality’ and the psychedelic hallucinations which drip from the page. He’s pulled-it off perfectly, and his version of the Punisher looks— and feels — deadly.”

When former Marvel editor Aubrey Sitterson invited Spurrier to pitch the story that would become “Punisher War Journal Annual” #1, the writer jumped at the chance to tackle such an upfront and uncompromising character like Frank Castle. “There’s no moral posturing, no agonizing over where his boundaries lie; no crippling self-analysis. He just draws a straight line between himself and his goal, and fills the intervening space with bullets and bodies,” Spurrier explained. “Coming from the ‘2000AD’ background that I have, I’m always most drawn to antiheroic figures: there’s something rather manipulatively wonderful about making your readers sympathize with a complete and utter bastard. We all love Frank Castle, even though we wouldn’t want to meet him down a dark alley in real life.”

The Punisher has been written by a number of authors, all of whom agree that Frank Castle is an extremely dangerous man, but their characterizations often differ when it comes to the question of whether or not a stone cold killer like Castle is strictly insane. “For want of a better phrase, I’d call Frank’s condition ‘Anti-Sanity,’” Spurrier said. “I think there’s a strange but dark place of extreme calmness, seriousness and rationality which lies on the other side of pants-on-the-head craziness. It’s like when you’re so, so, so drunk that you discover this bizarre Zen mindset of Super Sobriety which lets you pass yourself off as broadly ‘normal,’ even though you’re seeing everything through a completely cracked lens. Everything you do and say drips with sinister Wrongosity, but you aren’t necessarily behaving in an obviously deranged fashion. That’s Frank.”

“Punisher War Journal Annual” #1 is a crazy, psychedelic cocktail meant to evoke a number of moods and feelings. “Hopefully we’ll get a load of action, a heap of weird black humor, and an increasing vibe of horror towards the end,” Spurrier said. “The overall aim of the thing was just to insert Frank into a completely unbalancing situation. We’re so used to seeing the Punisher in these grim and gritty scenarios, and I just wondered how he’d react if he was immersed in the exact opposite: colorful and tacky and childish, but still with a vicious vein of danger. Obviously he still has to be grim — that’s what he does — but there’s a real frisson of unexpected threat behind it all. It’s dramatic irony at its purest, I guess: we know the reality of what Frank’s up against — hordes of gun-toting goons and dosed-up deviants — but he doesn’t. He’s immersed in this cutesy-wutesy hell dream, and can only react by blowing the living shit out of anything that moves. It’s a visual feast!”

Spurrier had a blast writing Frank Castle and he hopes fans pick up “Punisher War Journal Annual” #1, because he’d love to revisit the character in future stories. And if readers aren’t sold yet, the writer has one last pitch: “Did I mention it contains Ninja Teddies? Ninja Teddies, people!”

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