The "Legacy" of James "Rhodey" Rhodes is being picked up by a surprising new candidate with "Marvel Legacy": the Punisher.
Beginning with November's The Punisher #218, new series creators Matthew Rosenberg and Guiu Vilanova are equipping the Punisher with his biggest weapon yet - Rhodey's War Machine armor. The reveal of this story conceit back in June drew some surprise, and according to Rosenberg this mix - although it might seem perfect - is about what happens when the War Machine armor "falls into the wrong hands."
With The Punisher falling into new hands, Newsarama spoke with this duo about this unique twist on legacy for Frank Castle and War Machine.
Newsarama: Matt, you're the writer of Marvel's the Punisher. How does that feel when you say it out loud?
Matthew Rosenberg: Well you are the first person outside of Marvel that I've gotten to talk to about it, so I haven't really said that out loud yet. But it's real crazy.
The Punisher for me is one of my all-time favorite characters. I had a Mike Zeck Punisher poster on my bedroom wall when I was a kid. My mom hated it. I have been reading Punisher stories since I learned how to read. I think Frank Castle is one of the greatest characters in the Marvel Universe. He is exciting and disturbing, heroic and horrifying. It's really an honor to get to write a character who has been such a source of fascination for me and generations of comic fans.
Nrama: The big shocker of all of this is Frank Castle in the War Machine armor. Guiu, how are you drawing it?
Guiu Vilanova: Isn’t it! It’s mad! Probably one of the most dangerous man in the whole Marvel universe and now he has the War Machine armor! This’s going to be really fun! And about War Machine’s armor, well. I’m going to focus on trying to make it looks more expressive and dynamic. I also added some pretty cool gadgets to the armor and I’m going to try to have fun drawing it!
Nrama: Frank Castle with the War Machine armor - seems like he'd be a kid in a candy story. How did this unique pairing come about?
Rosenberg: Kid in a candy store is right. Or maybe giant monster that eats candy in a candy store. In a way, this is Frank in his idealized form. It's one of those crazy ideas that everyone recoils from at first and then they let it sink in and it makes people ask "Why didn't this happen sooner?". It just makes logical sense that Frank would want the armor.
As for where the idea came from, my editor Jake Thomas brought it to me. It took me a second to really get it. I love War Machine and Rhodey. I love him as a character and what he stands for. In a lot of ways, he is this optimistic view of what our government and our military stand for. Like Cap, he is the best of us going above and beyond to keep all of us safe and free. And obviously, he is much more than that too.
But none of that is what Frank is.
Frank is the inverted nightmare version of that. He is all the anger and hatred and vengeance that is built into our society, personified. The Punisher brings up a lot of uncomfortable questions about who we are as a society and what we are willing to let happen and what we'd like to see done. So, putting Frank in Rhodey's armor felt so wrong to me at first. It felt almost blasphemous. It wasn't until I realized this wasn't a superhero story anymore that I got it. This isn't a celebration of the Punisher taking on the mantle of War Machine and becoming a hero. This is a look into how easily War Machine can become overshadowed by the Punisher when it falls into the wrong hands.
Nrama: Guiu, how'd you come to be involved with The Punisher title?
Vilanova: Well, the truth is that most of the credit on this aspect goes for my agent, Joaquin Garcia. He’s the one who’s been taking good care of my career. I’m always trying to do the best art I can in all the projects I get involved in, and he always works hard to show my work to all the publishers. This is how I got involved in this exciting project. I’m so happy that Jake Thomas and Rickey Purdin have believed in my art and have offered me this opportunity. To work in Marvel, it’s a dream come true for me.
Nrama: The Punisher has been happy when he has and a handful of guns - what brings him to want to suit up like this?
Rosenberg: Frank is the most goal-driven character in all of comics. He wants to kill bad people. He will use whatever he has at his disposal and take every opportunity he gets to do that, but in the end it's just about maximum death. Understanding that, it doesn't take much to envision a scenario where Frank would get the armor. He wouldn't take it from Rhodey while he was alive. He respects the man, he respects what he does, and he respects his rank. But with the armor unmanned now, Frank figures it might as well be put to use. "A weapon unused is a useless weapon" and all that. If he could pick up Thor's hammer, he would. If he could take Wolverine's claws, he would.
Nrama: But Nick Fury is a part of this as well. How does he factor in?
Rosenberg: Nick Fury finds himself backed into a corner. There are messes he wants cleaned up, some of them are of his own making. And Fury has always been good at finding the right tool for the job. In this case, he needs a whole lot of bad people removed from the face of the Earth. There is one person who is very good at that, but he's not a great team player. In fact, he's basically a monster. Nick Fury works in the darkest corners of the Marvel Universe. He does the things heroes won't or can't. He is a necessary evil, or at least that's what he tells himself. But even to him, using someone like the Punisher is a hard pill to swallow. But, like I said, Nick doesn't have a ton of choices on this so the Punisher becomes an Agent of Fury. Maybe.
Nrama: You hit on this briefly before, but I want to go back - Rhodey died in Civil War II, but Frank worked with him in the past. How does the Punisher feel about taking over for Rhodey?
Rosenberg: Frank likes Rhodey. He respects him more than he respects almost any other superhero. Rhodey is a soldier and a man of principle. But that has nothing to do with this. Frank isn't taking over for Rhodey or carrying on what he started. Frank is using his weapons after he died to kill bad guys. And that's how Frank works. There is a logical dissonance for him. He will do whatever he needs to accomplish his goal and nothing else matters. To Frank, it was Rhodey that made War Machine the hero, not the suit. In the same way that if he grabbed Hawkeye's bow and used it to shoot a mobster he wouldn't be Hawkeye, he'd just be practical. There are, of course, bigger ramifications and implications by using the armor than he thinks or cares about. But as long as he is putting bad guys in the dirt nothing else matters.
Nrama: Guiu, what would you say is the visual style you're going for in this story?
Vilanova: The Punisher it’s always been a dark character. And I love to use a lot of black. So, I reckon Frank and I will become good friends! [Laughs]
Also, I’m always focusing on creating the right atmosphere for the story and working with the facial expressions of the characters. I would say those are my signature moves. [Laughs]
I really hope the fans love it.
Nrama: What are your goals with your Punisher run?
Vilanova: Well, my goal is to make the best work I can. As always. Trying to add my personal touch to the story. And of course, I would love to make all the fans of the Punisher very happy and proud of my work on this “Legacy” series.
Rosenberg: We really want to examine Frank in a new setting. Here he is, with so much power at his fingertips, and what does he do with it? How does it change him? And what does it mean for Frank Castle to be working for someone else? In the end, the Punisher is a simple answer to some very complex questions. Trying to make him be a force for good in this world is less about trying to figure out new ways to fit a square peg into a round hole and more about how much can you hammer that peg before everything shatters. Frank will always be a man with guns killing people he thinks are bad. It's the world that changes around him. And through that we hope people can step away from this book being as terrified and awestruck of the unchanging constant that is The Punisher as we are. I hope people ask what it means that someone like the Punisher exists.
Nrama: And what does “Legacy” mean to Frank Castle?
Rosenberg: Killing people.
And here is the solicitation for this "Marvel Legacy" one-shot:
THE PUNISHER #218
MATTHEW ROSENBERG (W) • GUIU VILANOVA (A)
Cover by CLAYTON CRAIN
FRANK CASTLE: WAR MACHINE Part 1
For years, Frank Castle has been fighting a one-man war against criminals who endanger the innocent, but when a certain one-eyed operative offers him the tools to take his fight global…how could he say no? Find out how Frank found his way into the WAR MACHINE Armor!