Santa Holds The Gun

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Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti look back at 2004 feeling fairly satisfied. After having worked their magic at both Image and DC, the writing duo now turns to the House of Ideas looking to end the year with a bang. What better way to do so than to tackle Frank Castle in Punisher: Red X-Mas?

BROKEN FRONTIER: Let’s start off with the obvious question: why dress up the Punisher as Santa Clause?

JUSTIN GRAY: I believe that was Axel Alonso’s idea. Plus, it leads to fun visuals!

JIMMY PALMIOTTI: Well, there is a reason he is in the suit. It goes back to the camouflage days in the jungle. It’s just a different jungle that Frank is working in this time.

BF: Does Punisher: Red X-Mas tie in with the regular MAX edition of the book, or is it simply a stand-alone tale?

JP: It’s totally a stand-alone tale. The only tie-in with the regular series is the fact that Frank is cleaning up the streets on New York. This story focuses more on a hired killer sent to rub out the Punisher.

BF: Did you guys pitch this idea to Marvel, or did it happen the other way around?

JP: To tell the truth, I have always been pitching ideas to Axel, asking for the opportunity to take a shot at some Punisher stories. Justin and I had some ideas and Axel had the Christmas theme as an opportunity to pitch him something around that. Any chance we get to work with Axel and his office, we take. It’s very refreshing to work with someone that is so on top of his game.

BF: Providing the artwork on Punisher: Red X-Mas is Mark Texeira, whose gritty style should fit in perfectly. Was he your number one option to pencil the book?

JP: Totally. I loved his Punisher books he did in the early 90’s. He seemed to understand the age and bulk of the character more than anyone, which is really important when telling a Punisher story. When we were speaking to Axel, all of us were on the same page with Mark, so Justin and I approached him and he was on it in a heartbeat. Marvel had wanted to get Tex on any project and this was a perfect opportunity for everyone to do just that. I still think he is one of the best Punisher artists, alongside John Romita Jr.

BF: What makes Frank Castle such a great character to write? Especially for you Jimmy, since you can’t seem to get enough of him: you’ve inked and edited many Frank Castle stories in the past, as well as scripting the Punisher video game.

JP: Not so very deep down, I think I want to be this guy at times. Wouldn’t it be great to just shoot the things that bother us? The reality is that you cannot, but when writing fiction, the imagination can go wild. If it was up to me, this story would have been 6 issues long! Given the opportunity, I would want to go deeper and deeper into Frank’s issues, because I can totally appreciate and understand the world he lives in and his frustration with how terrible people act. As for Suspiria, the major villain in the book, she needs to get her own title… [Laughs]

JG: The Punisher is remorseless justice delivered in as violent and twisted a manner possible.  It’s fun to work on characters like that; it’s a good way to exorcize anger in ways you couldn’t in life. You can do horrible things to people on paper and not go to jail. A lot of times when you work on certain characters or develop your own, there’s a need to get inside their head and do some exploring. You don’t have to get into Frank’s head; you know everything about him by looking at the big scary skull on his chest. You can just say, okay, fine, this is a mad bastard who kills other mad bastards…end of story.

Click to enlarge

BF: Jimmy, speaking of the videogame, what’s the biggest difference between writing that and writing a comic?

JP: Well, in the video game we went  insane with the amount of gore and horrible things Frank does when we wrote it, but then it’s up to the game people to keep it or not. From what I’ve seen, they have kept most of it in the game, which is a good thing. The 3D aspect of the game makes the violence 100 times more…horrific. Now you can hear the sounds of screams and bones snapping, and it really earns its adult rating, not like some other video games out there. I think the game, the look and the way you can play it all came out brilliantly. THQ and Volition are on the top of their game with this one and I think when it comes out, there is going to be a lot of controversy around it. The Punisher game hits stores in January and Garth [Ennis] and I are really proud of the results.

Click to enlargeBF: You’ve briefly touched on her before, but what’s the deal on Suspiria, “the lethal Sicilian assassin” according to the solicits?

JG: Suspiria is a new character we developed, a woman similar to the Punisher in many aspects - even a fan of his work - but a hired killer. I’m a fan of Dario Argento and his operatic and gothic sense of violence fits well with Tex’s artistic style and I’d been thinking of ways to incorporate the two in the character. Suspiria also happens to be the title of one of my favourite Agento films.
JP: The villains are very limited in the punisher universe because Frank usually just puts a bullet in their heads and that’s the end of it. Also, in the Punisher books, unlike the rest of the superhero comics out there, people really do die and stay dead. That sai,d we figured it would be fun to introduce a new character. Just a hint when you go in reading this book…everything is not as it seems.

BF: While you’ve been primarily working at DC the past few years, do you guys feel that this may have opened the doors for more work at Marvel next year? Then again, given the different jobs Jimmy did on the Marvel Knights imprint up until a few years ago, I can’t imagine it’s that hard to open the door if you’ve got a good pitch or two in mind.

JG: I’d love for us to do some more work for Marvel. There are a number of characters that appeal to me, some from the standpoint of a fan and some because I can see story potential that would be exciting to write.

JP: Working now at both DC and Marvel is the perfect world for me. They both have the greatest characters in the world and I really like all the people at both companies, even thought there is a natural competition between them. I have worked together with both E.I.C’s and our relationships are still very strong.  I have never been someone who is looking for an exclusive at any company because of the variety of work I do, so what Justin and I are doing is seeing where we would fit best with the individual characters first and not the companies. We are extremely loyal to everyone that hires us and that’s the way it should be with everyone in our industry.

Click to enlargeBF: True. In related, does Punisher: Red X-Mas mark the only occasion we’ll see you working on the character for the time being?

JG: Garth’s a friend and The Punisher is his book, so unless there’s a specific situation that invites an opportunity for us, I can’t really see it going beyond the Christmas special.

JP: If this does well, I will personally beg for more. Wouldn’t it be fun to make holiday themed specials a couple of times a year? Think of the fun we could have with an Easter special! Ok, maybe not. [Laughs]

BF: 2004 has been an eventful year for you guys. You’ve had Cloudburst over at Image, Hawkman and The Monolith at DC and now this book at The House of Ideas. What collaboration proved to be the most satisfying creatively?

JG: They’re all satisfying in different ways. Cloudburst was a definite learning experience; we made some mistakes and came away with a better understanding of presentation. I’m still not convinced that there isn’t a market for Sci-Fi comics, but it’s going to take careful planning and the right story before we try to publish another book in that genre.

Hawkman is fun to work on, especially now as we’re heading into the next year with a big story that has been carefully constructed almost a year in advance. Probably one of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of Hawkman has been revamping his villains. A good number of his enemies haven’t been seen in print for a long time and hopefully when we bring them back, we’re doing it with a fresh perspective. He’s got a collection of eccentric villains; animal people, wacky scientists, mad archaeologists and so on. We’re giving them all steroid injections, distinct personalities etc. It’s been liberating.

Monolith began as Jimmy’s baby and for the first few months of working on it I was intimidated, I very much wanted to honour his vision and not inject too much of myself into the story. As a collaborator you have to understand the other person working on the book. After we finished issue #1, I think I understood what Jimmy wanted to do with Monolith and from there I also understood how to offer up ideas that would make Monolith a pure mixture of both our sensibilities. You know, in my opinion, a book that you create is always going to be more creatively rewarding than work for hire. It doesn’t mean you don’t give Hawkman the same care and devotion as Monolith, it just means you’re unencumbered by continuity or public expectations. You’re free to make the rules. We try to create as many new books as we can for exactly that reason. We handed in issue #12 last month, the final issue of Monolith for the time being. I must say already miss the characters. I especially developed a real affection for the character of Tilt. It’s funny how the cliché of “you always hurt the ones you love” is true; we gave Tilt the hardest time and in looking back, I can say we came very close to creating a real person in both Tilt and Alice.

JP: Each and every project is a learning process, so all have their ups and downs. I like to think that everything we are doing is going towards building the perfect beast. I really am enjoying every opportunity being thrown our way.

BF: Which new projects – together and separately – coming up in 2005 can you guys tell us more about?

JG: At this point I’m very excited that our six-issue superhero epic, The Twilight Experiment is finally going to be released by Wildstorm in February. It’s been on the shelf for almost three years and I was deeply concerned that it might have lost relevance, or that similar books would be released prior to Twilight seeing print. Going back and reading through the issues, doing corrections on the black and whites, I believe it’s still as fresh and fun as when we first conceived it. It’s also surprising to see that what we were doing at the time, which I only realize now, was telling a story about emerging from the era of Watchmen and Dark Knight; I’m by no means comparing it to those works. What I’m saying is contextually, a majority of superhero comics were lighter, more fantasy oriented prior to those books. The effect Watchmen and DK had on the industry is still felt in many other books. In some ways you don’t really see the light at the other end of the tunnel; the grim and gritty elements are dominant to this day. Twilight attempts to send a new generation of superheroes into the light at the end of the tunnel and set them back on the trail forged by Golden Age comics. We wanted to reclaim the idea that superheroes represent what is good in all of us, that they allow us to make our own choices and don’t impose their will on the world. Of course, there’s tons of action, big superhero fight scenes, strange alien technologies and a coming of age story.

JP: I’m on the same page as Justin. The Twilight Experiment is something that no one is going to expect from us. I am also looking forward to the new Hawkman madness we got coming up. There are a few projects I can’t talk about right now, but I’m sure that once we get the green light on them, we will hit the fans back with info as soon as we can.

- Frederik Hautain

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