Having such a close relationship to the PunisherMAX series, what is your opinion of the three Punisher movies?
I didn’t like any of them.
Thank god! As a huge Punisher fan, I had to ask.
If you're not capturing the vibe of what Garth Ennis did in PunisherMAX, or even what Jason Aaron is doing right now in PunisherMAX—which I think is a fucking masterpiece, by the way—you’re making a mistake. Frank Castle is not a hero. Frank Castle is a damaged individual, a man who’s being pushed past the brink. I think if you made a movie about a damaged individual living in a world where he might be your best hope, you might be on the right track. As I tell any Punisher writer, Frank Castle’s heart is not a heart, it is a muscle that pumps blood into his body. That is it. His mission is very simple: take out as many bad guys as I can before I inevitably die. He’s not about saving people. Saving people is a byproduct of what he does. He is about punishing people. It is as simple as that. He fuels his body for the war, that is it. I saw this amazing British film called Dead Man’s Shoes, which captures the spirit of the Punisher. Hell, I’d even say that Tony Scott’s Man on Fire with Denzel Washington is more in line.
I heard that there might be a fourth Punisher film. The sad thing is I know I'll cross my fingers yet again and go see it.
It’s tricky. How do you sell people on sticking to the life of a psychotic, or a sociopath? Maybe that’s unfair, Frank’s not a sociopath, he does have a moral core. Frank would never put his own well-being above that of a civilian. So there is a code there, but that’s hard to translate to the screen. He’s not lovable and I think we like our heroes to be lovable. I would work for free on a cinematic or cable TV version of PunisherMAX. I have a much harder time wrapping my mind around a Marvel Punisher, a guy that would team up with Captain America. He’s a bit of a square peg in a round hole—he kills people! They gotta take him down. It’s as simple as that.
With regards to the musical Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, given that it’s become somewhat of a public menace, do you think if Spider-Man existed he would be bent on taking this down?
Spider-Man’s too good-natured to really do anything about it but I think he would be disappointed. He’d probably offer a hand to the production company. It’s funny to me because I’m often asked if I've seen it. No one hates musical theater more than me; it's my natural enemy. I had two opportunities to go see the Spider-Man musical, and—no disrespect to anybody involved in the production—you pay me $500 to go, I’ll go, but I just can’t sit in the theater and watch people break out into song. Maybe I would take that bullet for my son if he really wanted to see it, but I’d have to have a couple of glasses of red wine before.
The death of Johnny Storm/Human Torch (right) was very successful. What is Marvel’s policy of death in comics and what do you do to ensure they're organic and not mere publicity stunts?
Our fans are smart enough to know this character is going to come back, the question is of when. They’re trained to know that this door can open and close. What people are buying into is the moment, the drama and the theater, the feelings it inspires in them. If that Fantastic Four issue had come out and that moment had read false, people would have killed the story, we would have heard nothing but hatred. People were primed not to like it, but I think that the authenticity of that moment, and the beat that the creator hit in that story, how they made the reader feel, was the important thing. Will Johnny Storm be back? Probably, at some point. Who knows when. Then again, maybe not. Maybe the Fantastic Four proves to be more popular without him for a while. Maybe he comes back, maybe another one comes back—that’s the beauty of comics. In that sense, there’s no such thing as a policy. It's more that we’re gonna roll the dice and see how people respond. But really, the bottom line is that no one here ever anticipated the way that was gonna go. Killing Johnny Storm? I mean, come on. We thought maybe ten thousand more copies if we were lucky. That took everyone by surprise, and I think that’s a testament to how well the creators, the writers, and artists pulled off that moment. I was moved by it. I thought that they staged it beautifully, it resonated.