Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto bring the Punisher’s war back to the streets of Marvel

For Frank Castle, the war on crime will never be over.

Created as a new kind of villain for Spider-Man, the vigilante took on a life of his own and eventually gained a popularity that rivaled that of the more established heroes of the Marvel Universe. After fighting alongside the web spinner, Castle explained that he was a Vietnam War veteran who had returned home, hoping to escape the horrors he had seen and live with his family in peace only to have that dream shattered. His family murdered in Central Park during a gang shoot-out, Castle was left for dead. Emerging from the carnage was a twisted and wounded mind that saw the city as a new war zone and the mob as the enemy. Using war tactics that he had learned in the military, he donned a cold black costume adorned with a white skull. He never promised justice for the guilty, only punishment.

Appearing in hundreds of comics, mini-series, and feature films, the Punisher has changed drastically since his initial creation in 1974, becoming everything from an angelic crusader to a modern Frankenstein’s monster, but his central mission has never changed, to punish the guilty. The previous run by Rick Remender and Tony Moore controversially altered the character into a monster hunting other creatures of the night with mixed reception from readers. Even the most glowing of praise had to include the statement that it was hardly a Punisher book.

Crime novelist Greg Rucka (Whiteout) is taking over the Punisher this Summer for what promises to be a brutal back-to-basics approach that should please fans of the classic character. Artist Marco Checchetto (Daken, Spider-Man) will be providing the interior art that looks far grittier and darker than readers have seen in some time. The new creative team recently discussed their plans for the revamped Punisher book and what readers can expect.

“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].”

“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.”

“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 [Marco Checchetto]. “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.”

(Via Marvel.com)

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Quick review: Punisher-6 Hours to Kill

Quick review: Punisher-6 Hours to Kill

By Duane Swierczynski and Michel LaCome

Poisoned by the mob, Frank Castle is strong armed into doing a crooked politician’s dirty work… only Frank has no interest in getting involved and instead decides to use his last six hours alive to kill as many mobsters as possible.

I’ve mentioned before that while I picked up the Circle of Death Punisher mini-series back in the day and the first 20-odd issues of the following series, I was never all that into the Punisher. I guess the concept was always a bit of an awkward for the Marvel Universe in my opinion making his appearance alongside Wolverine and Ghost Rider look very strange to me. I know that he started off as a Spider-Man guest star, but that character and the Punisher of the 80’s and 90’s are very different creatures. The original Punisher was a Vietnam War vet who was amenable to using non-lethal methods to team up with Spider-Man if it furthered his cause. The more modern Punisher was waging a one-man war on crime with an arsenal of lethal weapons that got so violent that it became hard to believe that S.H.I.E.L.D. or Spider-Man or any super powered hero would do nothing to stop him.

Therefore I was happy to hear that a new line was created that removed Frank Castle from the Marvel Universe entirely and treated him like the pulp novel gun enthusiast he should be. Titled Punisher MAX, the new ongoing title featured a battle-scarred Frank Castle who appeared as ravaged and aged as a Vietnam War vet who has been fighting the mob for decades would. It was also a ‘Mature Audiences’ book meaning that it contained far more brutal acts of violence than the mainstream book could ever get away with.

Garth Ennis (Preacher) helmed the Punisher MAX series for ages, making many fans happy and causing many more to think that no one else could write the series. When Ennis left, Marvel had to prove those fans wrong. Crime novelist Duane Swierczynski delivered as knock-out story in Six Hours to Kill that while not quite as good as the Ennis material to some, hit the sweet spot for yours truly.

The story opens with Castle being attacked and poisoned in the city of brotherly love. He wakes up in the back of a van being told that in order to receive the antidote he has to agree to perform a simple task, otherwise he’ll be dead in under six hours. In a truly character-defining moment, Frank throttles the creep and admits that his life means nothing to him. If he only has six hours of life, he’ll use that time to hunt down as many local criminals as he can find. Back in his ‘battle van’ Frank consults his log book and starts his war while the crooks who tried to trick Frank into being their pawn struggle to get control of a situation spiraling wildly out of control.

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Six Hours to Kill reads like the best of Punisher stories should, a hyper-violent 1980’s action flick. At its heart, the Punisher is actually a very simple character and it is therefore stunning how Marvel often cannot figure out what to do with him. Ennis’s ‘Welcome Back, Frank’ Punisher series introduced a comedic element that many creators or editors seem to think of as essential, but it isn’t. I tried out Jason Aaron’s new Punisher book and the humor just felt too close to the Ennis material… and I really enjoy Aaron’s work.

A Punisher book can be humorous, but in changing the basic idea of the book you run the risk of alienating the target audience, look at the recent Franken-Castle book by Rick Remender and you’ll see what I mean. I really enjoyed the Franken-Castle experiment, but I understand that it’s not for everyone (which is why Frank is back to normal now).

If you are looking for a basic Punisher book, this is a great buy. I also recommend the recent Punisher #75 and The Naked Kill, both of which are so incredibly violent that you may be shocked Marvel ever published them.

Available from Amazon.com

Click here to buy: Punisher: Frank Castle Max - Six Hours to Kill

Welcome back (from the dead), Frank

Goodbye Franken-Castle, hello Frank Castle

Writer Rick Remender has introduced a new facet to the Punisher mythology with his Franken-Castle story line.

This is not your father’s Punisher mag. Remender had already won over readers with his Punisher War Journal series along with co-writer Matt Fraction. The following series (simply named Punisher, not to be confused with… Punisher) saw a return to the Marvel Universe as Frank used super-powered tools to deal out justice to super-villains who were getting in his cross-hairs. The result was that the Punisher made new, more powerful enemies resulting in his assassination by the big man himself, Norman Osborn. The Franken-Castle run has been ripe with bloodshed and bullets (the wallpaper of the Punisher-verse), but with the added absurdity of horrific monsters and murderous samurai sworn to eliminate the impure.

Cut to ribbons by Wolverine’s son, Daken, Castle’s body parts were re-assembled into a horribly monstrosity, a parody of life. Taken in by the Legion of Monsters dwelling in the sewers of NYC, the Punisher took on a new war, one against the wicked monster-hunter Hellsgaard, himself an undead skull trapped in a suit of armor. The supporting cast of the Punisher, usually consisting solely of Microchip, was altered to include the man-Thing, Werewolf By Night and Morbius, the Living Vampire. It was a bizarre decision that challenged readers to say the least. The comic has been beautifully drawn by fan favorite Tony Moore (the Walking Dead) with a gorgeous fill-in issue by Dan Brereton to boot!

The 21st issue will mark the end of the experiment, a decision that I can understand but I have to confess that I will miss the monster-mag approach that made the series far more interesting than it ever was before (for me, anyway). The fan response to the Franken-Castle run has been positive, but controversial. Many readers claim to adore the comic, but it’s not the Punisher. This November, those fans will get their comic back, but readers will have lost a stellar horror mag.

Replacing the Frankencastle series will be a new 5 part mini-series by Remender and Ghost Rider artist Roland Boschi.
PUNISHER: IN THE BLOOD #1 (of 5)
Written by Rick Remender
Penciled by Roland Boschi
Cover by FRANCESCO MATTINA
Frank Castle is back. Back for revenge. Back in New York. Back to cleaning its streets. Back together, healed and strong, his mission resumed as he partakes in the sweet wet work, and notches up one of the highest body counts in Punisher history. Cyber sensei Henry Russo is back, keeping Frank proficient with an eye in the sky. Others are back as well – two of Frank’s most sadistic enemies united in a new vindictive plot: Enter the Jigsaw Bothers!
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$3.99

This December, Marvel will release the entire Franken-Castle story line in one hardcover collection. I heartily recommend picking it up or giving it as a holiday gift for that ‘special someone.’

Click here to Pre-Order Punisher: Franken-Castle at Amazon.com

Quick Review: Punisher NOIR

Quick Review: Punisher NOIR

Part of the second wave of Marvel Noir comic books, Frank Tieri’s Punisher Noir is a mad mixture of several motifs and styles that collide into a melange fit for late night consumption. The concept of Marvel Noir is quite interesting if a bit gimmicky. Taking characters and setting them in a completely alien world, that of the roaring 1930’s replete with mobsters, jazz and heroin trafficking could be a more exciting twist than zombies or monkeys put together. I read all four parts in one sitting which I highly recommend. The series feels like a short film seen late at night on a n obscure cable station. The loss of regular artist Paul Azaceta in issue 4 hurts the flow of the narrative because the comic is so very heavy on mood and tone fed directly by the artwork itself. That’s no slight on Tieri who delivers a strong re-envisioning of the skull-bedecked anti-hero even when it feels like a forced reboot.

The trick to these kind of projects is in telling a compelling story and using what works in the initial concept without making it seem like a pitch for a new ongoing Punisher book. Set in prohibition-era Chicago, the comic follows the life of a quiet shop-owner and WWI vet Frank Castelione. After surviving the Great War, Frank comes home to an ailing wife who eventually succumbs to cancer, leaving him the sole guardian of Frank Jr. Junior’s head is full of fantasy, fueled by a pulp radio drama reminiscent of the Shadow called The Punisher. Attracted to the local gangs, Junior seems destined for a life of crime, despite the best of intentions of his father. Frank junior’s love of fantasy and violence isn’t helped by Frank senior’s colorful tales from the war and his enormous skull tattoo emblazoned his chest to ward off the angel of death.

Castelione refuses to pay homage to Dutch Shultz’s mob and finally pays the price, leaving Frank Junior an orphan. Trying to do good by his father’s intentions and living the fantasy of his radio hero, junior takes a mask and his dad’s customized handguns to the street as the Punisher in a war against the mob in his father’s memory.

The comic is very entertaining and features a lot of interesting twists and historical references that are fun. It also has a kind of hyper-violent edge reminiscent of the Garth Ennis series that fans of the character should enjoy. The aforementioned change in art for the last issue is very distracting, but the story and character are strong enough to keep this series highly recommended.

Note: Today, the first issue of Iron Man Noir hits the stands, starting what may be a third wave of the Marvel Noir line.

Punisher Noir Premiere HC

Quick Review: The Punisher No. 14

I read a LOT of comics each week. I recently realized that I rarely touch upon what I am reading and focus my blog instead on what is coming out on the shelves, in the cinema… what have you. In this new series of posts I’ll be providing quick and simple reviews of the comics I’ve been reading each week.

Punisher No. 14

‘Frankencastle Part 4’

The controversy over the Frankencastle storyline is huge, yet not as damaging as I suspected it would be. The one voice of dissent printed in the letters column so far from a life-long reader and fan of the Punisher merely states that he is disappointed with where the series is headed but will give it another try. Comparisons of Frankencastle to the Marvel Knights Punisher series during which Frank was brought back to life as a demonic agent using supernatural weapons are fair, to be honest. The one huge differentiator between the current direction and the MK one is that Frankencastle is really very good.

I cannot defend any accusation that the book is nothing like the Punisher or that writer Rick Remender has steered the series into a violently absurd direction. Since Frank was dismembered by Wolverine’s son Daken and his body parts rained into the sewers, the book has just not been the same, you might say. But it has been very enjoyable. I think the high level of quality shown in the Frankencastle story line is what is keeping readers from dropping this series like a bad habit.

After being diced up like bologna, Castle was rebuilt in a secret underground lair populated by monster led by Morbius the Living Vampire. Enraged at his condition, Frank strikes out at his ‘rescuers’ but even so Morbius tries to enlist Frank’s help in defending the Legion of Monsters from a clan of blood thirst monster-killing samurai.

The samurai attack the underground city and retrieve not only Morbius but the Bloodstone that he had been secretly guarding. Frank reluctantly joins in the bloodshed and by the time it appears that all is lost, he is totally committed to their cause.

The society of monster killing samurai is led by a mysterious armored creature, about whom nothing is known. Calling in the assistance of his friend Henry (a younger straight-edge punk replacement of Microchiop), Frank soon hears the story of just who this strange creature is and why he is hunting down monsters in the first place.

The Punisher No. 14

The entire issue is devoted to the origin story of Robert Hellsgaard, a man of science who was the soul survivor of a werewolf attack in Black Forest of Germany, 1898. Having dispatched every infected victim with silverware, including his own family, Hellsgaard was branded a madman and would have lived out the remainder of his years incarcerated if not for the intervention of monster hunter Ulysses Bloodstone. The two become inseparable in their quest to rid the world of these creatures of the night and begin to formulate a plan to exile all of their undead prey to a strange limbo via an inter-dimensional portal. However, Dracula intervenes and during their battle, Hellsgaard becomes trapped in a suit of armor customized to destroy any unholy monstrosity. As the armor works against him, reducing Hellsgaard to merely a skull floating in the armored suit, he is thrust into limbo, surrounded by unthinkable threats.

During his absence, a group of Japanese scientists read of Hellsgaard’s genius and created a cult in his name. As Japan was over-run with monsters against which they had no defense (aside from the Shogun Warriors shown in a quick cameo), they searched for a way to retrieve Hellsgaard from limbo, believing him to be their only hope at salvation.

The book is mostly drawn by Dan Brereton with framing sequences by series artist Tony Moore. Brereton made a huge impact on readers years back for his Nocturnals series and the Batman: Thrillkiller mini. The beautifully painted artwork firmly sets the mood for Hellsgaard’s story and also adds to the EC/Eerie vintage horror comic book vibe that Remender and Moore are shooting for.

Brereton's Nocturnals

I have to agree that this is not your typical Punisher comic book and I certainly do sympathize for die-hard fans… but this series is just jaw-droppingly well done and one of the most entertaining monthly books on the rack. Now and again there is talk about the stagnation of comics and that there is no room for new ideas. Punisher: Frankencastle may not be the messiah of the comic book medium, but it is trying something new and with a unique blend of horror, action and humor achieving it in spades.

Pre-order 'Punisher: Dead or Alive' at Amazon

It Walks… It Lives!… It seeks blood… It’s FrankenCastle!!

Important… If you have not read Punisher #10 or Dark Reign: The List: The Punisher… do not read this blog post because it will give away key details.

More after the image break…
frankencastle

Anyone still reading this post has read both Punisher #10 and Dark Reign: The List: The Punisher or does not care that they will have the secrets of both ruined. Both aforementioned comics dealt with what writer Rick Remender views as the spiritual and physical deaths of Frank Castle. In Punisher 10, Frank is offered his family back from the dead by the Hood. An enraged Punisher torches his family as they rise from their graves claiming, ‘my family is dead.’ In The List special, Norman Osborn pits his resources against the Punisher including Wolverine’s son, Daken. The bloody battle concludes with Daken literally slicing Frank to portions and kicking the pieces into the sewer.

That brings us to Remender’s next arc, FrankenCastle…

“Punisher” #11 kicks off a new six issue arc entitled “FrankenCastle,” which sees Frank reborn as a patchwork monstrosity. “After his death, it was important to find some random hole in the Marvel U to drop him down, because Jason Aaron is doing amazing straight crime stuff in the ‘PunisherMax’ book, and this needed to be different. So we had to put on our thinking caps about where to take Frank after the end of ‘The List,'” Remender explained. “I had two or three different ideas, and they were all tied to different corners of the Marvel Universe. We ended up going with ‘FrankenCastle,’ because it was the most fun and ties into a lot of stuff we’re developing underneath New York; stuff that has a rich history within the Marvel Universe.

“The beginning of this arc needed to feel random, insane, just a total left turn, it couldn’t be a contrivance.” Remender continued. “The Marvel Universe has so much insanity. So, after Frank Castle is killed and dropped into the sewers, the next step had to be so out of the ordinary that no one would see it coming, which I thought was a fun approach. That’s the beauty of the Marvel Universe; it allows for this explosion of creativity. You can keep sinking deeper and deeper into the layers of all the things that are out there.”

When Frank Castle is reborn in “FrankenCastle,” he’s noticeably not the same man, returning from the dead with memory problems and a variety of other issues. “Whatever it is that comes back in issue #11 is something that’s had its brain and heart destroyed. ‘Punisher’ #10 was the destruction of Frank Castle’s soul, and then in ‘The List,’ his body is killed. Norman and the Hood succeeded when it comes to Frank. They knocked him completely off the playing field,” Remender remarked. “Where Frank finds himself is this very strange situation that allows us to see the fabric of who he is. Whatever FrankenCastle is, it’s an external representation of the monster inside Frank.

“So Frank has got a whole new set of rules and is barely alive, but this is a ‘Punisher’ comic,” Remender continued. “He’s still a ferocious killer at his core. At his very center he’s still the Punisher; someone who sees misdeeds and wants to correct them. With murder.”

As FrankenCastle, the Punisher will be more than capable of accomplishing his goals. In his new body, Castle is much more powerful than he ever was before. “He’s crazy powerful now. With Frank and Osborn, it was David and Goliath. Frank fought hard, but the giant stepped on him, killed him, and dumped him into the sewers,” Remender said. “Frank’s slow climb out of the sewers is so much fun, and when he does crawl out of the sewers, there are a lot of people who screwed with Frank. You’ve got one, and possibly two, Jigsaws, Microchip, the Deadly Dozen [a team of villains resurrected by the Hood for the purpose of killing Frank Castle], Norman, the Hood, and Daken. These guys have all heavily messed with Frank. So when he climbs out of the sewers with these amped up power levels, he might just go looking for all of them . . .”

legion of monsters

Frankencastle leading the Legion of Monsters

But before he climbs out of the darkness, the Punisher has to deal with the monster he’s become – both physically and psychologically. “This arc has to deal with the philosophical ramifications of revenge. What happens when someone kills your family and you spend the rest of your life killing people? They may be the same type of people who killed your family, but the actual killers are long gone,” Remender explained. “So in terms of clean cut themes, this story is about the monster that is Frank… and maybe him coming to terms with that.”

The plot of “FrankenCastle” involves the Punisher being drafted into a new war against a new, yet uncomfortably familiar, villain. “The new villain is integral to the story, and in a lot of ways is a mirror image of Frank. The villain forces Frank to examine the way he’s been dealing with things,” Remender revealed. “I really want to challenge the notion that someone could spend their entire life murdering people and never have an issue with it.”

The new villain’s allies are a fanatical team of heavily armed high tech monster hunters, which leads to Frank forming a reluctant alliance with the hunters’ archenemies, the reborn Legion of Monsters. “I’m handling the Legion of Monsters and all the other monsters in this story the same way mutants were handled in the ’80s,” Remender stated. “No one is on their side, and they’re being hunted down and annihilated by this new villain and these monster hunters.” (full interview here)

A former Spider-Man villain, the Punisher has been an incredibly popular character since he gained his own series back in the late 1980’s. A vigilante armed with conventional weapons fighting crime as in the streets of New York City as if it were his own private war, many writers have brought their own unique touch to the character.  The new approach Marvel has of publishing two series concurrently that appeal to different audiences allows them to pull insane stunts like this while a straight forward series called Punisher Max (by Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon) sits just a bit further up on the shelf where Frank Castle wages a one-man war on crime in a world without superheroes.

From the outside, FrankenCastle must look just awful but as a fan of Remender’s Punisher series I am overjoyed. The creator has shown in both the latest series and his previous Punisher War Journal run that he can introduce new ideas to the Punisher and make them work. The only question is, will other readers feel the same way?

Just this week a nice hardcover edition of Remender’s Punisher series hit the stands. If you are looking for a fun weekend reading, pick it up at the shop and if you are in the mood for more go back for the other 5 issues and special.  But after this week, anything is possible. I never thought I’d see a comic book where the Punisher was sliced top pieces but a follow up of an undead Frankenstein monster Punisher leading an army of forgotten horror characters has to be an even more bizarre vision.

FrankenCastle starts next month in the pages of the Punisher by Rick Remender and new series artist Tony Moore.

Punisher au naturale

The one shot entitled ‘Punisher Naked’ will see print next month from the Marvel MAX, but don’t get any preconceptions based on the title alone… Bram Stoker Award-winning author Jonathan Maberry will be taking Frank Castle into new territory as he tells the tale that he calls ‘MacGyver gonae mad’ as the Punisher must infiltrate a hive of villainy without a single weapon, calling upon the vigilante to get a little more creative than usual.

PUNNAKED_cov_col
The author will bring the unusual plus of being an actual trained hand-to-hand combatant, as his induction into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame proves. A former Hollywood bodyguard, Mayberry often had to use whatever was at hand rather than a hand gun which was rarely practical given the close confines of his environment. “I used everything from a half a lemon to bar towels, video cassette holders to a handful of peanuts,” Maberry revealed. But fans of the Punisher’s arsenal need not worry.

“He is by definition a killer – he doesn’t ever need a weapon,” Maberry said. “But in the very last part of the book, he has guns. Anyone who wants to see gunplay… they won’t be disappointed.”

Mayberry is also a Marvel Zombie at heart and wisely points out that while not long ago the good comics were being put out under the Vertigo label of DC Comics, the real bar of excellence is currently being set at Marvel Comics. His agent actually pitched him to editor Alex Alonso for comic book work… that is dedication. His Punisher work follows closely on the heels of his Wolverine short ‘Ghosts.’ Expect to hear about a new project from the author soon.

Read the full interview here.

The Punisher by Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña

Back in the 1980’s, the Punisher was one of the most popular comics ever… as in complete human history ever. You’d walk into a comic shop and see boys openly weeping over these issues they were so excited. Why was this the case? I’m not sure, but combining the gun enthusiast angle with Death Wish seemed to fit the bill at the time. Remember, this was the era of Thatcher and Reagan where you answered force with force and no one wanted to hear anyone crying over who got hurt (I’m over-simplifying, bear with me).

z021706punisher_bigIn any case, the Punisher out-Wolverined Wolverine and made Batman look like a loon wearing his underwear outside his pants. Armed with however many guns the artist felt like equipping him with, Frank Castle was not interested in dealing out justice as many other heroes were. What he had to deliver was punishment, clear and simple.

Thanks to Garth Ennis and a couple of mixed results feature films, the character has been resurrected and whereas he may not be up to his previous level of popularity, Marvel is making many Punisher fans very happy. Garth Ennis’ comics have placed a very gritty lens of the character, allowing him to be as mean and realistic (even appearing to look his age) as many fans think he should be. Not to leave out the readers who enjoy seeing Punisher exist in the more traditional four color super hero world, Punisher War Journal has enjoyed a healthy run with moderate success. It has just been replaced with a new series simply titled ‘The Punisher.’One half of the War Journal writing team, Rick Remender (of Dead Space, Fear Agent, The End League and Sea of Red) has stayed on to continue the work he started.

punisher001_cov_b_col

This series is not messing around. In the first issue, Frank attempts to assassinate Norman Osborn with a high-powered sniper rifle. For those who followed this year’s worth of Marvel Comics, Osborn (formerly the Spider-Man villain the Green Golblin) has not only been accepted as the leader of the government sanctioned super hero registration squad called the Thunderbolts, but he’s also been accepted as a national hero. Delivering the killing blow during the Skrull War on live television has forever cemented his reputation as the savior of humanity despite the fact the even without a Halloween mask on, he is a scheming evil man.

Frank’s plan runs into a snag when Marvel’s own Superman the Sentry catches the bullet and engages the Punisher in close quarters combat. That’s right, the Punisher tangled with a being capable of going toe to toe with the likes of the Hulk and Thor and lived to tell the tale. Even with his brilliant tactical mind, it gets pretty close and only the last minute intervention by a shadowy character saves Frank’s bacon. This new character promises to help Frank with his war on the super heroic community by equipping him with the right gear for the right job.

For the first time in decades, the Punisher has become interesting again. Raising the bar from mafia dons and drug-runners to ‘the man,’ even when that man is Osborn who is flanked by the Avengers… is a brand new game. With the new ‘Dark Reign’ status quot in place, the bad guys are no longer skulking in shadows, they are in plain sight. But Castle could care less, a crook is a crook and all of them need to be punished.

I still cannot believe I bought a Punisher comic book.

Recommended:
Punisher War Journal, Vol. 1: Civil War (v. 1)
Essential Punisher Volume 3 TPB (v. 3)
Punisher by Garth Ennis Omnibus

Punisher role cast for sequel

The most popular anti-hero in comics, The Punisher carries the kind of appeal that has buoyed the career of Quentin Tarentino or drawn audiences to any ultra-violent movie. A gun-toting one-man army waging a never-ending war against crime, Frank Castle is not after revenge like certain other heroes, in his own credo, ‘this is punishment.’

Created as a Spider-Man villain by Gerry Conway and artists John Romita, Sr. and Ross Andru in issue 129 of The Amazing Spider-Man 1974. An angst-ridden Vietnam veteran hunting down the mobsters responsible for the death of his family, The Punisher in time joined Spider-Man as a kind of cohort, using rubber bullets and kicking villains in the face rather than blowing them up or knifing them in the throat as later became his want.

It was not until the character warranted his own mini-series by Steven Grant and Mike Zeck that The Punisher gained his own dedicated following. The series was so popular that it was extended an extra issue (mysteriously drawn and written by an entirely different team). Mike Zeck was so strongly associated with the series that it has become the defining mark in his career. A hyper-violent story involving Frank Castle‘s capture, incarceration, escape from prison and confrontation with his nemesis Jigsaw, the mini-series lead almost immediately to the ongoing series.

The success of The Punisher was an indicator of the times. With TV programs like the A-Team whetting the appetite of vigilante justice-crazed suburban youths in America and the films of Steven Seagal and Arnold Schwarzenegger selling out in the cinema, the commercial need for a more violent comic book hero was great. All in all, The Punisher series had a whopping 104 issue run.

This of course does not include the numerous spin-off series, graphic novels and guest appearances in other titles. Seizing a good thing, Marvel saturated their titles with The Punisher, teaming him up with Wolverine, Ghost Rider or both at the same time. The strangest tea-up to date still has to be The Punisher and Archie.

I’m not sure what that demographic looks like.

It came as quite a surprise when the character was so unpopular that all of his series were canceled and he disappeared entirely from comics. After numerous attempts at a revival, the Vertigo team of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon (of Preacher fame) arrived with their dark comedy, ‘Welcome Back, Frank.’ The Punisher was once again a major pull for Marvel Comics and back in vogue with both his standby fans and a brand new audience.

To counter the humor in the new Punisher series, a second series under the Marvel imprint MAX was launched. In the second series, the violence was portrayed as much more realistic and even Frank Castle himself bore little resemblance to the ‘pretty boy’ he had become in the Marvel Universe. This version of The Punisher looked battle-worn and aged. For the first time since his initial appearance, the reader could believe this man had fought in Vietnam.

A failed motion picture of 1989 starred Dolph Lundgren (who?) as a gun happy ex-cop assisted by Louis Gossett Jr… and is best forgotten by all that ever saw it.

A second attempt was made to capture The Punisher on film during the beginning of the comic book movie craze of 2004 starring newcomer Thomas Jane. A more successful film, the second Punisher movie adapted the character’s origin and the ‘Welcome Back Frank’ story of Ennis and Dillon. While not a major commercial success, it has garnered enough interest to earn a sequel.

All of this brings us to a Marvel Two-In-One movie news piece today. One is that the Punisher sequel is a go (apparently the DVD sales warranted another film), the second is that the role of Frank Castle has been recast with Ray Stevenson from the HBO series Rome.

Thomas Jane removed himself from the project and was quoted as saying “I’m writing to tell you that I regretfully and painfully had to pull out of Punisher 2. I cant tell you how completely broken up I am about it. What I won’t do is spend months of my life sweating over a movie that I just don’t believe in. Ive always loved the Marvel guys, and wish them well. Meanwhile, Ill continue to search for a film that one day might stand with all those films that the fans have asked me to watch.”

While what many fans would regard as a ‘good Punisher movie’ has still not appeared, the process is getting more refined. In fact, the DVD Special Edition features a comic book-influenced opening featuring an excerpt from Frank Castle‘s tour of duty (the filmmakers swapped Desert Storm for Vietnam to keep the ‘current day’ feel of the film).

It’s a shame that comic book fanatic Thomas Jane is not attached to the second film. His enthusiasm for the series and comics in general greatly assisted the franchise’ success and connected to the fan community.

Punisher 2 is due out in 2008.

Suggested reading/viewing:

Essential Punisher, Vol. 1 (Marvel Essentials)
Essential Punisher, Vol. 2 (Marvel Essentials)
Punisher MAX Vol. 1: In the Beginning
Punisher: Born
The Punisher Vol. 1: Welcome Back, Frank
The Punisher (Extended Cut)
Punisher Video Game-for PS2
Punisher Video Game-for XBox