The Punisher has had an interesting last few months—what, with being chopped to bits by Daken in Dark Reign: The List – Punisher, and subsequently being reanimated by Morbius the Living Vampire to assist the Legion of Monsters as “FrankenCastle.”
Though this might have seemed like a development that couldn't possibly last for long, Marvel Comics announced this afternoon that the Rick Remender-penned, Tony Moore-illustrated Punisher title will see a new name as of May’s issue #17—FrankenCastle, a move certainly implying that there's a lot more story to be told.
We talked to Remender about the title change, what it means for the future of the book and the character of Frank Castle, and how quickly we'll be back to seeing “Frank doing Frank business.”
Newsarama: The title change suggests fairly strongly that this version of the character is going to be sticking around for a while—to whatever degree you can share, is this being looked at as sort of an open-ended transition or is there a definite endpoint to the story in mind?
Rick Remender: There is an endpoint to the story. It's a good two arcs away still, for the final wrap-up to what I've started here. By the time I get to the end of that arc, that will sort of encapsulate my run on Punisher, going back to issue #1, and also delving into some of the stuff that (Matt) Fraction and I did on War Journal. It will not only be a close of “FrankenCastle,” but everything I've laid the groundwork for, so I'm in a really exciting place as I'm finally getting to the big payoff stuff of the story I've been building up to—there's a whole lot to come. Frank's physical appearance and the situation and the state of Frank right now isn't going to be changing anytime soon, though.
Nrama: A lot of people have been stoked on the “FrankenCastle” developments, but there definitely were people, at least when the idea was first introduced, who didn't think that this was the direction the character should go. Do you think they've been won over by what's actually happened in the book?
Remender: If I'm to take the reaction that I'm receiving via fan mail and people who are writing in, readers of the book, I would say 98% of it has been positive. I would say of that 98, half of the people always denote in their letter, “I don't know what you were thinking. This seemed like utter ridiculousness. But then I read it, and it's brilliant, and I love it, and I never want to see Frank go back.” It seems to me that the majority of people have been swayed by what Tony and I, and now Dan Brereton, have put forth here. I've put as much time into this as I've put into anything I've done on Fear Agent or any of my other books. These all get equal love. There's a saying that I think Bendis coined, and I could be misquoting it, “write it like you own it.” And in terms of Punisher, I really have. Working with Fear Agent collaborators like Jerome Opena and Tony Moore, I've been able to sort of comfortably slide into Punisher and give it that same commitment and that same focus. I think that any change in comic books tends to be met with skepticism. That's sort of the nature of the beast. Sometimes people have seen their characters changed, and maybe it wasn't for the best. Ultimately, I think that we need more of it. I think we need more chaos, more fun, I think we need more mash-ups, I think we need more things broken and then pieced back together with an infusion of new genre. I'd like to keep mixing things up like this as long as I have a chance to. Obviously not in every situation, and only when the story dictates. But as this story progressed, I knew that Frank had to die. When the character's up against something like Norman Osborn, and the Dark Avengers, and the Hood, he's just so incredibly outclassed and so outgunned, to have anything else happen but death, I couldn't get my head around what. Does he just run away and hide, which isn't very Frank of him? None of it fit, and I was like, “you know, he's gotta die.” And Axel (Alonso) actually agreed: “He probably should die.” He could have had involvements in other events, and could have still been a player in that stuff, but Frank's not really a “player.” Frank's not like “Hey, I'll team up with you guys and we'll go do this!” That's not the way he operates, so this was a natural progression that definitively ended. At that point, it was sort of a fun exploration of, “Well, what particular hole in the Marvel Universe do we drop him down?” The analogy that the monster thing, Frank has always had sort of hanging over his head, it worked really well, so we sort of delved into the monster universe.
Nrama: In terms of shaking things up, the whole “FrankenCastle” arc really is pretty revolutionary for the Punisher, not only physically transforming him, but putting him in an entirely different setting.
Remender: I'm having fun with it. I do think from my experience in creator-owned, I've always tried to infuse a real story that has real foundation and character building with a healthy dollop of just utter insanity. It's comic books. There's no budget. The visuals are important. I think it's a 50/50 give on this. If you're not writing big, visual ideas, then you're sort of missing an opportunity to do something you couldn't do in television and film.
Nrama: And it seems that, in a work-for-hire situation, you've been given a good amount of latitude here by your editors.
Remender: I think that, obviously, they didn't want to bring me into Marvel and turn me into something else. That was the really great thing. Working with Sebastian (Girner) and Axel on this, they're such great editors, they'll always be there to help me work the hell out of a story, and make sure we pound it into a really nice shape. We share similar sensibilities. Guys like me, and Axel, and Sebastian, and Jason Aaron and Fraction and everybody in this little enclave of insanity. These guys as editors, they like the same stuff I like. We trade bands, we talk music, and we hang out. Being able to work with guys who you're just a nice, natural fit with, it allows for creativity. And there's no headbutting or anything else, it's just sort of a nice, collaborative effort where everybody's on the same page.
Nrama: Timing-wise, though, it's just a little more than three years since the Punisher was essentially re-introduced to the Marvel Universe proper via Punisher: War Journal by Fraction, which you later joined as a co-writer. So why alter the MU version of the character so drastically now?
Remender: I don't think there was any sort of thought put into the timing of it. It was kind of a natural progression for me in terms of where I was at with the story. I wanted Frank to die. The one thing that felt illogical to me was have Frank walk away from what he was up against and what he set out to do. That didn't feel like it was appropriate. This is just the direction we chose to rebuild Frank in, and the thing that got us the most excited to do. Marvel's just changing the title. I wasn't in the room when the decision was made, but I think that it's probably a decision to sort of separate it from the MAX book, and make it clear that this is the direction that we're going to be doing for a little while here.
Nrama: Has there been any consideration given to the more “traditional” Punisher role being taken over by anyone else?
Remender: No, Frank's going to be back doing Frank business. This first arc was sort of a climb out of the gutter, as he wakes up and finds himself alive when he should be dead. Now he's got his sights pretty well set on Robert Hellsgaard. He's going to aid the Legion of Monsters in taking this guy down, but when he learns this guy's origin, he had a new, particularly vindictive streak come about where he wanted to kill this guy. I think that there's some parables to be drawn between Hellsgaard and Frank, and Frank's motives might go deeper than simply taking out the guy that's been bothering the Legion or killing innocent monsters, but he might be out to kill an aspect of himself. That's sort of the fun of it.
Nrama: Speaking of “Frank doing Frank business,” part of the trepidation fans might have had at first was that Frank might have been talking like Frankenstein, or not having the same outlook and personality.
Remender: It's still a Punisher story. It's still Frank Castle, recovering. He had to put his own family back in their graves after the Hood resurrected them. He's recovering from having his body hacked to pieces by the son of Wolverine. All of that stuff feels natural to me, as crazy as it sounds. When you set out to kill Norman Osborn and he's running the country, when he sends the Hood out against you, the Hood's going to get vindictive, the longer that battle is drawn out. There is a sci-fi monster aesthetic to it, but ultimately it's still Frank patched up together in that body. It's still Frank dealing with problems the way Frank deals with them. He gets back to Frank business in a big way with the next arc, the payback arc. Starting, of course, with making a list of all the characters he's been head-to-head with and hasn't an effect on. He wants to kill the bad guys. He doesn't want to scar them or leave them upset, he wants them in graves. That's his philosophy. Frank's in a situation where he's got a list of guys who he's tried to kill and fail, or people who have tried to kill him and fail—or succeeded, in Daken's case. You've got Lady Gorgon and the Hand, you've got Jigsaw, you've got Microchip, you've got the Hood, you've got Daken, you've got the Deadly Dozen. You've got a nice cast of characters, Frank's own little rogue's gallery, so when Frank crawls out of those sewers, he loads up a semi-auto, and they all think he's dead or gone, and now's the perfect chance for Frank to show up and start killing them.
Nrama: With Frank leaving the monster world, going forward, will we see FrankenCastle interact with characters like, say, Daredevil or Spider-Man?
Remender: I know that he's showing up in Deadpool. And I have a big, very nice reveal coming up. There’ll be someone coming up in the next arc that has a recent history with Frank. There's even an escalation to things that happen in the first “FrankenCastle” arc that leaves Frank in a situation—he's a pretty tough force to be reckoned with. Everybody loves that idea of, “what if Frank Castle had all these weapons? What if Frank Castle had super powers? What if Frank Castle could do this or that?” I'm exploring that a little bit, and having a pretty great time with it. I don't want to give it away yet, but I'm pretty excited about it. I don't know about Daredevil or Spider-Man, there's no plans for those guys at this point yet.
Nrama: With Deathlok showing up in Wolverine Weapon X this week, any chance of FrankenCastle mixing it up with a fellow gun-toting reanimated corpse?
Remender: I am involved with a Deathlok plan or two. But it will not be in FrankenCastle. We are working up some very fun things for Deathlok. I have some very interesting plans on who to team him up with, but it's not Frank at this point.
Nrama: Did you get some good feedback from old-school fans for bringing back the Legion of Monsters characters, who hadn't been in the mix for quite a while?
Remender: There's a population of people who love that stuff, and have never seen the spotlight put on these guys in the same way. I, as long as I'm at Marvel, will be looking for new ways to work with the Legion of Monsters. I love writing the characters. I love the personalities, I think there's endless possibilities. I'll just be putting them in every book Marvel gives me, basically. (laughs). There have been a lot of letters, and a lot of people who are like, “man, I love this stuff, thank you so much for putting it in here.” And where better than in the grim, gritty world of Frank Castle?
FrankenCastle #17 ships May 2010 from Marvel Comics