Sunday, November 24, 2013

What Greg Rucka Proved (but Marvel still doesn't understand)

A while ago I re-posted the three (out of four) parts I wrote of an article for a different blog that took a look at the comic-book-roots and film adaptations of one of my favorite Marvel characters: The Punisher. I never actually finished that last part, so I figured I'd use part of what I planned on writing to make a different post for you all. This is a story about how one writer at a major comics company saved a character very few believed in, and how that comics company didn't seem to care.

In 2011, Marvel re-launched The Punisher after a sordid and sometimes ridiculous run started during their major cross-over event "Civil War." With Greg Rucka (Gotham Central, Ultimate Daredevil and Elektra) writing and the art provided by Marco Checchetto (Amazing Spider-Man, X-Men Legacy) the eighth volume of the Punisher comic became a reality, and this time it did something no one seemed to think was possible anymore: It took the character seriously.

In the '90s, this cover would have meant a story 
in which Frank fights puddle-universe-Frank with 

While most renditions of The Punisher have seen him as a one-man killing machine much akin to Rambo in the Rambo sequels; Rucka, instead, opted to treat him like the John Rambo seen in the original First Blood. This is not something we haven't seen before though. To keep with the movie connections, I could very easily see a case be made that Rucka's series serves as the sequel to Tom Jane's 2004 movie, The Punisher. While this is not officially the casebBoth versions share a similar physicality and tactical, bare-bones approach to the character. Even right down to the spray-painted skull on the tac-vest. The story-arc even feels like something that would have been fitting to Jane's Punisher.

Except with a lot less Travolta-mullet.

Rucka gave us a younger Frank who is one of little words and fewer distractions. He considers himself a "dead man" who can only afford to focus on his mission against crime. While setting his sights on a group known as The Exchange, who were behind a gang-land killing at a wedding, Frank finds himself as the unexpected mentor and partner to the only survivor of the shooting. As Frank molds Sgt. Rachel Cole-Alves into his protege, she soon finds herself the target of a man hunt when she accidentally kills a police detective. Frank then must face both the police and The Avengers in order to save Rachel from a death sentence. Though he claims that saving her was nothing more than a calculated move to end his own persecution AND keep his mission alive through her, it shows Frank do something he hasn't done in decades. Frank grew emotionally.

I loved this version of The Punisher more than any other before it. I even had a letter printed in it's 12th issue saying just that. Former Punisher writer, Jason Aaron, even embraced the new Frank in his run of The Incredible Hulk. So, why am I claiming that Marvel did not learn from this? Because this series was not meant to only be 16 issues long with a 5 issues wrap-up. Marvel ousted Rucka from The Punisher because they wanted to give the character to someone else for their Marvel NOW relaunches in 2012. Despite the exceptional story and strong positive response Rucka's comics saw for the character, all Marvel cared about was what they could do to make more money off of their latest gimmick. So instead of getting who-knows-how-many issues or even years of this stellar comic series we got a truncated story and a very unceremonious "see ya" for Rucka. So what do we have instead? The Thunderbolts.

Either Hot Topic had a sale or Wolf Pack is back, y'all.

The version of Frank found in this outing from Daniel Way (Deadpool) and Steven Dillon (Punisher MAX) is not in anyway the Frank we saw in the previous title. Dillon settles into drawing the exact same Frank from his run on the MAX title and Way follows suit in his characterization. Blood, sex, swearing,  two-dimensional characters and the mindless killer Frank all return to the character and the art of storytelling is thrown out the window. This is a a Frank that doesn't think or plan, but instead straps explosives to himself because he has a "special gamma-based armor vest" and ends up sleeping with Elektra because they both get horny from killing. It seems Frank can't escape his past and actually get a chance to be in anything well written for long. Of course most fans of the comic don't mind the change because it's exactly what they've always seen from him, and why should anything ever be different?

At least I know I'm not the only one who truly loved Greg Rucka's take on the character. Recently a trailer for a fan-made film based on Rucka's story arc was put up online from filmmaker Mike Pecci. The Dead Can't Be Distracted was to be a cinematic tribute to the work of Rucka and Checchetto as well as an attempt to show Frank is a viable film character...that is until Marvel sent him a cease and desist letter. You can read Mike's reasoning behind the film and his reaction to Marvel's letter here, but I truly feel a deep sense of disappointment in their response.
It feels like Marvel is almost ashamed of this character and this version of him that they are doing what they can to bury it for some reason. I hope that is not the case and hope Mike's film is able to turn enough heads that a serious take on The Punisher is able to be revisited one day soon. Until then I will just sigh and roll my eyes at Thunderbolts knowing what had once been. But if there is anyone reading this like me and Mike Pecci who read and loved this version of the character write Marvel  or tweet at them (@Marvel) and let them know that you want to see Mike's film and more of this character.

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