Putting the PUNISHER Back Together With Rick Remender

Putting the PUNISHER Back Together

Punisher #12

A lot of Marvel readers were not expecting the surprise ending of October’s Dark Reign: The List – Punisher.  Plainly put: The Punisher was chopped into bits, quite literally, by Daken Akihiro (a.k.a. Dark Wolverine) at the behest of Norman Osborn.  Osborn’s evil “To Do” list is setting up the final gambit between the heroes of the Marvel Universe and the most evil man on the planet this side of Dick Cheney!

“So if the Punisher is dead, then how is there an issue #11 of Punisher?” you ask.  Good question; something is amiss underneath the sewers of New York City the Marvel Universe.  There is a dark presence underneath New York that has taken the place of the Morlocks…

Monsters.  The whole Legion of Monsters…or what’s left of them.  With #11's release today, Newsarama spoke with Rick Remender about the latest arc of The Punisher and how one man’s corpse is another man’s monster.

Newsarama:  First off, I don’t know if people realized this, but you killed off the Punisher in Dark Reign: The List – Punisher…

Rick Remender:  Yeah, that’s right.  We killed him in a way that I thought was fitting to the character.

Nrama:  He’s quite dead…and in pieces thanks to Daken Akihiro and Norman Osborn.

Punisher #13

Remender:  Yep, that’s about it.  I think none of it would have really been possible if not for the Hood and his resurrection of Frank’s family in this past arc of Punisher.  I think Frank’s actions in issue #10—to put his family back into their graves—was kind of the straw that broke the Punisher’s back.  He was pretty broken down by the end of issue #10.  The List – The Punisher is Norman and Daken kind of coming in for the final swoop; I like to think of it as the Hood crushed Frank’s soul and Daken (along with Norman) have come to finish the job.

Nrama:  What kind of set-up can you give fans for the new Franken-Castle arc starting in Punisher #11?

Remender:  The basic set-up is, whatever is left of Frank, we wanted to do something pretty wild with it.  We’re dealing with a character that is surrounded by cosmic dudes riding surfboards and men with radioactive spider-blood—I wanted this to feel like a Marvel Comic book in the sense that PunisherMax is a straight up Noir/Crime book and Punisher is straight up fantasy.  

So, seeing as how Frank operates in a world where men stretch their arms into the Negative Zone, aliens invade every few weeks and there are a dozen Hulks running around, the idea that that this sort of place doesn’t affect Frank Castle is a bit ridiculous; especially given the concentrated quantity of insane super-villains and things like that.  So, as we were digging through the various possibilities of what radical hole we would drop Frank Castle down into, we all fell in love with the idea that it would involve the Legion of Monsters, who, as it turns out, used the Morlock tunnels as refuge centuries before the Morlocks existed.  Now, every monster in the Marvel Universe is down there in this “Monster Metropolis” being sheltered and guarded by the Legion of Monsters.  What happens to Frank is that he is dropped smack-dab into the heart of this city.  The point of the story, the goal of the story, is to see Frank’s rise from the gutter he’s been dropped into.

Punisher #14

What happened with Daken isn’t over.  In the fourth arc, we’ve got Frank’s rematch with Daken and it’s going to be a very different exchange…in a very big way.  Readers will also see a bigger return on the characters who have been involved in all the past storylines up to this point during the arc after Franken-Castle.  

This arc that starts on Wednesday is Frank at his literal lowest point and he’s going to be trying to figure out, in terms of the world around him, how he wants to move forward; he’s forced to make the decision: “Am I a monster or not?”   There are a lot of fun analogies in this new arc about the monster inside versus the monster on the outside.

Nrama:  How did the pitch for this arc start?  Were there plans for other heroes to die?  Or did you just toss the whole, “Hey, I want Frank Castle to die…” idea out to Marvel?

Remender:  Yeah, I wanted to kill Frank.  Looking at what he was up against, with both the Hood and Osborn involved—I knew that, of all the characters struggling with Osborn during the Dark Reign arc, Frank was going to struggle the most.  I mean Frank tried to assassinate Norman in the first couple of pages of Punisher #1 at the very beginning of the Dark Reign cycle—so Frank is pretty high up on Norman’s list of people to kill.  I mean this is a guy who has his own squads of Avengers and X-Men, the Thunderbolts, H.A.M.M.E.R.—basically the whole world at this point; so, when The List came up, that’s when I decided I wanted to do the final chapter between Frank and Norman.  Axel got John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson to work on the project because of the gravitas of the whole ordeal and because Frank’s death this time is something symbolic and special he wanted the very best guys out there to draw it.

Nrama:  What’s the fan reaction been so far?

Page from Punisher #11

Remender:  It’s been crazy.  Beyond the terrific fan reaction we’ve had several huge writers, guys like Millar and Bendis—have made really positive remarks, praising our efforts.  Millar said the issue was his favorite single issue of the year. I think people find it refreshing to see something logically play out in terms of the outcome between Frank, Norman and Daken; this story doesn’t feel mandated by the constraint of “Oh, wait, you can’t kill the main character of a series.” He should die in this scenario. And he does.

The fun thing about the Marvel Universe is that everyone knows that a good character like the Punisher isn’t going to stay dead forever and ever and ever.  In most cases, the character is taken off the board for a while and then readers see how the character fights its way back to prominence.  That’s the fun of this sort of story; this type of story is one of key reasons why Marvel Comics—and comic books in general—are fun.  As far as full-blown imagination and fantasy goes, that’s what we’ve got going on for Punisher for the next couple of years; it’s Frank Castle still being the guy he is.  I mean, in issue #10, he put a gun to the back of Firebrand’s head and forced him to torch Castle’s family instead of having them resurrected by these evil means…that’s Frank Castle.  We’re going to be putting Frank into situations that will actually open up possibilities for potentially bigger stories like these.  There is a new kind of slaughter-fest on the horizon for Frank, that’s the best way I can put it for now.

Nrama:  How did you come up with this idea of merging the Punisher with an iconic character like Frankenstein?  

Remender:  It goes back to something Jason Aaron, Matt Fraction, Tony Moore, and I had been batting around—pitching a Ghost Rider/Wolverine/Punisher series—and, as we were putting together ideas, I had come up with this idea of a “Monster Metropolis” underneath New York.  Marvel has all these great monsters and they’re all scattered all over the place; why not have them all living in one central place, giving them this central mission?  We had discussed the possibility of making Frank into the Spirit of Vengeance and tying him into all the cool stuff Jason is doing over in Ghost Rider.  As we were developing stuff, Tony drew this picture of Frank in this sort of gangly, destroyed half-robot body and we started talking Frankenstein’s involvement. Over time, that project was sort of shelved and we all got a little too busy to do it.  

As I was going over my options, in light of knowing that Frank was going to take a dive, and I was trying to find the best course for moving Punisher forward—whether it was a replacement for Frank or whatever.  I knew that this was what I wanted to do because I didn’t like the idea of taking Frank off the board.  With Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon doing a crime-style Punisher book, I had to take Punisher in a completely different direction than they were going in.  It had to be this insanely over-the-top storyline that’s typical of a Marvel Universe comic book; so, when I started gearing up for that mindset for the story, I was like, “Oh yeah, the Monster Metropolis story idea would work really well here.”  So I pitched it to Axel.

Page from Punisher #11

At first, it raises an eyebrow, because you’ve got the notion of this big lumbering giant/ Frank Castle/ Punisher monster but it only took four or five minutes of discussion for everyone involved to fall in love with it.  I think the fans who aren’t keen on the idea will warm up to it more once they see the tone for the series is not changing. Frank is just been dipped in the crazy sauce that the MU is strewing in.

I think people who are familiar with Fear Agent will understand. Fear Agent is more than just this Wally Wood-style spaceman comic, it’s a very contemporary story told in this classic aesthetic. It looks like a 1950’s EC Sci-Fi book but reads like a modern AMC show. It unfolds the pulp into a deeper character study—in a lot of ways, that’s what I want my work on Punisher to be.  I like to take projects that are kitschy and pulpy and fun on the outside—and I like to delve into deeper realms and aspects of storytelling within these stories on the inside in the hopes of creating a really gripping and entertaining yarn for everyone.

Nrama:  Postmodernist Pulp sci-fi and fantasy are really starting to take off in genre comics; what are your thoughts on that?

Remender:  We all love monsters like the Legion of Monsters and we all love spacemen and giant robots; those are all great things aesthetically.  There are a lot of adult readers of comics and graphic novels who grew up reading comics and watching Saturday morning cartoons who still love these sorts of things today—I’m one of those people—it’s our mythology.  I think it’s really the most fun you can have, taking classic archetypes and using them to tell modern stories; so, on the outside, these ideas and concepts are just as fun and exciting as they were when we were kids but the stories are more compelling for someone with a more mature sensibility who is reading.

Nrama:  What sorts of villainy will Franken-Castle be up against in this story arc?

Remender:  We have an entirely new villain and he’s tied into a very awesome part of Marvel’s tradition that I don’t want to reveal just yet but this villain is a monster-killing machine.  Basically, he’s after something one of the monsters has.  His family was slaughtered by a pack of werewolves in 1914 forcing him to kill his family and his village before they transformed into monsters…I don’t want to go too far into the origin stuff—people will have to check it out for themselves.

Page from Punisher #11

Nrama:  So this character exists in prior Marvel continuity?

Remender:  He’s tied into something that’s in existence, yes.  He’s tied to another classic, yet obscure, Marvel character from the past.

Nrama:  Will Frank find himself siding with new allies?

Remender:  Yeah, like I’ve said, I’m a huge fan of the Legion of Monsters—so Frank’s going to be joining up with them.  Neither Son of Satan or Ghost Rider will be present because they’re off being bad asses somewhere else but it’s all the other members: Man-Thing, the Mummy, Manphibian, Morbius the Living Vampire, and Werewolf By Night—it’s that classic line-up of monsters who are living below New York protecting the remaining monsters from Monster Isle and all the Kirby beasts, the ‘70’s Englehart monsters and all the other crazy Marvel monsters that haven’t been hunted down and killed.  They’re all hiding down there.

Nrama:  What sorts of fun did you and your cohort Tony Moore have when you were laying out these issues?  Did the two of you approach this project any differently than projects you’ve worked on together in the past?

Remender:  You know, the great thing about working with a buddy like Tony is the amount of time we’ve spent together that makes our work come together so effortlessly.  We know that if it excites us—and we both get really full of bubbling nerd enthusiasm—that we’re on the right path and no matter how frightening it might be in terms of “Are they going to like this?” we know what we think is a good comic book and imaginative effort—while staying true to the integrity of Frank Castle.  It’s of the utmost importance that he stays Frank Castle.

Franken-Castle is one of those ideas that we knew as we were bouncing ideas back and forth and getting excited about them; we just knew this idea was going to be great.  This is easily Tony’s best work ever.  He’s just astounding.

To answer your question, no, we didn’t really do anything differently.  We have a really nice collaborative process together that we’ve developed by working together over the past five years now—and we’ve been friends for ten years now.  It’s really nice to work with a friend on something of this caliber and to have Marvel getting behind it the way that they are.  This is a project that Punisher fans have not seen before.  We’re really excited.

Nrama:  What sorts of strengths does Tony bring to a piece?  What is your favorite aspect of his artistic talent?

Remender:  Tony gets acting—so few people do.  Tony’s characters are three dimensional and display a range of emotions.  He really gets the nuance of a scene and he’s capable of conveying the moods of the characters on their faces.  If that’s not in the artwork, then you have to overwrite a panel; it’s very nice to not have to overwrite panels with guys like Tony and Jerome [Opeña]—guys who I’ve worked with for four or five years now.  We get each other and we have the same sensibilities as storytellers and, because of Tony’s strength, the artwork primarily tells the story.

Tony and I are big fans of the classic EC stories—we’ve studied them all—Jack Davis, Will Elder and Wally Wood; those guys had a real strength to their storytelling that aspect is always our primary focus.  I think readers will see how lovingly Tony has handled these pages—you’ll see them in his own inks—the sheer amount of detail on these pages is amazing.

Nrama:  What other sorts of projects do you have cooking for the beginning of 2010?  Do you have a wish-list of potential characters you’d like to handle in the upcoming year?

Page from Punisher #11

Remender:  Yeah, I really love…well, I don’t know.  I feel like if I divulge my wish-list that I’ll be giving away what I’m going to be doing on upcoming projects! (laugh)

Aside from classics like Spider-Man and Captain America; those would be really fun characters to tell stories with, I’m a big fan of ‘70’s Marvel stuff; I’m a big fan of Doctor Voodoo and Iron Fist and Deathlok and stuff like that.  I get really excited when I think of the potential that all these creations have for development in a modern setting.  The ‘70’s era has become classic finally and people are starting to see that characters like Jericho Drumm has so much potential for storytelling opportunities.  There are so many characters out there that deserve the spotlight and re-envisioned treatment like what Brubaker and Fraction did with Iron Fist—that’s what I hope to do with the Legion of Monsters in this upcoming arc of Punisher.

Nrama:  Surely, you realize that Punisher fans are probably more than curious about how things are going to turn out for the recently departed Frank Castle; are there any reassurances?  Is Franken-Castle here to stay for a while?

Remender:  It’s going to progress in a direction that people should be excited about; people like to see Frank Castle kicking huge amounts of villainous ass.  The problem with the Marvel Universe is that Frank is going to have a hard time taking on someone like the Sentry if he goes at him with a rifle and a landmine; that’s why I gave him an armory of Marvel relics—so that he could wage a war against all these fantastic characters.  Like I’ve said, we’re really dead-set on remaining true to Frank’s established sensibilities and integrity but we’re trying to equip him in such a way that he’s able to better deal with the mainstream Marvel Universe as a whole.  He’s going to have a leg up the next time he faces Wolverine or Daken.  If he goes up against a group of augmented villains—he’s going to be able to bring down some serious murder on those fools.

I think the really crazy thing is that the few naysayers I’ve encountered are the people who have told me straight out, “I’ve loved the entire series so far, I loved the annual, and the List was awesome—but I’m not going to read the next arc.  I just can’t.”  It’s contempt prior to investigation, Franken-Castle is not what you think it is; it’s a lot of fun and I hope people are going to check it out this week.

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