PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL V2: GOIN’ OUT WEST
With Ariel Olivetti and Leandro Fernandez
Collecting PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL 5-11
Here’s where THE ME DECADE stops being fun (for me, anyway); here’s where I find the choices I’ve made not the mistakes of an enthusiastic amateur but of someone unskilled and witless, inexperienced and bereft of compassion. Not only does this reflect poor writing but, I would argue now, poor humanity. At best, GOIN’ OUT WEST reflect callow youth; at worst, pig ignorance that embarrasses and shames me, pushing me now to try and do better with everything. From creative misdemeanors to outright felonies of vision, this one has it all, kids.
I’d argue, first off, maybe 9/11 fits poorly, as a concept worth careful consideration and examination, into the pages of a superhero vigilante comic. With kindness now I can say the story that opens up the collection very much reflects its time and as such gets some degree of forgiveness — but I’m not sure I’d make the same choices now. I certainly hope that, were I to write something like this today, I’d see that it got away from me and needed a rethink if not an outright restart.
The root of the opening — the flags not being so much USA! USA! But rather a way to signal, to all the responders, that we’re with you came straight from my wife who, when the attacks came, lived right over the water in Brooklyn. Her windows open that day, like Ian’s, page one, panel one; I remember unpacking her when she moved to Kansas City and finding stuff still covered with dust and ash. She had a cough that lasted six months, too. The thing she said that killed me then, and kills me now, was what Ian says in the last panel of the first page of what was the third full length Marvel comic I wrote: cops and firemen don’t have flags of their own.
They should. Because in times like that they’re goddamn superheroes.
Were you to ask her, that’s what New Yorkers like my wife were saying with the flags. The jingoism and politics got superimposed by jingoist politicians later.
I had read about the Auxiliary Police initiative NYPD undertook to raise visibility and lower crime rates; somehow that and the story of Darius McCollum, who loved the MTA so much he ebayed his way into a job for a terrifying amount of time, wove together and the thought of a volunteer not-cop having to make a stand in the middle of a super-crisis felt good and right. I get digging into the theme of duty beyond reason, of duty in the face of extraordinary odds here — reflecting the seeming insanity of Punisher’s mission with poor dumb Ian’s refusal to stand down on his watch. Setting the whole thing in Times Square, the center of the center of the world, forcing a showdown between the ultimate underground “superhero” when the eyes of the world watch, plays for me still; there’s red meat somewhere here, in the core of the idea, there’s a meal to be made of the setup. How the hell do you get Punisher into and out of that mess? The guy’s supposed to be underground and we’re putting him on the Jumbotron. Let alone, how is he gonna deal with the thing that gets him there in the first place? How does Ian get out? Are they gonna let me kill Bushwacker?
I had my plan, at this point, for my series out, in as much as I ever have a plan. I use a lot of tortured analogies to explain my plotting process; the easiest is that it’s driving somewhere without a map but with a general understanding of the geography. I felt a Punisher book, a Punisher run, had to have a big Jigsaw story. Jigsaw’s his arch, right? So somehow the idea of Jigsaw building a broken-mirror reflection of Frank’s family was in my head and I knew poor Ian here would get, slowly, inexorably, pushed into his role of “Kid Punisher” down the road — that the shadow cast by Frank, the blood he spatters and the lives he demolishes, would fall over this poor guy who, in spite of the tragedy he’s endured, DIDN’T become the Punisher. Frank himself makes more Franks. Again, there’s some meat there. Whether or not I get my teeth into it, we’ll see in a few books’ time.
I suspect the genesis of this came from my initial conversations about the book. For a day or two we (Editorial — my memory is that it was Axel, and me) debated a notion I had about the book that influenced a lot of my take on the character and the shape of the story. Without applying the sliding scale of MarvelTime™ to the character, he’d be a Vietnam vet. As was my father who, when I was writing this stuff, was 60 years old. So I proposed what if Frank is 60 and Too Old For This Shit, but finds, in the ruins of the inciting incident of CIVIL WAR (the destruction of Jeph Loeb’s hometown of Stamford, CT), a guy just like him that lost his family. Only as the creative brief of PWJ was “Punisher in a world of capes,” this guy would blame capes for the loss of his family and not, as Frank does, Just Regular Violent Family-Killing Criminals. I suggested Frank moving into the “Microchip” role of arms-master and intel guy for this new Punisher he could groom in his own violent image.
It didn’t go, for any number of reasons. I wasn’t married to it one way or the other and I loved that Axel was willing to not only let me pitch it, but defend it. I was in school for twenty minutes and was suggesting we do away with math class, y’know?
That the pitch was received and considered seriously, that I wasn’t fired, spoke to my experience in general with Marvel for the duration of these ten years: the best idea would win, and everything from anyone would be considered. What’s your story? As Joe Quesada would ask, time and time again, of lots of us, trying to articulate whatever idea we had. Rack focus on the character, rack focus on the story, and the clearest vision would out.
As a creative, that kind of confidence and egalitarian process, fuckin’ rules. I learned very early on not to be afraid of seemingly-crazy ideas because of this experience and I think it served me well going forward there. The editorial world Joe and Dan and Axel and Tom (and everyone else) fomented in those days was a lot of fun to play in as a writer.
Anyway. Somehow that guy, the “Punisher-borne-from-Civil-not-Vietnam-War” became Ian. I think you can see the development from there to here.
I love New York. I love it all, even when I hate it, even when natives giving directions insist it’s a layout falls in perfect grid. I hope more than anything that comes through. I wanted this PWJ book to live and breathe in New York City. My favorite thing about the JMS Spider-Man book from this time was just HOW much of its gravitational center was in New York; I wanted my book to feel like that. DC books are about heaven and outer space; Marvel books are the streets. I wanted streets.
Of this books many crimes and misdemeanors, this is the latter but, a word of practical advice to anyone that’d seek it: tread cautiously with your references. Quoting a goddamn minor song from a minor band that no one but you and the writers of Pitchfork ever thought about for more than two goddamn seconds will date your shit like dairy in the backseat of mom’s car on a hot day. Compare to the Russell Johnson line in the first issue. Talking about a character from a sitcom 40-some years old puts a character in your world in a weird way; that it’s not a contemporary reference serves as background but referring to a thing of the moment foregrounds the time you’re writing the thing in and forever fixes it there. This bit about “Turn On the Bright Lights” jostles from jump street and serves only to yank my readers kicking and screaming out of whatever or wherever I wanted them.
The cop talk in this issue has all the verisimilitude of a guy that did zero research beyond watching cop shows. Do better than this. I know you can; you just have to give a shit. Or at least more of a shit than the kid writing this issue.
I loved, and love, the idea of Ian’s arms trembling, sweat running off his biceps, his fake gun quaking just so but he refuses to back down even when a four-barreled meat cannon is aimed straight at his face. I read this now and still get why I wanted to write it; I just wish I wrote it better. Literally any of it.
The lesson I took from writing this, and take from rereading it is, even when I feel that little pang inside me that says I have enough ingredients on the counter to make a recipe, I can still blow making the dish. Just because all the shit in front of me adds up to a cake doesn’t mean that’s what I’m gonna pull out of the oven when the bell dings. Sometimes, as the man said, the bar eats you.
The last page — we were building to the end of CIVIL WAR and the seeming-assassination of Captain America, which leads to Frank adopting, sort of, the mantel of Cap for a time. I wanted to write the scene where Frank found out his hero had been killed. Again, then as now, there feels like there’s red meat there. The inspiration was straight autobiography and I don’t think I’ve thought about its genesis since I wrote this issue.
In my previous career in animation, I had the experience of seeing our work ripped off by a New York firm… who we’d considered friends… a few days before Christmas… when a commercial they made played on the Jumbotron as we walked through Times Square on our way to a client’s Christmas party. We saw it entirely by accident, as the square was the only place it played, but there we were, too tourist-dumb to know to avoid walking through tourist central on our way from point A to B.
We stood there, fucking dumbstruck. Not only that our pals did it, but that they did it so shamelessly and were so clearly paid out the ass to do it. We were, at the time, skipping meals and dodging a landlord and paying bills one at a time every ninety days when the FINAL NOTICE arrived.
We just stood there watching.
Anyway. Of all the places on earth, of all the places in Manhattan, to get a piece of shitty news, the middle of Times Square off the goddamn Jumbotron is right up there.
So I gave it to Frank. And freed myself from it.
All writing is therapy.
This is seventeen hundred words on a single issue misfire; I’ll get into the rest of this hot mess next time and, man, it just gets worse. Buckle up.Back to Calendar