Today, as we’re rounding the bend to the big Hallowed Weenie, we’ll be taking a look at something truly horrifying: The Punisher. Specifically, we’ll dive into one of the few Punisher stories that works for me, Franken-Castle.
I recently brought it up around 55:20 on our most recent podcast.
Here’s a slightly deeper dive, with pictures!I’m not a Punisher fan. At least, I should specify, I’ve never really been a fan of how Marvel uses the Punisher. First, there’s the anti-hero thing, which I generally don’t go for. I prefer my heroes to be more inspirational. Then, there’s the guns ablazing thing, which I think only inspires fans to make poor real life decisions. He’s a character whose origins and motivations and methods cut too close to reality as opposed to spinning webs or teleporting in a cloud of sulfuric dust. Our reality is one that I rarely look for Punisher-style stories, because I see too much of it on the every day news. I get that others can appreciate it; it’s just not my scene.
The Punisher is an idea that comics have room for, but he should only be used sparingly–a 3 issue guest spot here, a mini-series there, etc. Frank Castle is a character that could be great for a movie or a one season television show, but he should not be the type of character to anchor a series for the long term. It stretches the credibility of comics that he’s survived as a character this long, and that’s saying something. The best comics stretch credulity in a good way. This is a different thing. Criminals may be superstitious and cowardly, but there’s no way that Frank Castle doesn’t eat a bullet with his face after more than a handful of outings. Or get hit with a really big rock. If he goes after that Peanut’s gang, watch out. There’s a couple that got rocks for Halloween.
Which leads me to Franken-Castle, where the story begins with Frank Castle being sliced and diced by baby Wolverine because he made the wrong kind of enemy. Before I go to far, I should mention that Franken-Castle contains the stories from Dark Reign: The List–The Punisher, Punisher 11-16, Franken-Castle 17-21 and Dark Wolverine 88-89. Rick Remender writes everything but the two Wolvie tie-in issues, which are handled by Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu. The art duties vary quite a bit, from John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson on the List, to Tony Moore, Dan Brereton, and a host of others chipping in on the remaining issues.
The List issue features Daken, Wolverine’s son, taking orders from Norman Osborn to exterminate Frank Castle. This story comes from John Romita’s over the top violence period, which included his creator-owned Kick Ass work. The fight scene is ugly and brutal and bloody, ending with Frank Castle’s dismembered body dumped in a back alley. Even though no one will accuse Romita, Jr.’s style of being photo-realistic, the way he conveys the action and emotion really gets that brutality across.It is not for the faint of heart.
Thankfully, the story shifts dramatically as Norman Osborn’s Hammer agents come to collect Frank’s body in the next issue. There, they’re greeted by mole-oids and Man-Thing. Here’s where I’m weird. Kill a character in a story with a gun? I find that to be in poor taste. Burn a character to a crisp because he who knows fear shall burn at the touch of the Man Thing–cool. I don’t know why one is more acceptable than the other. I have my suspicions as to my hypocrisy.
Anywho, the Castle parts are brought back to Morbius, Jack Russell, Manphibian, and the rest of the Legion of Monsters. Their plan is to use a pieced together Franken-Castle as their soldier in a battle against a group of assassins that have been hunting and killing all of the monsters, morlocks, moloids, and a host of other creatures that could never qualify as “normal.”
Remender does a great job of instantly setting the monsters up as sympathetic figures. The big bad is first revealed torturing Manphibian and then showing him his dead children. Ouch. Even Frank isn’t convinced until the Mummy shows him the scope of the Monster Metropolis that is counting on finding a way to beat the bad guys. That, combined with the death of a specific sympathetic young mole-oid sets Franken-Castle into action. From there, it’s general violence and bloodspray interspersed with scenes of Frank endearing himself to the monsters–including a scene where Frank pulls a sword out of his throat and helps Man-Thing to his feet. By touching his hand. And not knowing fear. I’ll reiterate that I’m not a Punisher fan, but that was cool.
The main mcguffin in the story is the bloodstone, an object powerful enough to give the monster hunting (and monsterous looking) baddie the power to rid the world of all monsters.
Needless to say, it’s taken care of. It ends up in a very special place where it can be safe until it’s needed. The Legion of Monsters bit of the story is really fun. It humanizes the monsters while allowing for the wanton over the top violence Punisher fans crave like plants crave electrolytes.
The story then goes off the rails a bit as Franken-Castle leaves the Legion of Monsters to hunt for Daken. It results in more over the top violence as Daken and Punisher trade crushing blows involving trains, busses, big rigs, buzz saws–you name it. They even throw in a guest appearance from ole’ papa Logan.
It is what it is, and that is nowhere near as fun as palling around with the Legion of Monsters.
Fortunately, the series ends with a grand confrontation between the Legion of Monsters and Elsa Bloodstone (from NextWave!!!). They’re looking for the bloodstone, and Frank’s been hanging along in Monster Island to know that he should give it up. It’s already maguffined Frank back together. The mummy finally convinces Frank to give up the stone, and before you know it, he’s back to the same old Frank folks know and love and I can ignore.
Final Grade: A-
This story takes a character like the Punisher and pushes him to a ridiculous level–one where I can actually appreciate the character. By focusing on his quest for vengence and his absence of fear and treating him like a force of nature–they cut to the heart of what makes Frank Castle appealing. Ironically, they cut to the heart by cutting off his head, arms, legs, etc. and having him sewn back together. Tony Moore and Dan Brereton, who do the majority of the art chores, have wildly different style but both manage to fit the story being told in their own unique way. It’s definitely a book that I would recommend to fans of monster stories or for folks that enjoy the fun, quirky, out of the ordinary corners of the Marvel Universe.
If you’re interested in checking out Franken-Castle, you can order it from the interwebs by clicking here, or you could go to the comic shop locator to find a shop near you that may carry the book or order it for you.
Until next time, I’ll remain hastily sewn together and powered by the bloodstone!