For 20 issues, writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Mitch Gerads have shepherded Frank Castle’s adventures in their Punisher series. Now, with Secret Wars in full effect, their run is coming to a close this week.
Punisher is one of several titles in the "Last Days" umbrella of Secret Wars tie-ins, showing the final moments of each character as their world ends in the incursions that started off the Secret Wars title itself.
And while the Punisher’s future post-Secret Wars is still uncertain – he hasn’t popped up in the previews for the "All-New, All-Different Marvel" revamp yet – Edmondson and Gerads have made their mark on the character, bringing him closer in to the Marvel Universe at large and moving him to California.
For this week's finale in Punisher #20, Frank undertakes one last mission before the end of the world. Edmondson and Gerads looked back on their run in a talk with Newsarama, examining their take on Frank Castle, his place in Marvel Comics, and what their last days on Earth would look like.
Newsarama: Nathan and Mitch, your Punisher series saw a Frank Castle tied more closely to the Marvel Universe at large than several of the character’s more recent iterations. Was that a conscious effort on your part, or something that came naturally?
Mitch Gerads: I think a little of both, but I think one of the things that really attracted us to doing the book was getting to tell a story about how Frank fits into the larger Marvel sandbox. A sandbox filled with crazy powers and superhuman abilities. Frank is just a normal guy with a ton of training to back him up, yet he still goes out there every day to make the world a better place with the skills and the mission that he has.
Nathan Edmondson: With Electro, for example, we wanted to make a point of exactly where Punisher is supposed to be in the Marvel U; we set out to show the villains he can and cannot defeat in the first volume. That gives us a better definition of his journey and the stakes of his battles moving forward. Most encounters beyond that were fairly incidental; small opportunities or logical conclusions. Coming up against Captain America was not just a necessary reaction from the Universe to Frank’s actions, but it was a thematic moment in the book.
Nrama: You also moved Frank to Los Angeles. Why the change of locale?
Edmondson: For a change of scenery. We wanted to define Frank anew, and we felt new geography was necessary for the picture we wanted to paint.
Gerads: New York is covered by…everyone. I like to imagine that Moon Knight called him up at the end of Brian Michael Bendis’ run and was all “This place is nuts. I’m out. All yours.”
Nrama: It’s getting more rare to see writer and artist pairs last for long runs on one title, but Punisher seems to engender lengthy stays, including your own. What made you stick with Frank Castle for 20 issues?
Edmondson: From day one we had an 18 issue arc in mind for this (same for Black Widow). We had a finish line and we made it all the way through; Secret Wars presented us with a unique opportunity to add an action-packed denouement, one in which we could take the gloves off and get our knuckles bloody. Very bloody, it turned out.
Gerads: We’ve always enjoyed longer runs. Everything gets to breathe a bit more. We had pitched it as 18 issues to begin with and people have been digging the new things we’ve been trying with the character. Heck, we actually made it two issues longer than we had intended! *High-Fives*
Nrama: Your Punisher series also saw Frank tangle with several supervillains. How does a guy like Frank Castle fit into that world?
Edmondson: To add to what I said above, Frank can’t help but slam up against these villains — but they aren’t his equals. Frank has tactical expertise, experience with pain, and a carbine. It’s an effective recipe, but one that can’t necessarily compete with the Olympic-god like nature of Marvel’s worst and most lethal.
Gerads: I would have loved to do more of it! Getting to illustrate, and especially color, Electro was a blast. Frank is a highly capable Marvel Universe Operator. He knows tactics and he knows the tools he uses to achieve victory front and back. Even if you have crazy electricity powers you don’t stand a chance if the other guy knows the game better than you do.
Nrama: Despite bringing Punisher in line with the Marvel Universe, you still found ways to bring in the over-the-top action that is his signature. Was it hard striking that balance?
Edmondson: Not really; we show up to work to have fun, and Frank dancing with flipping cars and lightning bolts is damn fine fun. For us it’s about leading dialogue and action to that perfect payoff-panel, it’s about blowing up a balloon of story and giving it just enough of a prick.
Gerads: It’s The Punisher. If we weren’t bringing over-the-top action it just wouldn’t be a Skullguy comic!
Nrama: Nathan, your background contains a diverse array of genres, but the last few years have seen you focus on titles like Punisher and Black Widow that have an action/noir focus. Where do your spy-fi chops come from?
Edmondson: I’m not sure noir is the right word for anything I do; it certainly doesn’t feel like noir to me. Our run on Black Widow, for example, doesn’t belong in any limiting niche (I believe); I think we’re in some, if not Brad Bird territory, then certainly Sam Mendes territory given our villains, action and set pieces.
I’m attracted to the spy genre and it’s been good to me; I like action that has constraints, I like subversion and nuance and shadows and secrets in my stories, I like gray area and characters who struggle against the line that defines justice and morality. Beyond that, I don’t know why the hell I enjoy Spy-fi. It’s certainly not all that I enjoy; bring on the sci-fi and fantasy and street fights and mega-superheroes and period pieces. It’s all character and story.
But people start to know you for something, and they want more of that. And I’ve loved every spy-fi book I’ve had the blessed opportunity to write.
Nrama: Mitch, your work on Punisher has a distinct cinematic quality, and Punisher has had more film adaptations than most Marvel characters. Who is your inspiration for your version of Frank Castle?
Gerads: I get to tell this story to fans at shows a lot, but I’ve never been a big Punisher fan. He was always too “aggro” for me. It wasn’t until I really dove into my interest in the Special Operations Forces and got to meet a number of real world guys in that community. That’s when Frank Castle clicked for me. Through talking, learning, and even a little bit of training with these guys I got to see what I wanted to do with the character of Frank Castle. We’ve kind of done away with the psycopath version of Frank and made him a soldier with a mission. The mission always comes first.
Nrama: What is the working relationship like between the two of you? Any plans to work together again once Punisher wraps?
Gerads: Working with Nathan is great. We both have such a strong passion about getting the details right. This military angle is all done out of a deep respect and it’s great working with someone who is on that same level. My last 36 issues of comic-bookery have been with Nathan, who knows what the future holds!
Nrama: This last story arc of Punisher has focused on Frank Castle’s last days before the Marvel Universe was destroyed. What would you do with your last days, if you knew the universe was ending?
Edmondson: I’d be with my family, at home, watching home movies.
Gerads: Honest answer is I’d probably just freak the F--- out, haha. I’d just spend them at home. I’d probably be on a deadline.