Going Old School: Frank Tieri on 'Punisher Noir'

Punisher Noir #1, page 1

At the New York Comic Con, Frank Tieri was named as one of the writers who will be expanding and exploring Marvel’s “Noir” line this summer with the five issue Punisher: Noir miniseries (with art by Paul Azaceta).

We spoke with the writer about the coming project, and his “Noir” take on a character that’s pretty noir to begin with.

Newsarama: Ok, Frank, I just have to get this out of the way first: The phrase that’s been connected to this project after your appearance at the Mondo Marvel panel at NYCC is… nipple cutting?! Care to explain?

Frank Tieri: Heh. Oh that. Yeah, well, it’s the Punisher—it is what it is. And maybe you might say I got a bit over exuberant while explaining what to expect from the book.

So, what is it exactly they can expect then? It’s obviously going to be violent—and by violent I mean ridiculously over-the-top violent in a way only a Punisher comic really gets away with. And just to give you an idea of some of what I’m talking about …Somebody gets eaten alive by alligators at the Bronx Zoo. Somebody else literally gets torn in half on an amusement park ride at Coney Island. Another guy gets his nuts blown off with a grenade.

… and yeah, somebody loses a nipple by issue #3.

NRAMA: Ouch. So ok, in your view, what does adapting a character into the "Noir" Marvel Universe mean? What are the ground rules of the "Noir" projects as they were explained to you?

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FT: Let’s be honest here… as far as having to adapt a Marvel character into the Noir Universe, I certainly didn’t draw the short straw, you know? I mean, the Punisher was practically made for something like this. Guns, gangsters, the violence we already talked about—I don’t care what the era is, this kind of stuff is not exactly foreign to the Punisher, if you know what I’m saying.

NRAMA: Exactly. As you say, more specifically with the Punisher - he seems rather easy to fit into that milieu. Do you start with his origin, or do you just start with him at some point in his career?

FT: We sort of do both as we jump around in eras a bit with this series. Our story actually kicks off with a huge battle scene-- the Meuse- Argonne Offensive, to be precise-- during World War I, then we jump ahead to the late 1920’s for what amounts to the Punisher’s origin and then we find ourselves in the early 1930’s, by which time he’s in full fledged Punisher mode.

NRAMA: Who is this Punisher? Still Frank Castle, and still basically the same guy and outlook?

FT: Yes and no.

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The story of Frank Castle, to me, can essentially be boiled down to one phrase: it’s a story about loss and a man’s response to that loss. (Intense though that response may be, as we all well know) That was the thing that Axel stressed to me about this project—yes, we can fiddle with his character a bit, tweak his origin, change his supporting cast and surroundings, etc. But at the end of the day, what is at the core of a Punisher story must remain intact, and that’s very much the case here.

NRAMA: So what gets the ball rolling here in the first issue? What’s the series about?

FT: If you set aside all the nipple cutting and genital exploding I spoke about earlier, believe it or not, this is a story about a father and son. Yeah, you heard me right.

Our story begins when Frank Castlione, a widowed veteran of World War I, returns home to the Bronx to find he has the difficult task of raising his son Frankie all by himself there waiting for him. Frankie’s not necessarily a bad kid per se, but he’s gotten involved with a street gang and this brings him into conflict with his old man.

The thing is, they had better get their acts together soon because Dutch Schultz is about to hit town and their lives will never be the same again.

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NRAMA: So Schultz is the main villain of the piece? What was that like—using a real life historical figure as the foil for this series?

FT: Well, if you think about it, who would the Punisher be tangling with if you plopped him back then in the 20’s and 30’s? The likes of Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Legs Diamond… and yeah, certainly Dutch Schultz. In fact, I’d say if you look at the life of the historical Dutch, he’s practically tailor made to be a Punisher villain. He was psychotic, ill tempered and extremely violent—and I don’t think it’s much of a stretch at all that he would actually do the stuff we have him doing in this series.

That’s the thing when you use a real person like Dutch. Yes, this is entertainment and no, this isn’t a documentary, but you still want to keep as close to the actual history whenever you can. So what we’ve done here is weave our Punisher in and out of the actual events of Dutch’s life the best that we could while staying true to who Dutch was and how he lived his life. It’s a bit tricky, but I think we came off with a nice balance between entertainment and fact.

NRAMA: Who else is in the miniseries with the Punisher? Are there "Noir" interpretations of people in the Punisher's world that modern-day fans would know or pick up on? A Microchip analogue? A Barracuda?

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FT: Definitely. It was one of the really fun things about doing a project like this—the little winks we can give to the audience. So you’ll see our version of the Russian pop up during WWI. You’ll see Jigsaw working as a hitman for Al Capone (the gag is that the main reason “Scarface” Al likes to use Jigsaw is because he’s the only guy with a face more $%^&ed up than his own). And we’ve got Barracuda as muscle for Bumpy Johnson over in Harlem.

But it’s not just the villains. You’ll even find a version of Soap, who’s sort of an Elliot Ness type who’s one of the only people to believe a Punisher actually exists, and Mr Bumpo, who works for the Castliones in their grocery store and eats probably just as much as he sells.

NRAMA: What was it like working with Paul Azaceta?

FT: Really great. Sometimes you get paired up in this business with artists who don’t necessarily fit your style, but that’s definitely not the case here. Paul brings a grim and gritty style that’s perfect for a project like this and for what I bring to the table. I honestly think this project’s going to make this guy a star.

NRAMA: Once again, you're writing the - if not "bad guy," then the "not good" guy. But the Punisher is no villain - he walks the line. What's the appeal of a character with such a tight moral code? It almost seems...limiting...

FT: It’s really a misconception that I only like to write villains. Yeah, it’s a niche I’ve sort carved out for myself over the years, but I’ve also done a fair amount of work with characters like Wolverine, Batman, Iron man and the Hulk, just to name a few. The thing that all those characters have in common with the villains I write is flaws—all those characters I mentioned are flawed in some way, shape or form. All those characters have issues or parts about them that make them every bit as flawed—sometimes more so—as the rest of us.

And it’s flaws that attract me to a character like the Punisher. Frank Castle is fighting a fight he can never truly win. No matter how many mobsters or criminals he wipes out, he can never ever really get them all, there’ll always be the next guy on the horizon to take their place. And if we’re going to really get to the core of all this, what started this whole insane mission off in the first place, no matter what he does, nothing will ever bring his family back. Nothing can ever make up for their loss. And yet, he still goes on—stubborn, determined, obsessed—and if that’s not a great character to write, I don’t know what is.

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NRAMA: We've seen many shades of the Punisher, from his earliest days to Garth's MAX work. Temperament-wise, where does this one fit in?

FT: You know, I think because Garth had such a definitive take on this character, the inevitable comparison will always come up whenever anyone does the Punisher from now on. But really, this project should be regarded as it’s own separate animal—different origin, different environment, different goals. With that in mind, he’s not as cold as Garth’s Punisher, I’d say. He’s determined, don’t get me wrong, but you get the idea that once he finishes off Dutch and Jigsaw and the rest, that might just be enough for him.

But then again, not to give it away, but the ending of the series may have you believe otherwise, so…

NRAMA: Last shout for people wondering if they should give this a try?

FT: Think of this as sort of like if they if they cast Dirty Harry in Once Upon a Time in America and threw in a touching father/son story for some reason.

And oh yeah, I mentioned that somebody loses a nipple, right?

NRAMA: A number of times.

FT: Well, I’m mentioning it again. It’s that important.

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