Big Shots

Tuesday Q&A: Greg Rucka

The crime comics master brings Frank Castle back to the Marvel Universe in The Punisher



By Chris Arrant

On August 3, Frank Castle returns to the streets of the Marvel Universe in THE PUNISHER and he’s got a lot of work to do.

Written by Greg Rucka with art by Marco Checchetto, this all-new series puts Marvel’s original anti-hero squarely against street-level threats that other heroes let fall through the cracks. A new breed of criminal organization has formed in the shadows of New York City, and as Frank puts the pieces together he knows what must be done. But given the Punisher’s “shoot first” tactics, super heroes like Captain America and the Avengers might have something to say—and he knows it.

Last Friday, Rucka and Senior Editor Steve Wacker participated in the Punisher Liveblog, and now we settle in with the writer to continue that conversation one-on-one.

THE PUNISHER #1 preview art by Marco Checchetto Over in DAREDEVIL they’ve got Matt Murdock turning over a new leaf and leading with a smile; somehow I don’t expect that from THE PUNISHER. What can you tell us about this series?

Greg Rucka: [Laughs] He isn’t the Fun-isher, is he?

Greg Rucka: [Laughs] No, he’s anything but.

Let me describe it for you on a thematic level, not on a plot level. What Mark Waid is doing on DAREDEVIL is showing how Matt is changing his approach and learning to have a smile on his face. For THE PUNISHER, Frank lives in a very carefully maintained construct; an isolated construct. It’s a construct he lives in by himself; one that occasionally people are allowed to visit but do not get to reside in with him. It’s not so much because he won’t let them, but because only he can survive in it. To a great extent, that’s what it’s about: How does a man maintain the kind of dark vengeance that fed him all this time without allowing it to consume him. There’s a line there where Frank might go too far; he’s already killing people, but he’s killing wicked people so it’s permissible.

It’s an interesting tight rope Frank is walking. A lot of what we’re talking about in the first 18-odd issues is trying to examine that situation and get inside that to see how and why Frank has lasted for this long. Frank became The Punisher after his family was brutally murdered; that kind of origin makes Frank work, but it could also be any villain’s origin if played differently. Why is Frank different?

THE PUNISHER #1 preview art by Marco Checchetto

Greg Rucka: That’s a good question—a very good question. In essence, that is the question that this series is asking. I’m not going to answer it here and spoil the series, but it’s a good question. I’ve said this elsewhere, but I hate the idea that Frank is crazy; that he’s not in complete control of his actions at every moment. I don’t like the idea that he needs an excuse for the dark things he does. He doesn’t want an excuse; he doesn’t want to be absolved of it. You have so many characters in comics who cross the line and then wrack themselves about getting back to where they were. For Frank, no line has been crossed. He couldn’t find a line if he had a road map and a compass. Part of it is because he has no interest in being a hero. I think with very few exceptions, Frank finds that the people who call themselves ‘heroes’ are naïve. So it’s safe to say he won’t be joining the Avengers anytime soon.

Greg Rucka: [Laughs] Can you see that? That might be funny. I’m reminded of Admiral Ackbar from “Star Wars”: “It’s a trap!”

The Avengers wouldn’t have him, and even if they would he wouldn’t join. He wouldn’t belong there. And that’s not a bad thing, because in the grand sense of what Marvel encompasses with all its various facets it works. Frank fills a crucial need in the universe, and asks the tough questions. Although the first issue hasn’t hit shelves yet, from the previews we know one of the big scenes of the book is a wedding day massacre. How does Frank factor into a wedding?

Greg Rucka: Well, two factors: one is that an element of that wedding party speaks to him. Also there were very dirty people who murdered people in the wedding reception.

THE PUNISHER #1 preview art by Marco Checchetto

When I was working on my first novel, I had an argument with a literary agent who said I needed to ‘add a bomb.’ When I asked why, he said that the stakes weren’t high enough. It got me thinking: Why is the death of innocents not important enough? Why does it have to be so much bigger? That’s what motivates Frank; someone didn’t deserve to die but did. That motivates him enough.

And with a wedding, people are celebrating a memorable part of their life; as one character says, “This should have been the happiest day of their lives.” But for those that survived it, it’s still the darkest. And for The Punisher, he knows someone has to pay for it. Honestly, there’s a small sentimental voice buried so deep within Frank that he’d deny is there reminding him of how his wife, Mary, died. I was going to bring that up; Frank became who he is because of the death of his marriage partner, so marriage might be a touchy thing for him.

Greg Rucka: I certainly think that adds to it. It’s fun when we are able to tell stories touching on the mythology of the characters, such as when Nick Fury reaches out to Frank in PUNISHERMAX. But this isn’t about building his mythology. This doesn’t need to be “extra special” or “very personal.” I get leery thinking Frank would take anything personal at this point; Frank’s beyond that I believe. Getting into specifics about who exactly Frank’s up against, the name that pops up is the Exchange. What can you tell us about them?

THE PUNISHER #1 preview art by Marco Checchetto

Greg Rucka: They’re a bunch of smart people who had a good idea and are very careful as to how they execute it. I’m not sure how much I’m willing to give away just yet, as part of the story in the comic itself is about revealing them. But I’ll say this: If you take an unnamed henchman and a dissatisfied ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and they look around the Marvel Universe, they can see how there’s a lot of low-level henchmen who want something better. They’d be more than happy to trade in their costumes for an Armani or two. They can use what they’ve learned and take over from a bunch of street idiots. Can you give us an example?

Greg Rucka: Sure. Look at A.I.M.. All of the people in A.I.M. are supposed to be geniuses, even down to the most basic member. The guy cleaning A.I.M. toilets is a genius. So all it takes is that guy saying “This job sucks!” and wanting something better, or maybe he’s cleaning toilets when Iron Man shows up kicking their asses and says “That’s it! I’m done with this!” Frank’s known for going after these more street-level threats than say, a Galactus invasion or M.O.D.O.K. How does he decide what his targets are and aren’t?

Greg Rucka: I think he has to draw certain lines. The Avengers notice his work, but he hasn’t become an issue enough where they need to devote time to him. Likewise, The Punisher sees crimes going on that everyone else is ignoring; basic stuff they don’t have time to play with. Frank’s thoughts are that while the Avengers are busy saving the world, I’ll clean up three square blocks of New York. Does he have a plan in mind in case he does have to go after bigger threats?

Greg Rucka: Sure. Its one thing to fight M.O.D.O.K. if you’re Iron Man, but another if you’re Frank. Any battle on that level, he really wants to be prepared for it. He has ways of handling it if it comes to that.

THE PUNISHER #1 cover by Bryan Hitch

The other thing Frank has going for him over the heroes, however, is that he’ll kill you. Most other heroes want to put you behind bars, but when you have Frank coming after you there’s different things to be worried about. How about if heroes come gunning for him? You said earlier the Avengers might eventually take notice of Frank’s actions, so what if Captain America shows up to tell Frank to stop; does The Punisher have a plan for that?

Greg Rucka: Yes, yes he does. He has a plan for that day. And his plan for Cap is very different than that for Thor or for Tony. But he has plans for each of them. Frank has a rule against killing cops, but would he kill a super hero?

Greg Rucka: The cop rule is an interesting one; I think that rule is in play because of a couple things: #1 is it’s a state of armed neutrality. #2 is that he does not go after innocents. Some cops aren’t innocent, but Frank’s aware what going after a cop—no matter how dirty they are—might bring consequence.

With super heroes, it’s inherent by their actions that they have some level of altruism. Frank will support that and won’t get in the way of it, despite his thoughts on the naivety of it. There’s no harm in letting them continue.

Spider-Man, for instance; he’d say “You know what kid, what you do is really good. It would really be a lot easier if you’d kill this guy because then he wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone else.”
I don’t think Frank looks at Peter Parker and sees an enemy, or really an ally. He thinks “That’s your approach? Okay, knock yourself out.”

THE PUNISHER #2 cover by Bryan Hitch But I would think if Frank were in Peter’s shoes then the Green Goblin wouldn’t still be around.

Greg Rucka: [Laughs] Oh, hell no. Not a chance in hell. I just don’t see how Frank could suffer that. Frank doesn’t let things like that pass.

Remember, it’s in his name; he’s The Punisher. Have you done something bad? Do you need to be punished? Did you kill people? Guess what? Last question for you, Greg. Going full circle to our first question about the smiling Daredevil, what does it take to make Frank Castle smile?

Greg Rucka: Actually, you see that at the end of issue one. That’s all I can say.



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I think that what it would take to see Frank smile would be Deadpool giving Spider Man an atomic wedgie!!!!