By Marc Strom
Frank Castle goes back to basics this August.
PUNISHER: NOIR, a five-issue limited series from writer Frank Tieri and artist Paul Azaceta, re-imagines Marvel's toughest anti-hero in the 1930s facing off against some of the most brutal mobsters of the time.
"My first reaction is naturally just to say it's the Punisher killing a crap load of people like he usually does, only it's set in the 1930s," Tieri says of the story. "Now, while that may be true, in actuality there's a lot more going on than that. So let's set aside for a minute all the violence, and the killings, and the maimings -- and did I mention violence? -- and all the crazy, over-the-top stuff, at the core of this series is really the story about a father and son.
"In our story, Frank Castlione is a widowed vet of WWI and he's come home from the war, now finding he has to raise his only son Frankie by himself," the writer continues. "The thing is, their relationship is a bit on the combative side—Frank tries to teach his son right from wrong, but Frankie's part of a little street gang at this point and he's not having it. But they'd better get their acts together and mighty soon, because their world is about to get turned upside down when Dutch Schultz enters their lives."
Using Dutch Schultz, a real life gangster in 1920s/1930s New York, made the most sense to Tieri for a number of reasons.
"If you're going to do this series and plop the Punisher into the 1920s, 1930s, you have to ask yourself—what would that look like?" Tieri posits. "Obviously other than the different equipment and weaponry, he's in the Roaring '20s now, so who would he tangle with back then? The likes of Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, that's who… which is why Dutch is the perfect fit. It was just a matter of weaving the Punisher in and out of what we knew about Dutch historically, and I think we've come up with a good balance."
Besides Dutch Schultz, Tieri will also bring in a number of familiar faces from the Punisher's rogues gallery and supporting cast and shed them in a whole new light.
"There's a version of the Barracuda, there's a version of Jigsaw, there's a version of the Russian," lists Tieri. "There's even versions of Soap and Mr. Bumpo, and a speakeasy by the name of Mike O'Chip. There's all these little sorts of winks at the audience that were really fun to play with where we're kind of saying, 'Here's the sandbox, here are the toys, but they just look a bit different now.'"
Tieri's Punisher, while sharing a number of characteristics with the Frank Castle we all know and love, is nonetheless a slightly different character.
"He operates a bit differently than our Frank would," the writer notes. "Still, at his core, he'll be very recognizable as the Punisher. When you're going to tell a Punisher story—no matter what the setting or circumstances—you have to have the core of a Punisher story, and that's something that [Executive Editor] Axel [Alonso] stressed to me from day one.
"As far as what that core is, to me what the Punisher is, if you're going to boil the concept of the character down to one phrase this is it: the Punisher is about loss and a man's response to that loss. And obviously, we know what that response is, it's not very pretty. And that's very much intact here."
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