A Punishing Team-up
♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer Scott Braden gives us his latest in his series of features on comic stories or series that never happened. This week it’s the turn of Gregory Wright and Jim Lee’s Punisher/ Nick Fury …
Greg Wright and Jim Lee’s Punisher/ Nick Fury
The truth? Gregory Wright is no stranger to comic book fans. He’s done everything from editing Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Hercules graphic novel, among others; co-launching Deathlok in the 1990s with Dwayne McDuffie; and coloring Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man for Marvel Comics and Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman: The Long Halloween and Batman: Dark Victory for DC Comics. And, in the ‘90s, he was going to join Jim Lee – a living legend in comicdom and one of the four-color medium’s premier artists – in uniting the House of Ideas’ most dangerous vigilante with its top-selling super-spy within the pages of Punisher/Nick Fury.
What was the secret origin behind the Punisher/Nick Fury project? How did the idea come about?
It was originally supposed to be a 48-page one-shot that got upgraded to a hardcover graphic novel once I explained why the story needed more pages to then Marvel Editor in Chief Tom DeFalco.
The (project’s) secret origin is actually pretty interesting. This was in the ‘90s when Marvel wanted more and more product, and they wanted guaranteed hits. So, they would overuse characters and create endless Spider-Man and X-Men books. The Punisher was a high-selling character with two titles so there was naturally a desire to exploit the character even more. So, Tom DeFalco came down to Don Daley’s office and told him to get a Punisher one shot in the works right away. Don got Punisher War Journal writer, Carl Potts, War Journal artist Jim Lee, and myself – the colorist – in the office to ask us all to co-plot a one shot together. Carl immediately recognized that three of us trying to plot one story was going to be a mess and didn’t really want to do a one shot that way. Before the discussion could go in a direction that could have ticked anyone off, Jim Lee immediately offered to do two one shots. One (project) with me and one with Carl. Jim and I had already been discussing an idea, so this was an easy solution. Carl was happy with that idea, as well. So, Don went to Tom, and Tom loved that he was now going to get two Punisher one-shots with Jim Lee doing the art. So, Jim and I started plotting the Punisher/Nick Fury graphic novel, and Carl started working on a Punisher/Wolverine graphic novel. (More on that later)
What was the basic premise of the graphic novel?
The premise was that the Punisher and Nick Fury were both after the same target, for different reasons, and have to team up to take him down or out. It was to be an uneasy alliance/buddy film type of story filled with twists, turns, and betrayals. The villain of the piece, known as Blackheart, had ties to the Punisher. It was entitled “Rules of the Game” as well as “Operation Blackheart.”
Who was assigned to the project? How was Jim Lee going to be involved?
Don Daley assigned us the project after we gave him a pitch. Jim was involved from the very first second because he was asked to co-plot a story with me and Carl, which became two different projects. He and I co-plotted the story and worked on the rough layouts together. I scripted it. Jim did the finished black-and-white art and I was going to do a painted color over that. The project was fully plotted and in the layout stage. The layouts were rough versions of the final pages designed to tell the story while leaving a lot of details out so we could alter things as we went along. Jim inked maybe 12 pages or so of it, and I scripted maybe 20 pages before work kind of stopped.
Why didn’t the project come out?
Jim was living in New York temporarily when we worked on this graphic novel. He was in the office frequently, and was constantly offered all kinds of fun quick projects – like covers and pin-ups and fill-in issues that he could use a totally different style on – so he wasn’t really working full time on it. Still, he got a lot of work done until the X-Men office realized just what a fantastic artist he would be on the X-Men titles, and they hatched a plan to create an additional X-Men book with Jim Lee. Pretty much an offer that was way too good to pass up. But Jim was planning to finish the graphic novel at the same time, and he did continue to work on it for a while until the rise of Image Comics. Yep, time dragged on long enough that Jim and Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld wound up forming Image Comics, which pretty much took all of Jim’s time up. Plus, at first, there was no way he was going to be a part of Image and continue to work for Marvel, even though Marvel would be happy to have him. We kept trying to get the graphic novel restarted until he moved to DC Comics. Once Jim joined DC Comics, that pretty much put the nail in the coffin. Marvel has tried a couple times to get me to finish the graphic novel with another artist, but I really felt that it was a very tight collaboration between Jim and myself — and it wouldn’t be the same. So I refused. Also, Jim and I never got a contract for the graphic novel. We never signed any vouchers or ever got paid for any of the work we did, so Marvel doesn’t actually own the rights to publish any of it. So unless we decide to sign over the rights and take some money for it, it will probably never see the light of day. It really is a shame, though. It was some really great work by Jim and (featured) some of my favourite writing . . .
Now back to the other Punisher project Jim Lee was supposed to do . . .
Between working on the Punisher/Nick Fury graphic novel and X-Men, Jim was having a hard time doing the Punisher/Wolverine graphic novel with Carl Potts. So, he and Carl decided that Carl should seek out another artist so it could be finished sooner. Now, I was leaving Marvel’s staff around this time and was hoping to freelance edit a few projects. So, in addition to a Clive Barker Hellraiser/NightBreed crossover and a painted Jim Starlin/Joe Chiodo Daredevil graphic novel, I was asked to edit Carl’s Punisher/Wolverine graphic novel as well…because Carl requested that I edit it. The first task I had was to hire a new artist, so I tapped Mark Silvestri to draw it. Marc drew a few pages and then – I think Image Comics got in the way – we tried a couple other artists before we wound up getting the amazing Gary Erskine (fairly new to American audiences at the time) on board as the project. Instead of a graphic novel, Marvel opted to turn it into a three-issue limited series, which unlike the Punisher/Nick Fury graphic novel, actually got published.
But wait, there’s more.
It became clear very early on, way before any interruptions discussed earlier, that the Punisher/Nick Fury graphic novel wasn’t going to come out anywhere near as fast as Tom DeFalco had originally asked for. Editor Don Daley was in a slight panic as he was expected to have a book ready to go very quickly. Guess who had yet another idea ready to go? Me. So I pitched the Punisher: No Escape to Don. He approved it, and we got artist Todd Smith on board – and got that project going way faster than we should have. And, Tom got his Punisher one-shot.
What projects are you currently working on? How have your past experiences in comics helped ready you for what you’re working on currently?
Currently, I am working on a secret project with Graham Nolan and Bret Blevins at Aftershock and another secret project in the horror genre. All past experiences in comics help you with anything new. The big difference is the difficulty in getting a project off the ground today and getting paid a proper amount for it. The days of the big paychecks and large royalty check is long gone for most people. So now I really choose projects to work on that I have a passion for. I did a nice series called Bane: Conquest with Graham, as well as Joe Frankenstein while also colorizing his black-and-white graphic novel, Monster Island, recently. I haven’t written much for a while, except a crazy adaptation of an unproduced screenplay called The Squeeg (about a suicidal business man who find a magic squeegee and becomes Cincinnati’s first super-hero), which is available on Amazon. I did that with the incredible Tom Grindberg and screenplay writer David Lieto.
You have worn many hats in comics — writer, editor, and colorist. What position in comics have you enjoyed the most?
I liked them all pretty equally. I loved putting teams together as an editor and getting to work on each individual part of a comic. Just imagine being able to hold some of the greatest pencilled artwork ever in your hands daily. Imagine being one of the few people to even see that artwork. Imagine getting to see it being inked, getting to really enjoy the original finished pages. (It was pure pleasure) working with so many amazing creators. That was fantastic. But, writing your own stories and having them illustrated by great artists is also amazing. And coloring amazing art, getting to be a part of that finished art really is awesome. So, it’s really hard to pick. I was lucky to be able to do all three at once for a while.
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