By Ben Morse
“One word to describe Frank Castle? Soldier."
And for the foreseeable future, it will be Greg Rucka—quoted above—will be giving the marching orders.
This summer, Rucka, along with artist Marco Checchetto, unleashes THE PUNISHER, a new series featuring Marvel’s most unforgiving vigilante. It will be the writer’s first ongoing work for Marvel since he departed WOLVERINE in 2004 and along with the persistence of editor Steve Wacker, a mix of affinity for and curiosity about the protagonist whose adventures he’ll be chronicling played a major role in luring him back.
“I suppose, fundamentally, that Frank is a character I think I get,” he expresses. “He’s a character I really like, one that we’ve seen within literature both within and outside of comics before, but one who’s also fairly unique in the standard of the execution. The revenge story is a traditional one, but Frank moves it so far beyond that; it’s become so much more than that with him, yet at the same time, it remains deceptively simple.
“There’s the character factor, which—for me—is always the important question. Is this someone you’d like to spend time with as a writer? Is this a character you want to explore, whose world you want to inhabit? And Frank’s world is very much one that I find that I find myself comfortable in, so that certainly influenced the decision [to do the book].”
The Punisher has often hung on the fringe of the Marvel Universe, occasionally coming in for lengthy interactions with the super hero crowd but often keeping to himself. Rucka will respect that Frank occupies his own corner while also underscoring his uniqueness by keeping him in the broader world inhabited by the Avengers and Fantastic Four.
“I’d never in a million years call him a ‘super hero,’” he notes of The Punisher’s status. “He doesn’t fit easily or comfortably within the Marvel Universe from my perception, but that absolutely isn’t to say he doesn’t work in the environs nor am I saying he shouldn’t be there. He forces some very hard questions. The moral void zone that he occupies actually—in my opinion—serves the broader Marvel Universe. Frank is a killer; he takes life and he does so without remorse and without much hesitation, if any at all. Put that next to someone like Spider-Man or Daredevil and you get immediate and dramatic contrast. That’s crucial when you’re working with a canvas as large and rich as this.”
While THE PUNISHER looks to tread new ground with a familiar character, if you’re familiar with Frank Castle, expect to still get the things you’ve come to love.
“I’m not reinventing the wheel here,” says Rucka. “The Punisher is about one thing, and it’s a very, very clear mission parameter: He’s going to destroy the enemy. The enemy here is that class of violent, vampiric, rapacious criminal that has always existed within American society specifically and the world more generally. To narrow it, I suppose you can say that we start with a horrible act of violence and the story spins out from that point, as Frank identifies the perpetrators and then proceeds to completely and utterly destroy them.”
For Checchetto, who has cut his teeth thus far primarily on Spider-Man and Daredevil, THE PUNISHER presents a new artistic adventure, and one he welcomes.
“My favorite character is Spider-Man and I love to draw super heroes in action, but my second favorite character is The Punisher,” shares the Italian-born artist. “The challenge is certainly more difficult, given the level of realism we want, but fortunately I love to draw weapons, violence and dark scenes. For our Punisher I’m influenced by movies like ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Lethal Weapon’ and video games such as ‘Call of Duty.’”
“He’s quite remarkable, both as an artist and as a collaborator,” praises Rucka of Checchetto. “I was genuinely surprised how in synch we seem to be about the way we want the book to look and feel. Punisher stories are about violence in a very unique way. Marco and I really want to carry that sense forth, make the violence effective and haunting as opposed to shocking and grotesque. We’re talking about acts that people commit against their fellow man that have echoes for years, if not decades. Frank is the textbook case in point. Marco is very gifted at finding that emotional core and investing it with the kind of resonance I love to see and to read.”
“We have the same ideas on the type of Punisher that we want to realize,” Checchetto concurs. “Greg has a very European style of writing; the scripts are very detailed, but at the same time make me feel free to express myself.”
Rucka counts numerous influences in his approach to The Punisher, many coming from beyond the scope of comics.
“I think Donald E. Westlake’s writings as Richard Stark, the Parker series, have had a strong influence on me there,” he shares. “Cinematically, [The Punisher] feels very 1970’s to me—a sort of Charles Bronson colliding with Clint Eastwood, a lot of that warrior ethos. Given where we are in the world today, all you have to do is look and you can see pieces, edges of Frank everywhere.”
For those familiar with Rucka’s acclaimed work as a novelist, the jump to writing THE PUNISHER may seem particularly natural, an opinion he tends to share—to an extent.
“My novels tend to deal with crime and criminals and people being generally horrible to one another. So yeah, it’s not a stretch for me to reach into Frank’s world, to find the place where he lives and works. That said, I try to approach every character as their own person and try to always serve them with respect. I am not Frank and I am not his creator; Marvel has asked me to be his custodian, for lack of a better word, for a time. I’ve got my job to do with him: To tell the best stories I can and to show the world why [he is] special, cool and worth [your] time. Honestly, Frank makes that easy. I just need to get the hell out of his way and write.”
For additional info plus interviews with the creators, check back tomorrow! And for more news, live reports, photos, videos and more from the 2011 Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo, stay tuned to Marvel.com all weekend! And to really keep up, get the Marvel Events App!