Punisher: FrankenCastle

When I was a kid, Punisher was a comic book reserved for my friend’s older brother--far too mature for me, a reader of “pussy” comics like the X-Men and “faggy” characters like Captain America. Punisher isn’t a name like “Spider-Man”—a title used to hide his secret identity--it is his identity, it’s what he is. Frank Castle was not a super hero, as my friend’s older brother reminded me over and over, but a regular man who was on a revenge mission to kill the criminals who took the lives of his family.

But now it’s 2010, and there are two comics with the character “The Punisher”. One of which is the gritty, hard-ass gangster comic Punisher Frank Castle: MAX, which satiates the need for those violent stories that I associated the character with for so long, and what most people want when reading an issue of Punisher. They are continuity based within themselves, they don’t touch the “Marvel 616” events and they're pretty good.

The other is the re-launched Punisher, which is completely within Marvel continuity. Where the MAX title is violent and based more in gritty comic book “reality”, Punisher has Frank Castle using secret caches of weapons containing Pym Particles and Goblin pumpkin bombs.

The comics are the two sides of the same skull encrusted coin, one a gangster fighting, machine gun wielding dick-kicker and the other being a guy who hunted Spider-Man and has fought the Hulk. Both books have a purpose for the character, but honestly, I don’t care about that gangster shit, and like the character much better when he’s a Batman who will fire a gun. And I like him even better as a zombie-type Batman who will fire a gun. Which brings us to the in-continuity weirdness that is "Frankencastle".

Taking chances with a simple character is what makes comics great and when there's two series, and one satisfies actual fans of the series--all those older brothers still out there--it doesn’t matter if you do something crazy like make Punisher a Frankenstein because anyone who wouldn’t want to read it could just read the MAX book. As long as it makes sense and is, you know, good, there isn’t a problem.

Recently, in Punisher, Frank Castle has lost it all, having killed his own resurrected family, and lost his sanity and motivation to do anything but kill Norman Osborn and end his “Dark Reign”. Making Osborn’s “List”—a literal to do list compiling the names of the last few things holding him back from complete power—Frank Castle is hunted down by H.A.M.M.E.R. agents, who are led by the son of Wolverine, Daken. Not The Sentry, not Bullseye, Daken.With no healing factor or set of super powers, Daken overpowered the physically and mentally drained Punisher, literally cutting him to pieces.
Adding insult to injury, Daken threw Castle’s body into the sewers and the grunts of H.A.M.M.E.R. were sent in to pick up the pieces, flying in on Goblin Gliders only to find Moloids picking up the limbs of the murdered man.

Picking off the blind subterranean humans like they were sub-human, the men find themselves face to face with Man-Thing, who burns them with his Touch of Fear, protecting the cowering Moloids, and the Punisher puzzle pieces in their arms.

Punisher finds himself awakening surrounded by a legion of monsters, in fact, The Legion of Monsters, staring down at him. Castle begins attacking everyone in the room, until Morbius the Living Vampire, with the help of the sight of his new face, snap him out of his rage.

Castle finds himself in an underground city, populated entirely by monsters. Not just by big names like Morbius and Man-Thing (those are big names, right?), but every monster you can think of. Every Marvel dragon from issues of Strange Tales, all the Jack Kirby lumpy headed weirdos and red skinned trolls--they all live there. They can’t live on the surface so they’ve made a home for themselves underground.

Morbius and the other League of Monster members have become their leaders, but more importantly, their protectors. Most of these monsters are simply trying to live, they aren’t huge or vicious, they are husbands and wives with children. They don’t have the means to defend themselves when a group of stereotypically Japanese samurai called “Hunter of Monster Special Force” start killing and kidnapping the citizens. Too ugly and scary to live above ground, but hunted in the sewers, they live in fear.

As all of this weird, awesome information's provided for the reader, Morbius is keeping Frankencastle alive with pills that help his brain stay active and keep his mind from turning as ugly as his new exterior. With nothing to lose, nothing to win, with nothing period, Punisher just wants to be left alone, to die in peace. With Osborn in control, and having lost one of the most important fights of his life, he is completely broken. He doesn’t care about the surface anymore, or fighting crime, or living. The Punisher is no more, and even FrankCastle is just a patchwork of flesh and metal designed to keep him alive. He has nothing to un-live for.

Existing on live rats caught with his bare hands, Castle takes one of his pills just to straighten out enough to kill himself when a small, crippled Moloid walks in, one deformed arm and a Devo shirt, brings the suicidal Castle a candy bar, and invites himself to sit down to watch the Fear Agent movie on Frank’s little nine inch television.

This little Moloid, named Kid, but most likely not actually a kid, affects Frankencastle, turning him from monster back to a man. Something that Frank Castle has lacked since the death of his family is compassion. His whole existence since their murder has been rooted in anger and a need for revenge. Now there’s no chance of him ever stopping all the bad men in the world: They are in power, the Green Goblin is an America Hero. However, that’s on the surface, down in the monster’s world, he has the chance to make a difference.

On a tour of the underground facilities, Frank Castle realizes the scale of their operation. It’s not a few abandoned subway stations and a utility room like the Morlocks had, it’s an actual city, with buildings and markets, creatures of all kind live here, united only because they fall under the banner of “Monster”. Seeing a museum of weapons that have been used against monsters, Frankencastle understands what they’ve been against. The character known for his lack of compassion, his hard-lined, hard-nosed, take no prisoners attitude begins to feel something.

Sleeping in his small room, Castle is startled awake by an explosion, and Kid at his door. The small, mute child doesn’t even have the chance to run across the room when he’s shot down by the monster-hunting samurai. Dying in Frank’s arms, Kid dies slowly, and Punisher has a change of heart. Falling apart but stitched together, Punisher is reborn, no longer just seeking to kill the “bad guys”, but to protect the good guys, the little guys, the ones who can’t protect themselves.Frankencastle, the monster, the Punisher, is even more of an unlikely hero than he was while alive, but more importantly, he has a lot more heart. The Punisher has done everything for the memory of his family, but his hate blinded him into killing any and everyone. But it's through a Moloid in a DEVO shirt that The Punisher regains focus and purpose...and it's tempered by something not so problematic as "I'm going to kill any and everybody evil because my family was killed."

"FrankenCastle" is an unconventional approach to reinventing a character, but works better than just having a few one-shots (Wolverine) until the main series comes back, or in Punisher’s case, relying on the MAX series until he has a place in continuity again. Punisher is too bad-ass, and if you think about it, irresponsible and basically a horrible person. There's nothing for a reader to care about, except the violence. Literally taking the character apart and putting him back together again, "FrankenCastle" puts emotion into the character. You root for him because you believe in what he’s doing, not just because you want to see him kill someone. This in-continuity, for-all-ages reboot is as radical and weird as all the canonical superhero deconstructions...and it's a lot less cynical. Your friend's older brother would hate it.


seth hurley said...

It is the most fun & interesting Punisher story in years, more concerned with being entertaining than making sense.

It's like the bastard child of Steve Gerber and Jack Davis.

I hope they shoot him into space next.

samuel rules said...

That's like that Captain Britain comic where it became about Tomb of Dracula living on the moon? Like dude, just do what you want and if it's crazy enough it'll work out.

In reality it's not much crazier than during Secret Invasion the Hercules comic being about him and a team of gods from all mythology fighting the Skrull god. If you're into this series, you should really check that shit out too.

Thanks for reading dude!

Viagra said...

The Punisher is the anti-hero for excellence, he gets the job done no matter what he has to do, I had to wait a long time before i was allowed to even buy one comic but by far the wait was worth it.