In the latest Comic Book Legends Revealed, discover whether Punisher was created to spin off into Marvel’s black and white, non Code magazines
Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the eight hundred and forty-fifth installment where we examine three comic book legends and determine whether they are true or false. As usual, there will be three posts, one for each of the three legends. Click here for the first legend in this installation.
The Punisher was created with the attempt to spin him off into Marvel’s black and white magazines.
I’m Going With False
In 1964, James Warren expanded his genre magazine company, Warren Publishing, into comic books with black and white horror magazines that, due to being magazines and not technically comic books, allowed him to avoid having to deal with the Comics Code Authority (a distinction established years earlier when EC saw that Mad magazine was allowed to keep going without the Comics Code). Warren was blessed with one of the best creative minds in comic book history, Archie Goodwin, helping to turn both creepy and eerie into two of the most beloved comic book magazines of all-time. The influence of those magazines led to Marvel slowly but surely creating its own black and white magazine line, as well, which took stops and starts until finally settling in for a decent run in the 1970s.
However, outside of Savage Sword of Conan (which lasted nearly two DECADES past most of its Marvel magazine peers), Marvel’s black and white magazines struggled with maintaining successful characters. With that in mind, reader Jim S. wrote in with a legend he had heard which was that Gerry Conway had invented the character of the Punisher with the specific intent to spin him off into the black and white non-Comics Code magazines, where a character like the Punisher could really cut loose, and it is notable that very soon after the Punisher debuted in Amazing Spider-Man #129…
he did, in fact, get a spotlight issue of one of Marvel’s black and white magazine, Marvel Preview #2, in a story specifically written by Conway himself…
Jim was basing his theory on an interview that Conway did with my pal Lou Mougin in Comics Interview #75, where Conway first noted about the Punisher, “My intention with the character was always to make him a…how can I put it? A complex character; complex because he saw the world in black and white terms. The world as most of us perceive it is not black and white. That puts him at odds with people who live in the gray area, like Spider-Man.
I was fascinated by the Don Pendleton Executioner character, which was fairly popular at that time, and I wanted to do something that was inspired by that, although not to my mind copy of it.” He continued, “As I say, ‘Black and white, that’s his costume, that’s his attitude, that’s his point of view on life. The Punisher’s view of the world is a simple one – there are good people and there are bad people and the bad people deserve to die. Some of us might have a problem with that, recognizing that there’s a gray area. Almost every ‘good’ person can act in a destructive way at times, and even the worst scum can have a redeeming quality. I think in the Punisher’s world-view, redemption isn’t possible. I guess he’s something of a Calvinist.”
He then noted, “In fact, when I designed the character, I was thinking of him as a potential spin-off character,” and when Mougin asked, “But the Punisher was something to spin-off for an older audience?” and Conway replied, “Into the black-and-white magazine format.”
That seems to be on point, so I certainly get why Jim wrote in with this one, but I think it is a bit misleading. For instance, Conway also noted, “[I]t was pretty obvious from word one that we had a fairly interesting character with a lot of potential. we got great mail on him, so we used him again almost immediately, a few months later. A couple of years later, I’m not sure of the exact dates, he got his own magazine from him, a black-and-white magazine. I was pumping for that almost from the get-go.”
I think that that is more realistic as a position than the idea that Conway always knew that he was going to be a character worth spinning off. In other words, it was VERY soon that it was clear that the Punisher was special, but not before Conway even started writing him, which is what Jim thought Conway was saying.
For instance, in a later interview with Pat Jankiewicz in Marvel Vision #15, Conway explained the situation even better, noting, “He was a pawn of another character, the Jackal. Punisher was going to be a one-issue villain, to be defeated at the ending. Instead, something strange happened. The writer became fond of the villain.The character voice was stronger than I thought, so I made him a more man than I had planned him to be.
Originally, he was gonna be one of Spidey’s non-powered super-villains, like Crime Master or The Big Man, but there was something different about him. He seemed too interesting to be killed or sent to jail at the end of the issue”
In other words, even before finishing writing the Punisher’s first appearance, Conway knew he had something special, but that does not appear to have really existed in his mind BEFORE he started writing the character.
Amusingly, by the time the Punisher launched his own black and white magazine in late 1975, Conway had left for DC, and so he didn’t even write that Marvel Super Action #1 story…
Man, Bob Larkin is an amazing artist, right?
Thanks to Gerry Conway, Lou Mougin and Pat Jankiewicz for the information!
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PART THREE SOON!
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