The Punisher and The Hand
‘Punisher’ writer Jason Aaron talks about his fandom for the character and his big plans to rock Frank Castle’s world to the core!
Frank Castle, AKA the Punisher, has been taking names and fighting crime in his own unique and violent way for over 40 years. But the challenges that writer Jason Aaron has planned for Marvel’s most vengeful vigilante in the pages of new series PUNISHER (2022) will stretch the character to unseen horizons. We spoke with the acclaimed scribe about not only why he loves Frank Castle, but why he must test the character like never before!
What’s your history with the Punisher as a fan and a creator?
JASON AARON: I know as a reader and a fan that I picked up the 1986 limited series by Steven Grant and Mike Zeck right off the spinner rack. I’ve still got my copies. That was my first exposure to the character; I was not a big Spider-Man reader so I don’t think I caught any of his appearances there. I picked up that limited series and it blew me away. I read the Mike Baron series that came after and became a big Punisher fan.
I would drift in and out of following the Punisher until Garth Ennis came along. I was already a huge Garth Ennis fan and loved the Marvel Knights stuff he did with Steve Dillon, but I’m a gigantic fan of the MAX run. That’s one of my favorite runs of any creator on any Marvel character ever. With those 60 or so issues, each arc is better than the last.
I think the challenge for creators since Garth’s run on PUNISHER MAX has been how to do this character in the Marvel Universe. I had my run on PUNISHER MAX, but I’d never really attempted that, I’d never written Frank Castle in a big way in the Marvel Universe. When I used him in the WAR OF THE REALMS event, I started thinking of how to do Frank not just in the confines of the Marvel Universe and not just as a watered down version of PUNISHER MAX, but as something that has the drama and intensity and darkness of MAX. Can you have him in the same world as Spider-Man and Captain America? Can you pull in all the big Marvel toys in one story? Thinking about that, what came out of it is this story. With every issue of PUNISHER (2022) that mix is what I’m going for.
What are some of your favorite Punisher stories?
JASON AARON: Good question. I don’t have a list prepared, but like I said, I think that initial Mike Zeck series is fundamental. With Garth’s PUNISHER MAX it’s hard to pick specific arcs because every single one is good. The ones with Barracuda are great. The ones drawn by Goran Parlov are great, he’s amazing. I’ve been reading Punisher for a long time. I liked the crazy stuff that Matt Fraction did in PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL (2006). Rick Remender, Greg Rucka, Becky Cloonan in PUNISHER (2016) most recently.
When Matt Rosenberg first pitched the “Punisher War Machine” idea at a retreat, I was so excited—it was one of my favorite things I’d ever heard anybody talk about at a Marvel retreat. It was one of those things I couldn’t believe we had never done before. How has nobody ever done that before? I’m a big fan of all that stuff.
What do you think is at the core of what makes Frank Castle an enduring character?
JASON AARON: We’ve seen vigilante characters remain popular for decades. Frank has his roots going back to the post-Vietnam War era. There were so many real stories about Vietnam vets dealing with Post-traumatic stress disorder. Frank grew into the era of the vigilante in the 80s. There were all these guys who had been pushed too far and now they’re going to take things into their own hands. I think there’s something we find darkly attractive about those characters.
I like Frank Castle because he’s both a complicated character and also the least complicated character ever. He’s more complicated in the way that he’s perceived and not complicated at all in the way he perceives himself. Frank is one of those characters who horrifies me and fascinates me at the same time. I think that’s why I keep coming back to him.
What obstacles have made the Punisher a challenging lead in the past?
JASON AARON: I think part of what’s tough is that Frank doesn’t change. You look at Garth’s run and there’s not a huge character arc for Frank Castle over 60 issues. He’s the same guy in issue #1 that he is in issue #60. He doesn’t change. He’s this rock around which other stuff swirls. It’s hard to do a character where you can’t really take them anywhere or put them through anything. But with this story, we’re kinda doing that.
Frank is still Frank. His views on his war and himself haven’t changed, but, because of the events of PUNISHER #1, his life and his situation is radically different than it has been before in a profound way. It’s challenging to write a character who is unchanging, but I do think we’ve come up with a set of circumstances that Frank has never had to face before over the course of his entire war.
You talked a little bit about what drew you to this project, but how did it come together?
JASON AARON: It’s a character who I mentioned wanting to do something different with years ago. At one of our Marvel retreats in New York we were talking about the Punisher. What do we do with this character? What should he represent? How do we do stories with him? There were a lot of opinions being thrown around the room, and in the midst of that I had a story I wasn’t ready to pitch in the moment, but I talked a little bit about it, why it should be the next big story for this character, and it went from there. I went back and figured out more so I could pitch the story in a bigger way.
I’ve been in those retreats for 12 years now, I’ve pitched a lot of things in those rooms. I’ve had a couple of pitches I feel have gone very well. The first one of those is when I pitched THOR: GOD OF THUNDER (2012). I pitched 12 or 13 issues of Thor, that whole first story in one go. The second one was when I pitched this Punisher story. Of my time in the Marvel summits, those two stories were my highlights, the ones that got the best reaction. I’m incredibly proud of THOR: GOD OF THUNDER, it’s one of the most successful stories I’ve ever done. I feel just as good about this Punisher story.
What are your goals heading into this series? Where do you want to leave Frank Castle?
JASON AARON: It’s hard to talk about where I want to leave him. My goal is to do a really good Punisher story. People are making assumptions based on him changing his chest symbol or working with the Hand that we’ve thrown everything out, but no, this is a Punisher story. He’s fighting his war in a different way, but there are threads going back all the way that have made this character who he is.
Where did the idea to use the Hand come from? Why did they make sense?
JASON AARON: It came from the idea of doing a Punisher story where Frank is really enmeshed in the trappings of the Marvel Universe. It seemed like the easiest and best way to do that. I’ve always been interested in the Hand as a big Daredevil fan. They’ve become the guys who show up when you need ninjas in a story; they fight, they get beat, they go away. They have different leaders who come in and take control. I liked the idea of digging into the philosophy of the Hand, what do they stand for, what were they founded for. They go back further than Ninjutsu, than Japan, they have this really old foundation of being acolytes for the Beast, the dark god of the Hand. They’re just trying to serve the Beast by spreading his teachings, and those teachings happen to be about murder and violence. To them, man’s true purpose is to take the lives of other men.
If the Hand wanted somebody to lead them, to model themselves after, than who better than the Punisher? If you’re looking for somebody who knows about killing, Frank Castle is your guy. It made a lot of sense for them to bring him in, but the question was why would Frank Castle ever do that? If they came to him with an offer, why wouldn’t he just shoot them in the face and walk away? You get the answer to that question at the end of PUNISHER #1.
How do you think this story will impact the world around Frank? The larger Marvel Universe?
JASON AARON: I don’t know what I can say here other than that, yes, it will absolutely have an impact. Something like this can’t go unnoticed. I’ll just say that. [Laughs]
Ok, so without going into full spoiler territory, as you’ve alluded to, something happens at the end of PUNISHER #1 that dramatically shifts the dynamic of who Frank Castle is. Why do this? And how big a game changer is it?
JASON AARON: I think it’s a pretty huge game changer in a lot of ways. As to why, part of it was to answer the question of why Frank Castle would work with the Hand. Here’s the answer, and it’s an answer that makes sense given what we know about the Hand, about how they operate, about the philosophies of the Beast. The other reason to do it is the character possibilities it presents. For this character who is so unchanging and carved out of stone, you’re throwing him into a situation he has not been in before. How does he respond to that? And how does the other character who is a part of this respond to that? That’s one of the facets of the story that I’ve been most excited about, giving a voice to a character who has never really had one in past Punisher stories and seeing where that goes.
How has the collaboration been with the art team and your editors on PUNISHER?
JASON AARON: It has been really great. Even though Paul Azaceta is in New York and Jesus Saiz is in Spain. We’ve got the legendary Dave Stewart on colors, which is amazing. The process has been really great. I think it helps that we’ve been working on this for quite a while. More than half of this book is written, I’m about to start the next issue. With these bigger issues, it was nice to have some extra lead time. That always helps make the book stronger when we’ve got issues in the can before the first one even comes out so we can tweak and change as we go. I also have a really tight outline.
I’ve been doing this job for 16 years and this is one of those stories that I felt like I’m doing at the right time. I’ve had projects over those years that have felt like they’ve come at the right moment with the right creative team—this one is gonna turn out alright. This Punisher story feels like one of those. It’s a story I’ve really been able to sink my teeth into in a huge way, and the artists as well. I think Paul and Jesus are both super invested in this project, super excited, super proud of the work they’re doing. The whole team feels like this is something special. Special in a really dark and horrible way, of course…
What’s coming up? What can we expect from the next few issues and from the series as a whole?
JASON AARON: With PUNISHER #2, we lean into the big reveal, that final moment from issue #1. We explore that more. We see more of what Frank’s doing in his new role with the Hand. We also get the reveal of who will be the main bad guy going forward. We introduced these new black market arms dealers, the Apostles of War, who are dealing in big Marvel Universe weapons. In issue #2 we find out who their leader is and that’s going to prove to be an unprecedented sort of challenge for Frank Castle.
If you haven’t read PUNISHER #1 yet, get to it, because issue #2 hits print and digital stands on April 27! Find and support your local comic book shop at ComicShopLocator.com or by visiting Marvel.com/LoveComicShops.
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