Frankencastle: Rebuilding THE PUNISHER (Mania.com)

By:Chad Derdowski
Date: Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ever since he was appointed head of H.A.M.M.E.R., there aren’t many places in the Marvel Universe where the long arm of Norman Osborn’s law doesn’t reach. That grasp finally extended all the way to Frank Castle a few months ago when Daken caught up with The Punisher and cut him to pieces. What we’ve seen since then has been, in the opinion of Comicscape, one of the most brilliant reinterpretations of a comic book character that we’ve ever seen. Resurrected as a shambling monstrosity, the Punisher was reborn as Frankencastle.

Why It’s So Hot

It’s hot because of Rick Remender and Tony Moore, two creators with solid track records of awesomeness whether working together or apart. If XXXombies, The End League, Doctor Voodoo and The Last Days of American Crime don’t ring any bells, it’s time to get yourself to a comic shop. As for Tony Moore, perhaps you’re familiar with his recent work on Ghost Rider with Jason Aaron, The Exterminators, Brit and an incredibly unpopular book that nobody reads called The Walking Dead (the first six issues, anyway). Put these guys together and you get… well, you get Fear Agent. Mixing sci-fi with westerns, horror and war comics, Fear Agent reads like a love letter to EC Comics. It’s that same genre blending flavor that is making the current Punisher arc such a blast to read.

No, It’s Not Like The Last Time The Punisher Came Back From The Dead

He was huge in the 1980’s, but by the end of the ‘90s, The Punisher had pretty much run his course. He’d become oversaturated and boring. So Marvel killed him off and brought him back in a 4-issue mini-series which depicted Frank as a supernatural avenger. It was declared sacrilege by longtime Punisher fans and has been largely forgotten since Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon breathed new life into the character with their 2000 series. It’s also been forgotten because it was stupid.

But… isn’t this the same thing? The avenger of the downtrodden, waging a one-man war on crime, killed in battle only to come back as a monster… on paper it sounds pretty similar but the big difference here is intention. While The Punisher: Purgatory was done as a serious reinterpretation of the character, Frankencastle has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. That’s not to say that the series hasn’t had some pretty heavy emotional moments, but it has also got a healthy sense of humor, as evidenced by the relationship between Jack Russell and Morbius as well as the sheer absurdity of the whole situation. Moore’s artwork is perfect for the story as it balances whimsy and wackiness with expressive faces and incredibly informative body language.

The Inspiration

Speaking of Tony Moore’s artwork, let’s talk about the influences, as they play a pretty big part in this story. Moore has said that his work with Rick Remender on Fear Agent wears its influences on its sleeve and if you’re familiar with guys like Jack Davis, Wally Wood, John Severin and Harvey Kurtzman or comic books like Two-Fisted Tales and Weird Science, you know what we mean. If you’re not familiar with these names, do yourself a favor and educate yourself. If you’ve never trusted Comicscape before, you can trust us on this one. You won’t be sorry – we promise. These are foundation-laying comic creators whose influence is still being felt throughout the industry, especially in the current run on The Punisher.

Inspired by these legends of sequential art and classic storytelling styles, Remender and Moore have taken a character that many readers have regarded as one-dimensional and bland and … man, they’ve really F*@%-ed him up, haven’t they? It’s almost like putting Charles Bronson’s character from Death Wish in the middle of Evil Dead II or using Monster Mash as the soundtrack for Dirty Harry. Add in a team of high-tech Japanese monster hunters who have forced the 1970’s Marvel monsters into a terror-stricken existence in the sewers under New York and you’ve got a comic unlike any other on the market.

It’s Not Like the Precedent Hadn’t Already Been Set

Boy howdy, we hate to give press to other websites, but the super-awesome Chris Sims over at Comics Alliance wrote a glowing review of Punisher #11, which kicked off the Frankencastle arc, and got some feedback from a reader who didn’t see the appeal of this concept being used in the “core Marvel Universe”. Chris’ response was to point out that the “core Marvel universe” features men with purses in goblin costumes riding on flying pieces of sheet metal as well as a 120-year-old Canadian berserker samurai who has been to the moon and fallen in love with a psychic. We won’t bother to rehash some of his other statements, but we encourage you to check them out because they’re damn funny.

The point is that in a world populated by monsters, radioactive split-personalities, thunder gods turned into frogs and people with names like Victor Von Doom, the idea of Frank Castle being killed and turned into a Frankenstein monster isn’t really all that absurd. It’s fun – get over it. And if you don’t like it, you’ve always got Punisher Max.

You Can Have Your Cake And Eat It Too

Yeah, we just said that at the end of the previous paragraph. If you want nasty, prison-rapey stories featuring eyeballs getting carved out of skulls and hanging by thin, bloody tendons, you’ve got Punisher Max. It’s a really awesome book and we highly recommend you check it out in addition to the regular Punisher series. In the world of comic books, both concepts are equally viable and equally awesome.

You Either Get it or you Don’t

That’s pretty much what it boils down to. You either recognize the influences and the style and you’re on board and having fun with it or you’re reading this as fast as you can so you can get to the part where you get to leave a comment about how you’ll “just have to wait until this arc has wrapped up.” You might even be one of those folks who feel that Remender and Moore have irrevocably ruined The Punisher in such a way that Frank Castle can never recover. And in that case, we’re going to assume you’ve only been reading comics for like, a year or two and we’re not paying attention anyway.

As we bring this week’s edition of Comicscape to a close, we sit astride a magnificently stoned thoroughbred perched atop a box of Ivory soap and remind you that while taste is subjective and there are no right or wrong opinions. That said, we’d like you to know that if you are in the camp of “don’t get it” … well, you’re wrong and we’re right. Frankencastle kicks ass!



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