Welcome to our eighth inaugural interview for GAME CHANGERS, a new series at Comicosity looking at female protagonists in comic books from the last decade or two (or more!) — and the original creators who brought them to life.
Our goal with this interview series is to highlight the vast wealth of great female characters that have been added to the genre in recent years, and, with any luck, inspire a few writers or artists today to continue adding to that treasure chest.
A common trope for many newer female protagonists in super-hero comics is the Replacement, that woman who tries (and ultimately fails) to take over for the established male hero. Turn that completely on its head and you have today’s feature character, Greg Rucka’s Rachel Cole-Alves from The Punisher.
Who is Rachel Cole-Alves?
Alter Ego: The Punisher
First Appearance: Punisher #1 (2011)
Created by Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto
Published by Marvel Comics
Rachel Cole was a beautiful bride — until her wedding reception was caught in the crossfire of a gang war that took the lives of 29 attendees, including her new husband Daniel Alves. Herself injured in the event, Rachel awoke in the hospital to her life turned upside-down and emptied, now determined to exact revenge on the culprits for what they’d taken from her. Taking her husband’s name in his honor, and relying on her extensive military training from the Marines, Sergeant Rachel Cole-Alves slowly withdrew from society and sought out the one man who she believed could help her become what she needed to be — Frank Castle, the Punisher.
Ultimately, the leaders of the Exchange, a syndicate behind the killings at the Cole-Alves wedding, were brought to justice by Frank and Rachel, but not before Frank would prevent her from killing an innocent man in order to be targeted by snipers and killed herself. Left to be captured by the police, Rachel ended up in prison, only to be rescued by the Black Widow and Wolverine, and spared the confrontation between the Punisher and the Avengers. She was then free to continue her mission of justice in the streets of Los Angeles, halfway across the country.
A few words from her creator
Matt Santori: Rachel’s relationship with Frank Castle, in a very weird, inverse way, reminds me of Atticus Kodiak’s relationship with Alena in your novel Critical Space.
Greg Rucka: Huh. I didn’t think of that. I suppose that’s a very fair analysis. There is a huge difference, as Atticus and Alena fall in love. They have to go a fair distance before they’re willing to acknowledge it and commit to it. In so doing, each of them certainly heals the other.
Frank and Rachel never liked each other. Ever. Ever. There is no spark of romance between them. There is no desire for friendship between them. What they have is the bond of two marines in the same war and in the same ditch, having to take cover against the same incoming mortar fire.
Frank is so purpose-driven. And a lot of Rachel’s story was about the fact that, as much as she would wish to be the soldier that he is in the war that he is fighting, she was never going to be able to do it. There really can only be one Punisher. Being the Punisher is a hell of a lot more difficult than people think.
Because Frank makes it look effortless, but that’s because he’s never not doing it. Every single moment and certainly every waking thought (and most of his sleeping thoughts) are directed toward what he must do. To be that kind of human being requires that you stop being a human being in many, many ways.
The heart of that run is the lecture he gives Rachel when he has her turn out her pockets. He says, “You don’t get these things. You don’t get music. You don’t get color. You don’t get taste. You don’t get these things. You are dead. You just don’t know it yet.”
When I started the run, I did not hold Frank in terribly high esteem. The more I thought about him, and I came to terms with what my take on him was, the more I fell in love with him as a character. I think the concept is amazing. When you think about what he must do to do what he does — everything that he has had to do to continue to be who he is — that’s awe-inspiring. It’s not necessarily something one should celebrate, but it’s definitely awe-inspiring.
When I reached those conclusions, the inevitable next step was to show exactly how difficult it is. And that’s how you get Rachel.
MSG: So, Rachel can never be Frank, and I think it’s pretty clear she can never go back to being Rachel Cole either. Where does that leave her?
GR: Well, she has to become her version, right? I don’t know what Marvel will ever do. They may forget the character ever existed. It seems more likely to me that in a couple of years, she’s going to end up dead at the start of somebody’s story arc. She’ll become a plot device.
Where we left her, very deliberately though, is that she is “on mission.” But her story is figuring out how to do it her way. I think the way she figures out how to do it is she has to operate in a different way than Frank. Frank is always the Punisher. He is never not. Rachel, I’m not sure, can maintain that. Unlike Frank Castle, she would need to have a secret identity.
The beauty of both those characters to me is they operate successfully in a world where, by all rules, they should have been defeated long ago. They can’t regenerate. They have no super-powers. All they’ve got is what’s between their ears, and the ability to normally hit what they’re aiming at.
And yet they endure. I think that’s really cool.
“Both Castle and Cole-Alves have taken up permanent lodging in my brain, and their mission, greater than either of them individually, resonates with me in a way I could never have imagined prior to this run. Bravo to comics that still probe deeply, think hard, and read as if they were always meant to end the way they have.”
– Matt Santori, Comicosity
Where can I read more?
- Punisher Volume 9 #1-16 (2011-12)
- Punisher War Zone #1-5 (2012)
For a full list of Comicosity’s Game Changers, please visit our index.
Wait I thought it was Wolverine who helped Frank help her escape?
Semantics. It was Black Widow who posed as her in prison. But sure! I’ll amend!