The Punisher is hunting the streets of Los Angeles for organized crime. But he’s got someone hunting him: the Howling Commandos. In the debut issue of the all-new The Punisher series earlier this month, it was revealed that the elite government black ops squad the Howling Commandos have been called in by the government to track down and eliminate Frank Castle. Castle has yet to learn of this surprising turn of events, but has recently relocated from the Eastern seaboard to sunny and smoggy Los Angeles in the hunt for a drug smuggling ring with ties to a new street gang called Dos Soles.
This new chapter in Punisher’s life comes courtesy of The Activity creators Nathan Edmondson and Mitch Gerads. The duo have taken to Frank Castle with aplomb, carving out a niche for Frank within the Marvel Universe but without being drenched in superheroes or soliloquies. Newsarama talked with both Edmondson and Gerads as The Punisher #2 comes on stands this week and a third coming on March 5.
Newsarama: The Punisher #1 was a real treat, Nathan. And that reveal at the end of just who’s on Frank’s tail, being the Howling Commandoes, is a big shocker. I have to ask about at – who or what are these Howling Commandoes? We’ve seen several groups go by that name before at Marvel?
Nathan Edmondson: The blackest of the black ops groups in the Marvel U; serving the highest echelons of government, endowed with the latest tech—they are precise instruments of warfare; they’ve been here all along, in the shadows, secret. Now they’re in Los Angeles, and they’re tasked with hunting down The Punisher.
Mitch Gerads: I can't really give away much on those guys. We're definitely playing the long game when it comes to their role in the book. They're badasses and Frank definitely needs to watch his back because they're coming for him.
Nrama: And seeing as how the Howling Commandoes are coming to Punisher, is it possible we see the most popular Howling Commando ever – Nick Fury – coming as well at some point?
Edmondson: I can neither confirm nor deny this.
Gerads: Possibly more than any other character in the Marvel U. He might be my favorite Marvel character, so we'll see!
Nrama: In addition to the surprise appearance of the Howling Commandoes, we also see some other people on the chessboard so to speak in s female LAPD officer named Sam and a short order cook Frank befriends in a diner. They don’t know he’s the Punisher, but he does get into it with them. How do they help your story, and how will their roles go as the series progresses?
Edmondson: Sam doesn’t know—out of context, out of place, this is just another rough looking customer at the Nickel Diner, which is known for attracting all different sorts of travelers. The cook, though, he sees a lot of people, hears a lot of things, and keeps a lot of secrets. Each character we’ve introduced—like Tuggs—are important pieces, and it’s indeed a chessboard where these pieces will all move and have a purpose over time.
Nrama: I really enjoyed a line you put in there about criminals not fearing the Avengers like they do the Punisher. How does a street-level criminal view superheroes and the Punisher?
Edmondson: I think that street-level thugs aren’t as afraid of superheroes, who are more focused on the bigger threats, the super villains. And among the street thugs are scarier and scarier types that the police don’t have the resources or manpower to handle. That’s where Frank comes in—someone who operates like a superhero, but notices every punk in the alley.
Nrama: Frank Castle comes to Hollywood… Mitch, in the first issue your artwork really lays it on thick giving us much more than the touristy-view of California. I asked you this one before, but really dig in here – how’d you get it to look so real and accurate?
Gerads: I've always felt that setting is the most important character in any story. Working on The Activity instilled an insane need for research in me. So much of my development as a creator happened on that book and I think I found out who I am as a creator in this field and research plays such a key role in what drives me. The real shining highlight of the Marvel sandbox is that it's portrayed as the world the reader lives in. I love that aspect of the Marvel U and as an artist in that world I feel a weird sense of duty to drive that point home in my work. The flip side of that is I also want to romanticize these real world locations too. It's the Marvel Universe after all, you have to turn everything up to 11 so on The Punisher I'm really playing up my color palette. The name of the game for me is "atmosphere" in every page and every panel.
Nrama: We’re all glad to see you doing this – and coloring your own work – but it leaves me worried we may not see you every issue. How far along are you, and do you plan on doing every issue or take a break every once in a while?
Gerads: Fret not! I'm definitely keeping up and I'll be sticking around for a good long while. I only have one very short break in the schedule so I can go get married and run off to a faraway land with my fiancee, but then I'm right back to staring down the Holo-sight of The Punisher.
Nrama: You two have done much to ameliorate Frank as less a force of nature and more of a human being with a dark side. Can you talk about finding that right tenor for Frank?
Edmondson: It took some practice and conversation and observation—of other stories, TV shows, films, books—to see exactly what kind of groove to put the Punisher in in our series, but ultimately as with any story it was about getting to know the character himself, and then letting him loose on the page.
Nrama: Mitch, I really enjoy your portrayal of Frank Castle – he’s not a young man with a 5 o’clock shadow, but someone who’s been at it for awhile with the lines on his face to prove it. How’d you determine just how your rendition of Frank Castle was to look?
Edmondson: I went through a couple different rounds when I was designing my look for the character. The first take was a very tank-like Goran Parlov-esque rendition of Frank but it just didn't jive with the story that Nathan and I had been formulating and my second take was maybe a bit too far on the other side of that coin. I honestly didn't find my Frank (and the one you see in the book) till I put ink to paper on an actual page. Once I drew that I knew this was what I wanted all along. Frank is a good looking guy, but he's been around for a while and he's been through a lot. He grew out his hair a bit and dare I say he's actually enjoying getting some Vitamin D from that California sun.
Nrama: Fans often say that there’s a fine line to walk to do a great Punisher story, with many stepping outside that and falling into ruin. You seem to really have it on track here, melding early Mike Baron Punisher with something evocative of Cormac McCarthy. How’d you go about determining what a Punisher story is – and more importantly, what a Punisher story isn’t?
Edmondson: For one thing, we didn’t overthink it. Which probably means there’s a dash of dumb luck in there. We did talk about things we thought readers needed and wanted now, aspects and traits we could offer and show to widen The Punisher’s audience. Setting helped in a big way too—bringing Frank to LA and identifying things like the diner where he eats his eggs—the real-life Nickel Diner in downtown LA—helped us to see him in different lights, getting a full understanding of who we were dealing with.
Also, you get cool points for mentioning Cormac McCarthy, but also there’s no way my work could be compared to his by anyone sensible.
Nrama: Mitch, when you tell people you’re drawing The Punisher people expect wall-to-wall action scenes and gunplay, but this series balances that with some great personal moments like the diner scene. As an artist telling the story and balancing it all, how do you feel scenes like that help the overall idea of the book?
Gerads: Tremendously. Like with everything, you need a balance. The big action moments don't resonate as much if you never have the calm moments. Nathan and I really examined what we liked about the character and what we didn't like about the character. So many creators think the angle is that Frank is a machine, but he's not. He's a human and humans need to grin every once in awhile!
Nrama: Last question -- what can fans look forward to coming up in The Punisher?
Edmondson: A shocking surprise in the later pages, more badassery, and a hurt animal in the desert.