PUNISHER VS. BARRACUDA Brings 'Neon Noir' MAX Action to the Marvel Universe

Marvel Comics May 2020 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Writer/artist Declan Shalvey has been focused on the first part of that equation for a little while now, but he’s joining with writer Ed Brisson to provide art for Punisher Vs. Barracuda, an impending Marvel limited series that brings Punisher MAX’s Barracuda to the mainstream Marvel Universe.

Though he’s hard at work on plans for some stories he’ll both write and draw, Shalvey jumped at the chance to work alongside Brisson on a crime-focused Marvel story - and to bring Frank Castle to the unexpected environment of Miami, Florida.

Newsarama spoke to Shalvey ahead of Punisher Vs. Barracuda #1 (which will arrive some time after Marvel Comics resumes shipping following the current coronavirus-induced pause) to discover what’s up with the mainstream version of Barracuda, how to bring a MAX level of intensity to the core Marvel Universe, and visual the opportunities presented by taking Frank Castle to the beach.

Newsarama: Declan, you’re bringing an iconic Punisher MAX character into the mainstream Marvel Universe in Punisher Vs. Barracuda. How does this version of the character stack up to the MAX version?

Declan Shalvey: For me, it's Barracuda in spirit. There's no swearing (I believe), but he's still a merciless, brutal, hardcore character. This isn't a MAX book in name, but it is in spirit.  It does not pull its punches.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Nrama: How does this version of Barracuda differ visually from what we’ve seen before? What storytelling principles are you keeping in mind as you bring this MAX villain to the mainstream Marvel Universe?

Shalvey: Well I'm in a tricky spot. I'm a huge fan of Goran Parlov, and Parlov drew such an imposing, impressive character, it's hard not to think of how Parlov drew him. At the same time, I don't want to be just aping Parlov's work. When starting the project, I made a point of copying drawings from Parlov's issues in my sketchbook. It helped me break down the core aspects of how to draw him, the shape of his head, face, and proportions.

I'm not as good a cartoonist as Parlov, bit by a long shot, and I love how extreme he got with how he drew the character. Mine is a bit more pared back, a more modest interpretation of him, as when he first appeared in Max. If you look at Parlov's work, the character gets bigger and bigger and more Hulk-ish, which I love, I just didn't feel comfortable pushing it that much.

Storytelling wise, I'm not reinventing the wheel here. I decided to play with black borders on this book, something I haven't done in a while. I knew there would be a lot of light in the book due to the setting, so I wanted to frame it in a darker context.  Using black borders gave me the opportunity to play with how much black space would be composed in the panels. Otherwise, I stuck with the more retrained and deliberate pacing people will know from my Moon Knight or Injection work.

Nrama: You’re bringing Frank to Miami for this story. How do you bring that visual element of a new locale to bear? Punisher plus palm trees must make for exciting set pieces.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Shalvey: I was initially disappointed when the location was Miami as I had it in my head that this would all be New York and dark alleyways, etc.

I had never been to Miami when I signed on for this. As it turns out, I've been there twice since so made sure to take reference shots and got a feel for the place. I realized there was potential to make a more visually interesting book than what was originally in my head. The hot Miami sun, heavy shadows, sweaty/stubbly protagonists and a bolder attitude with the color scheme.

I wanted to lean on the 'neon noir' of it all, and Mat Lopes has been a great colorist to work with on that front. He's made some interesting choices that I probably would have never thought of that really work. The new location has helped me make this Punisher book stand out from the rest, I hope.

Nrama: You previously mentioned you and writer Ed Brisson having been looking for a project together for some time. How did this series come about? Is this the start of a regular partnership?

Shalvey: I'm not sure how it came to Ed but for me, I was due a break on my Image series Injection and had let Marvel know I was available for a few issues. They were kind enough to ask what kind of books I'd want to work on, Punisher was mentioned among them and we ultimately went with that.

I think Marvel knew I was a fan of Ed's and suggested him and we went from there. I was a big fan of Ed's crime work before he ever started at Marvel, so this felt like a really great opportunity to work with Ed in a genre I'd never really gotten to work on as an artist. I drew one of his Murder Book stories so knew we'd work well together on something more substantial, like a Marvel limited series.

Regarding a regular partnership? Absolutely not, will never work with Ed again! [laughs]

Seriously though, I am hoping to concentrate on writing and drawing some projects in future though unfortunately both Ed and I want to write the same characters so we're at an impasse!

In wanting to write my own work, as a result there's not a lot of writers I actively want to work with at the moment, but Ed is definitely on the list of who I'd like to work with again.  In fact, I'm sure it'll happen some day, just don't tell him I said that, I really want to keep him on his toes.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Nrama: Barracuda is an ex-cop turned violent criminal. How do you strike the balance of depicting MAX level villains and themes with Marvel Universe level violence?

Shalvey: Honestly, I don't have a different 'mindset' as such for either approach. I just try be selective about what I'm showing. I think I have a good instinct for what is appropriate or more exploitative. There's nothing wrong with the latter, but this is a Marvel comic, so I know it's not appropriate to show nudity or extreme violence. Extreme violence for the sake of it isn't really that interesting. I've drawn some messed up stuff in Injection.

With a lot of this stuff, it's just a judgment call. I feel Ed and I have been given a good bit of leeway with the book and if there are any red flags editors Jake Thomas and Mark Basso have been on top of it before it becomes a problem. I don't mind making compromises as long as the reason is sound, and it can lead to more creative solutions.

My experience with a book like Deadpool vs. Old Man Logan was different, as the tone shirted from serious to humorous. I think the tone of this book is fairly clear from the get go.

Nrama: Given the way of the world in 2020, Punisher is a complicated character who touches on some heavy stuff. What do each of you see as Punisher’s place in the Marvel Universe and his role in a world of superheroes?

Shalvey: Personally, I think Punisher is a very important character. His moral compass is on a different plane to the superheroes of the Marvel Universe. He should not be a superhero, and superheroes should not be Punisher but you need a character like Frank to keep the scales balanced. He is right on the edge of what a 'moral' character can or cannot do. It's why he has always been compelling and continues to be.

Without a character like Frank Castle in the Marvel Universe, there's no dark mirror for, say, Spider-Man to step back from. Frank to me in the context of the Marvel Universe, is an uncomfortable necessity. There's a tendency to back away from difficult subjects and ideas in today's climate, but for me that's all the more reason to be publishing a character like Punisher. To create a vacuum in that space only invites others to abuse it.

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