OH: How did you end up on The Punisher?
GR: Steve Wacker chased me! [laughs] And wouldn’t take no for an answer. He’s very good at that. He can sell water to…somebody who has a lot of water [laughs]. He called me up and said “you’d be really good for this.” And my first response was “You do, huh?” And he said “Yeah, and it’s also set in the Marvel U,” and I was like “You jerk!” He basically put this in front of me and said “It’s going to be real dark.” He and I had several, and I mean several conversations, and, like I said, he’s very good at it, and he asked me the right questions so that I started really thinking about it, and then he showed me Marco Chechetto’s artwork, and I was like “all right, that’s that. You’ve persuaded me.” That’s how it came about. I’ve been reading Garth’s stuff, the MAX stuff with Jason Aaron, and I haven’t really been reading the Marvel Universe stuff, so I went back and looked at that, and thought “I can see a way to make this work for me.”
It’s funny, I did a Marvel panel and I was talking about the book, and I won’t say I was misquoted, but it was half the quote. I made the statement that Frank isn’t broken, you don’t need to fix him. I saw some people respond who said “wait, so the sociopath isn’t broken?” That’s not what I meant. Frank is a character, as a human being he’s very flawed. But the fact of the matter is, you can’t change the Punisher, otherwise you don’t have the Punisher. That’s not what the stories are about. You can never do a story where Frank is saying “I’ve exacted my revenge, I’ll put down my gun.” You can’t do a story where “I’m so overcome with guilt for the many lives I’ve taken, I will kill myself.” He’s never going to do that. If you try to write that story, the audience is going to say “What are you trying to pull?” If I give Frank a girlfriend, everybody knows that girlfriend’s gotta die. It’s the nature of that character’s story. So I’m not going to sell the audience that bill of goods. When I say that Frank is not broken, I mean that a good Punisher story can be told a million different ways. There are going to be a lot of bad people doing a lot of bad things. Frank is going to kill them, let’s watch. That’s the way the Punisher works. I think it’s in that simplicity, that’s the remarkable complexity. Once you start asking questions, you treat the material seriously, and if you treat the character seriously– and that’s how I work, I can’t speak for anyone else, but that’s how I approach it– then you have to ask questions like “how can he keep doing this and not eat a gun? How can he do this and not cross that very amorphous line between anti-hero, which is what he is, and villain, which he’s very close to.”
If Steven had asked me ten years ago to write a Punisher story, I would have responded with a “Hell no!” and I would have ended it there, because ten years ago I wouldn’t have been willing to see that complexity, if that makes sense. I really like the character now, and what you can do with him. Comics has a lot of characters where you say “This character is like that character and vice versa,” but Frank is unique. Frank is not Superman or Batman or Spider-Man or Wolverine or Wonder Woman. There’s really not an appropriate analogue that matches. You can say he shares things with Batman, but there are really few characters where you can hold up a mirror image. Frank really shouldn’t work. As a character, he really should not work. He’s inherently a revenge story, and revenge stories pretty much all end the same way. They end with the guy seeking revenge, getting it, and then dying because there’s an imposed morality there and a variety of expectations. The fact that Frank can continue, and has continued, I think, makes him really remarkable and fascinating and worthy of more examination.
OH: Why does the Marvel Universe need the Punisher? What does he bring to the universe that wouldn’t be there otherwise?
GR: I’m not sure the Marvel Universe does need Frank. On a basic level, at least for my purposes, what Frank does is allow people like the Fantastic Four to save the planet while he’s out there putting a very small dent in crime on the streets. I’m not sure I’d be willing to argue that the Marvel Universe needs Frank. I do think what characters like Frank bring to that larger universe is that he demands, whether you want it or not –and I don’t mean to make it sound like it’s going to be twenty pages of navel gazing introspection, it absolutely isn’t–but what he does is he raises the question of morality. He forces the question of right or wrong, and he forces the question of heroism. We’re telling stories about heroes, and here’s Frank. He’s an anti-hero, really in the truest sense of the word. He is not a heroic man, and he has no interest in heroism. When you take someone like that and you put him opposite say, Spider-Man, or Daredevil, or The Avengers, it forces against them a really interesting question. The danger of putting the Punisher in the Marvel Universe is that eventually one of these guys is going to notice, and he’s going to say “You can’t go around killing people!” And Frank’s response would be “Why not?” [laughs] And then you get into a very interesting place. At what point can they not suffer this guy going around doing this anymore. At what point do they go “It doesn’t matter if the guy was a mass murdering pedophile, you can’t arbitrarily become judge, jury, and executioner. I understand that horrible things befell you. I understand that your family was brutally murdered. I understand that you are filled with an all-encompassing incandescent rage that fuels your every move. You can’t wander around shooting people. We have cops for that. There’s a reason why Captain America isn’t taking off people’s heads with the shield.” So you end up in a position where you have to talk about that. And eventually we will. That’s not where we are at the start, but we will when we get further into the run. He’s going to do things, and Daredevil’s going to notice. And when that happens…Frank’s not an idiot. One of the things I like about the character is that Frank has to be really smart. He has to be soldier smart. And that I think is the other difference is that he’s not a crime fighter. He’s a soldier in a war. And as far as he’s concerned, he may be the only guy who’s fighting it.
OH: What is the approach to writing Frank Castle in the current Marvel Universe? To what extent will the book reflect the universe as a whole?
GR: At the start, not a heck of a lot. We start post-Fear Itself, so he’s working in an environment that exists because Fear Itself has happened. Do we talk about Fear Itself? No. Does Frank talk about Fear Itself? No. Frank is a street-level character. We did an 8-page story for Spider-Island…Just a little Punisher story. At the start, his interaction with the rest of the Marvel Universe is very limited for obvious reasons –we’re starting out. As it goes, it will expand. I also feel like I should clarify, we can talk about all this stuff on a thematic level. All of that stuff is there, but it’s not overt. What is overt is there are people Frank feels needs to die, and he’s going to kill them now.
OH: How does Frank Castle relate to his past now? Does he think about his origin story, the murder of his family, or is he simply on this fixed course now after all these years and that’s just where he is now.
GR: I don’t think a day goes by where he doesn’t think about Maria and Frank Jr. and Lisa. I don’t think a day goes by where he’s not in some way acutely aware of their loss, and is not feeding that furnace. There’s a military wives saying that says “A distracted soldier is a dead soldier.” When he is on a mission, that’s not something that’s on his mind, because that takes away the soldier. That takes away his ability to do what he needs to do. I think Frank is one thing above all others: he’s ironically a master of himself. He’s one of the most controlled and self-controlled characters in all of comics literature. He does what he does because he’s fighting a war. He’s fighting a war where, for lack of a better analogue, the Pearl Harbor was the murder of his family. That doesn’t mean he’s always thinking about Pearl Harbor, but that also means not a day goes by when he isn’t aware.
OH: You mentioned that Stephen Wacker showed you Marco Chechetto’s work as he was talking to you about writing The Punisher. Was he already assigned to the book before you were?
GR: No, I think it was an issue of assembling the team. We were talking about artists to work with, and he jumped very quickly to the top of the list. When Marco and I got to exchanging emails, it turned out we were very much on the same page about what we wanted out of the series, how we saw Frank, and how frankly we wanted to portray the violence. It’s not a MAX book, so you are sort of limited in the depravity and inhumanity and violence you can draw. But you can imply a heck of a lot. Frank is a very violent man, and he has put himself in a very violent world, and to not reflect that is to, in my opinion, you’re removing an element of the character.
OH: What’s the collaboration between you two like?
GR: We’re communicating fairly regularly simply on the basis of pages coming in, and I’m giving him feedback. It’s not the most in depth collaboration simply because there’s half a planet between us. He’s in Italy, and there’s a different language, and I have no Italian, and his English is actually remarkably good. It’s funny because you’re talking to me on a day when I’m writing him a fairly long email where I’m saying “Ok, this is where we’re going, this is what I have in my head. What do you think?” So we’re really having the first big collaboration conversation. It’s not as if we need a deep collaboration because when we first started talking, we were saying “Yes! Yes! Yes!” We were very much in agreement, and that is manifested very well on the page.