L.A., meet Frank Castle: Nathan Edmondson on his West Coast Punisher

March 10, 2014 | 6:30 a.m.
ilovela copy L.A., meet Frank Castle: Nathan Edmondson on his West Coast Punisher

A promo image from Marvel's campaign publicizing the Punisher's stay in Los Angeles. (Marvel)

The New York of noir fiction is known for dark alleys, shady subways and organized crime — the perfect gritty territory for Frank Castle, better known as the Punisher, Marvel Comics’ marine turned vigilante who prefers killing bad guys to turning them in. But a change of scenery is on the horizon for Castle, as writer Nathan Edmondson takes over the comic book with art by Mitch Gerads and relocates the character to sunny Los Angeles with its sand, surf and palm trees.

“We’re inviting the question that perhaps L.A. for too long has ignored the cancer that’s growing in the roots of those very palm trees and behind the facades of some of the more glamorous streets,” Edmondson said. “We wanted to offer something original, fresh and exciting. Set in New York, there were a lot of expectations, a lot of precedence and a lot of familiar territory. People would end up getting a similar Punisher story to many that they’ve already read.”

The Punisher has been a New York staple since his introduction by writer Gerry Conway and artists John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru in 1974 (Stan Lee came up with the name.) The Punisher embarked on his war on crime after his wife and two children were killed in the cross-fire of a mob shootout, but Castle often runs afoul of other street-level heroes like Spider-Man and Daredevil — who both incidentally think he’s certifiably insane.

Typically, Castle keeps to himself, and despite his murderous rampages, he has mostly eluded capture. The vigilante is popular — Eminem is a fan — but in a more subversive way than his brightly clad fellow Marvel characters.

"Punisher" and "Black Widow" writer Nathan Edmundson (courtesy of Nathan Edmundson)

“The Punisher” and “Black Widow” writer Nathan Edmondson. (Courtesy of Nathan Edmondson)

“I realized when I started working on the Punisher that this is probably the most recognizable character who has most pervaded pop culture and global culture. I don’t have a lot of evidence to support this, but for example, Chris Kyle, the famed Navy SEAL sniper who died last year, in his locker he had the Punisher skull, and he wore the Punisher on the back of his sniper vest,” Edmondson said. “I know people who have Punisher tattoos and have never read the comic before. The point is, the character as a symbol is so strong, it’s really transcended any experience of the character himself necessarily.”

In bringing the Punisher to L.A., Georgia-native Edmondson also needed another strong symbol to tie him to the city, and that’s when he stumbled upon the Nickel Diner. The downtown eatery, with its blend of trendy hipsterism and old-school charm, walks a line between the regular, low-key establishment that Castle would frequent and a city hotspot.

“I knew that for the Punisher we wanted him to have a focal point that was more downtown. Two different people got back to me and said that the Nickel Diner would be a great place. It was recognizable, but not to the point of being kitsch,” Edmondson said. But it was a calculated risk to set him in such a public place.

“The Punisher is recognized, so some readers could ask, ‘How come they don’t know who he is?’ I’m thinking that there are so many recognizable people [in L.A.] that others in the comics are just thinking ‘Well, I know his face. What movie was he in?’ “

Punisher #2, a variant cover by Jerome Opena  (Marvel)

“The Punisher” #2 variant cover by Jerome Opena. (Marvel)

Regardless of recognition, Castle fights crime in a much more underground sense than other heroes by using guns and knives and military tactics — and killing his enemies. Edmondson concedes that there are definite differences between L.A. and New York — the people, the perception and the criminal element — but that the character still fits because of that crime-fighting methodology.

“The space that Frank occupies is a strata of villainous activity that is too powerful for the police, yet that is not worth the time of the Avengers,” Edmondson said.

As a template for his view of the darker side of Los Angeles, Edmondson looked to the criminal actions of the MS-13 gang, or Mara Salvatrucha, and leaned on some of the research he did while writing another comic book, “The Activity.”

“Watching a documentary on MS-13, there are certain neighborhoods in Los Angeles that the police, the FBI, the DEA, just acknowledge that they run this area. There’s an entire system of law and justice that is run by the criminals, and the police, to a degree, are powerless to stop it,” Edmondson said. “I’ve also had discussions with members of the black ops community and Delta Force and outfits like that about how the military uses special operations to infiltrate and stop these gangs. They are a cancer.”

In Edmondson’s narrative, the Punisher is pursued in L.A. both by a criminal cartel modeled after MS-13, the Dos Soles, and a para-military group that reports to the highest levels of government, the resurfaced Howling Commandos. Also in the mix?  One of Spider-Man’s main villains, Electro, who is about to be brought to the screen by Oscar winner Jamie Foxx in Sony’s anticipated May 2 release “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”

“We didn’t know that he was going to be in the ‘Spider-Man’ film when I wrote him in the scripts, so it turned out to be a happy accident,” Edmondson said. “To see somebody who relies on hot lead going up against somebody who can throw lightning is interesting.

electro L.A., meet Frank Castle: Nathan Edmondson on his West Coast Punisher

Electro shocks Frank Castle in “The Punisher” #4. (Marvel)

“I would love to see the reactions of L.A. residents, or the L.A. Times, to Electro tearing up PCH,” he added. “Of course, the primary complaint would probably be traffic.”

Although the Punisher has been brought to the screen himself, by actors including Dolph Lundgren, Thomas Jane and Ray Stevenson, he’s yet to have a star-making turn. Edmondson believes the character might thrive on television, possibly as an extension of Marvel’s recent Netflix deals.

“We’ve created something that we think would make a phenomenal TV series. We even, in terms of personality, have modeled Frank a little bit after my favorite choice to play the Punisher, Max Martini.”

It wouldn’t be L.A. without a pitch.

Edmondson will hold a meet-and-greet with fans at the Punisher’s new favorite eatery, the Nickel Diner, on Tuesday. He’s scheduled to appear at a signing at Meltdown Comics on Wednesday.

– Jevon Phillips | Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex

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