Behind The Scenes Of Marvel's First Civil War Crossovers

Matt Fraction has taken the decision to revisit his earliest work for Marvel Comics. As he says in the Milkfed newsletter,

What advice would I give the writer I was ten years ago, just starting out? What do I think of that work now, what do I like, what don't I like, what works, what doesn't? Most of all, won't it make me excruciatingly uncomfortable to reread all that stuff, warts and all, and evaluate the work that functionally built my career in the superhero mainstream?

Yes, yes it will.

Which includes writing the Punisher War Journal comic book which spun out of the Civil War series. He writes about writing the series out of order.

A short story short: during the production of the first CIVIL WAR miniseries, its writer Mark Millar got sick. He got so sick he had to stop writing CIVIL WAR for a while. This caused, as you could imagine, some complications. When a big story like CIVIL WAR comes along, it's kind of like an aircraft carrier. It's a great big centerpiece and everything else plays off of it. It's the dog; everything else is the tail. So what happens when the dog gets sick?

At first, it meant just skipping ahead beyond the event to write issues 4 and 5 in anticipation of Mark's, and thus Mark's scripts, and thus the blueprint for CIVIL WAR, to return.

So, no, it wasn't all down to Steve McNiven's strep throat.

When Mark DID come back, I knew there were a few scenes he needed Punisher for in the main CIVIL WAR, but until they were written, I couldn't write around those. I knew what my out point was, so I picked up issue 3 from there. Then when the CIVIL WAR issue in question was done, I went back and did 2 to conform to its scenes and requirements.

It was a great exercise in parallel thinking, in improvising, in patience, and in practice. It was also a chance to watch Tom Brevoort conduct an orchestra as only he can. I worked out two stories that pushed us along (but not too far, because of the big shock at the end of CIVIL WAR meant we had to wait for CIVIL WAR to happen in its own time) but were, functionally, evergreen. Ariel got started on 5 (the plan was to give him a break on 4, since it was looking like he'd have to produce 2 and 3 almost at the same time once Mark was back in the saddle), Mike started on 4, Mark got better and got back to work, CIVIL WAR got written, Frank got in and Frank got out, and all was right with the world.

Even still, artist Ariel Olivetti still got caught in the crossfire.

There was one scene in 2 I think poor Ariel had to redraw like four times because the characters in the scene kept changing because the vagaries of a crossover event that big can keep changing all the way until publication.

Punisher War Journal 002-010

And in retrospect, this was the symptom of a larger problem for Matt,.

I read it now and have NO idea why I decided to tie in THAT close. Rather than use the chaos and weirdness of CIVIL WAR as a backdrop and telling my own story with that as its axis, I, for whatever reason, decided that my shit would weave in and out of Mark's story to create, I don't know, a more… tightly conceived experience? To the point where there's literally some of Mark's dialogue from CIVIL WAR in some of these scenes?

That goes beyond continuity and becomes a trap, it becomes writing by algebra, and I let thinking I needed to write like that get in my way for a long time.

As for Civil War….

The real gift Mark left me was that, at the end of CIVIL WAR and after the assassination of Captain America, it'd be Frank we'd see picking up Cap's mask. That led to Ariel's insane "Captain Punisher" design and our next collection, GOIN' OUT WEST, in which the Punisher, in a costume mash-up, fights insane white supremacists along the US/Mexico border.

Punisher War Journal 008-002

And as to how Fraction ended up on the title that would really make his name at Marvel Comics?

The dumb luck was that Robert Kirkman would tell Ed Brubaker "no" and so Ed would call me to join him on THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST.

And so the world turns. You can read more of Fraction's runimations on Marvel Time that once was here, here and here.

About Rich Johnston

Head writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world. Living in London, father of two. Political cartoonist.

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