By Shockdingo 5 Comments
Good ol' Mr. Frank Castle and the concept of blogging have been on my mind of late. With the recent end to Rick Remender's Franken Castle story arc, I figured it would be a perfect time to start my first blog on Comic Vine! I wrote a post concerning the Punisher on SuperHeroHype during the 29th of September and I figured that I might as well go in depth with my previously posted ideas for the future of Frank Castle.
I have been a long time fan of The Punisher. My first exposure to this character was in late 1994 or 1995 in front of my TV screen. During this time my local cable provider offered a service called the Sega Channel; it was a specialized cartridge that fit into the console and featured an on demand library of games which rotated every month. One month in particular, I was scrolling through the games and discovered a new beat 'em up (one of my favorite genres) made by my beloved Capcom. I began the download and was in awe of the cinematic opening; beautifully sprited with a catchy theme, I was instantly mesmerized. Then I was shocked at what happened early into the introduction sequence; the absolute tragedy of one man's innocent family being torn to ribbons by merciless and paranoid thugs broke my young heart.
(Capcom Arcade Version- extended + Attract Mode)
Around that time I had been heavily into comics and cartoons. I was familiar with tragedies being a part of super hero origins, after all I was and am a huge fan of Batman, Spider-man, and various X-men. The thing that got to me was the sudden brutal nature of this particular tragedy; Batman losing his parents is hideous and heartbreaking, but for me, seeing a sunny day in the park ending with 3 of his loved ones, including CHILDREN slaughtered got to me. Something that has always bothered me to no end was inhumane behavior and violence towards children. I was saddened, and angry. Reading the scrawling text, I grew more angry and the adrenaline began to flow as I read of how Frank Castle transformed into the Punisher and how all who do evil to the innocent shall fall in a gruesome and brutal manner. Then I was prompted to press start. I spent many hours playing that game and telling my family of how interesting this concept was. I quickly started collecting Punisher comics afterward.
What amazed me were the stories so deeply rooted in reality. As I've grown up I held a particular disgust of how certain criminals play around with the criminal justice system, so seeing Punisher take down the worst of the worst was particularly interesting. What was more interesting was when I began to read of Daredevil and Frank's confrontations. I was split; I felt the monsters should be brought down in a brutal manner for the vile garbage they spewed out, but I as a kid wanted to be a cop (mostly because of RoboCop and Carl Winslow...go ahead...laugh...I don't care...I'm not crying either...these are allergies) and with that desire to serve and protect, I had some faith in the justice system.
Flash forward to 2009 and I've read a Lion's share of the Punisher stories. Good and bad. Max and 616/mainstream. Though I noticed something particularly odd during the year. I keep hearing rumblings that big changes are coming and eventually a stunning picture is presented online. It's ol' Frank, but something is different. Bizarrely different....grotesquely different. What I see before me is something new, and I'm filled with dread, yet somehow it's a familiar dread. I see a corpse-like Frank Castle in a patchwork visage.
It has returned: The “It's time ta boost sales guys! Think Tank Team Go! Form Controversy Sword!”
Okay....so maybe that's not what happened. Though we can't be sure....wait....yea we can...I'm pretty sure that didn't happen....there had to be more lasers, chrome, and leather-clad-women from the Heavy Metal 80s era acting as Holy Sword maidens.
Anyways, this all reminds me of the time that Frank died finally...for all time...never to return again...canceled....gone into that big warzone in the sky...*chortle* (yea, sure, like that'll be final) and sure enough came back as an Angel or Zombisher as I remember a few fellows at SuperHeroHype calling him. I'm sure you all remember that (or are trying to forget) so I wont get into that. But the existence of that drastic change is rooted in a problem that the writers are often having which leads me to my main point in this article. There often is a question of “What can we do to make Frank Castle Phresh?!...errr...fresh?”
As a Punisher fan for around 15 years- give or take a few months- I can see what the writers are getting at, but I don't necessarily agree. You can only have Frank shoot a mugger or drug dealer in the face so many times before it gets old. Variety is a character's lifeblood afterall.
(Image taken from UncleElio's sig, hope he doesn't mind)
In Frank's time in the MU he's had his share of out there foes; he's fought Tombstone, Bullseye, Jigsaw, Bushwacker, The Hand, The Russian (original flavor and cups runneth over man-boob edition!), a toxic mutant hippie zombie guy (Punisher: POV), BoneBreaker and more. Until Matt Fraction returned Frank to the main universe, Garth Ennis had extensive time on the character and he was portrayed in a realistic, but somewhat entertainingly over the top manner.
On the subject of Matt Fraction, from visiting various forums and hearing reader opinion, his take on Frank was...not exactly loved. While I liked some things, the main thing that I did heavily enjoy was Frank's movement into the 21 century. Now, I like Frank as a thinking, tactical man; a man who takes down fantastical threats with superior thinking and even more superior weaponry. Though, there comes a time when no amount of plotting and a magnum can stop Galactus. Frank upgrading his arsenal was a brilliant move and one I feel needs to stay in some form with all future renditions of 616 universe Punisher.
I know many Punisher fans like him strictly realistic (being only as weird as real life can allow, but nothing more) and while I do as well, like it or not, he was introduced in Spider-man, so I will always see him as part of a crazy world. Also I see it as a nice bit of fun and variety; I love Max for the gritty and realistic world but I also enjoy some science fiction elements in mainstream adventures.
Now, back to Franken Castle. This idea was certainly different. Fan opinion has been split quite considerably. Now my opinion on it doesn't really matter now that it is over, but I feel that since I'm talking and blabbing so much I might as well present my thoughts. I found Dark Reign: Punisher- The List (grawwwl! Long title hurt Shockdingo's brain!) to be a rather good read and I did like Frank's final narration to Maria. Knowing what was coming I wasn't exactly excited, but morbidly curious....pun not intended.
So as we know Frank is butchered by Daken, soon is resurrected by the Legion of Monsters and he becomes a warrior of their ranks to defeat the Genocidal samurais led by Hellsgaard- a fellow man of tragedy like Frank, only he is indiscriminate in what he kills as long as it falls under the broad terminology of “Monster.” 4thLetter.net's Gavok also wrote about Franken Castle recently, and I was partially inspired by his entry. He made an interesting point about Hellsgaard; he “hunts down monsters who may or may not [act as such] ”, thus if it appears unsightly, he will kill it, even if it is innocent having spilled no blood, or even...a child.
Well, this was way different than what I was expecting and initially I hated this with a vengeance because it was so...wrong. One of the most common arguments I ran into from supporters of this direction (whether they were previous fans of Frank or not) was “It's the Marvel Universe, weird things happen. If you want realism, go read Max.” That did not fly with me, and here is why:
-I enjoy the weirder Punisher tales, after all during Ennis' run, I thoroughly loved all of the appearances of the Russian and the lovable “It's bears!” decapitation scene.
-A bizarre occurrence isn't the main issue here, rather it's the dramatic shifting of surroundings and interactions for Frank
Frank being resurrected as a cyborg would have been easier for me to swallow, even if a mystical source was used, that would have been fine. It's just that suddenly taking him from the world of criminals, sadists and mercs (super powered or otherwise) and then having him deal with pulp monsters was way too much of a shift for me. I compared it to throwing Thor into a 1920s Noir story, or having Daredevil in all the cosmic stories; I'm talking dealing with the Phalanx, Brood and such, or better yet, have Hercules powerless in a spaghetti western like setting. It's just baffling and weird.
Regardless of how I felt, this was still here and moving forward. I eventually cooled down and just went along for the ride, enjoying moments of awesome as they appeared. Eventually I calmed down considerably and something clicked in my mind.
Frank finally died. He was killed in battle like he always expected to be, not killed by his own hand as previously seen in Zombisher, but actually killed. He dies, all goes to black, and nothing. He is cheated. He doesn't get to see his family again in heaven, he doesn't even get a final angry berating from God. He just goes to black and wakes up as this monstrosity. Oh, on the subject of why I even bothered to mention the possibility of someone like Frank Castle going to heaven, I actually had a lengthy discussion with my sister about how one could controversially argue that Frank's actions could be seen as pardonable or even begrudgingly accepted, but that's another story for another day.
Anyways, with that, I was itching to see some deep personal reflection on Frank after finally having his chapter close, only for it to be forcefully opened, then having notebook and toilet paper crudely glued to the very back cover and completing the desecration with crayon scribbles on said paper. Sadly, this never came.
As things came and went, I saw interesting concepts, and just waited to see what would come next: a showdown with Hellsgaard, revenge against those that got away, and a brief crossover with Daken and the cancukually ubiquitous Wolverine! Then we get the expected issue of Frank healing and returning to “normal” and going back into business.
Personally, I was expecting a lot more from the issue, but sadly, it felt rushed. We didn't get reflection; we didn't get insight from Frank or the Legion of monsters, or Henry. This long and insane journey ends with nothing more than a shallow "We're Done" and "The End." Seriously. Look around. It just ends and then sets up for the “In the Blood Mini” in the following non connected backup story.
So where does that leave Frank? Well, he's going to be in a 5 part mini series as Rick Remender exits the Punisher world for some time and he's set to appear in the newest rendition of Heroes for Hire. After that, I have no idea.
Personally, I hope it's not back to an ultra realistic rendition set in the 616 ignoring some of the weirder aspects of the MU. As I previously said, I enjoyed parts of Remender and Fraction's contributions, and I think we can balance Frank's real and bizarre worlds to make some interesting stories. Some of my suggestions are the following (the below are revisions of my post from SuperHeroHype, don't worry, no plagiarism from me!) :
-Keep Henry; I like Frank with a supporting cast, even if it's a cast of one. I also like how they play off of each other in the main Punisher books as well as the Suicide Kings Deadpool mini.
You see this?!
More of this could be great in my opinion (though you all out there may not agree). Personally, I like Anti-Venom and hope that Brock never returns to the world of villainy in the comics. I think he's made interesting progress, and to return to the same old with maybe a few twists (He kills Mary Jane! Lol! He Kills Aunt May! Lol He kills Black Cat! Chortle) would be massive regression on his part. But I feel I may cover that in my next blog, if this current entry of mine isn't a total disaster. Anyways, I always enjoyed Frank interacting with the super beings of the MU, though I don't want to go the Ennis route and make other fellow heroes constantly look like jackass douchebag losers. Also, humor isn't alien to the world of the Punisher; Ennis employed quite a nice balance of seriousness, absurdity, and black humor.
Back to Henry, he gives Frank more than intel and weapons, he gives him interaction and some life. Frank constantly being alone can't be healthy, also, it's interesting to add someone who may have reservations to certain decisions and a new perspective. A supporting cast is a shot of life every character needs; keep Henry around, killing him off is a ridiculous waste of a good concept and ally.
-If the "no more mutants" hadn't happened I would have explored the world of MGH; Mutant Growth Hormone. You could mix together a traditional Punisher story arc with some MU craziness. Have Punisher investigate a rise in kidnappings from a mutant community, have him find they are trying to synthesize more potent MGH from the live subjects. Chaos and Awesomeness entail. Many Punisher stories deal with kidnappings and abductions, having it deal with mutants is a good way to slowly crossover a realistic issue that Frank diffuses with a fantastical issue.
-First and foremost, for the love of all that's holy, build up his enemies, let Frank have his own baddies, not hand me downs; these days he's often going after other character's enemies and not ones he faces constantly or originals made just for him. Of course with Frank being a “take no prisoners” vigilante, he's not often going to have recurring baddies, but there are ways to have him deal with his own brand of foes. I.E. Finally have the Maggia, like Frank, catch up to the 21st century. Sure there's still the traditional dudes who are steeped in the old ways, and even the dudes who operate in modern capacity but with classic iconography (I believe Silvermane employed advanced tech and maybe had services from Justin Hammer, could be wrong though), but also let there be those who embrace the new worlds; arenas of gene therapy, human/mutant/Atlantean/Skrull trafficking and prostitution, new synthesized drugs and weapons. It's the MU, the capacity for bizarre and manic vices introduced could be infinite. I remember in Spider-man: Marvel Knights, there were super powered prostitutes etc. Electro was with a shapeshifter. In a world of advanced technology, I can see new, incredibly addictive and dangerous drugs being manufactured and spread to hook victims in the Marvelverse. Looking across the internet, people have....interesting tastes and fetishes; employing that mindset but with criminal influence, trafficking of mutants (human looking or otherwise) is a concept that I'm surprised hasn't been utilized more in X-men books or with other street level heroes who deal with this subject manner. One of my newer interests has been X-23, her as a working girl was part of a new world of mutant subcultures that was sadly knee-capped when the “brilliant” decision to lower the mutant population was made. Other species exist in this wacky place. Heck, lets say there are Skrulls (or even any sort of non terrestrial refuge) kidnapped from some SHIELD facility or an equivalent, and trafficked for a variety of reasons. Frank may be investigating one case and come upon such a thing, questioning whether he should do anything about creatures who in a previous intergalatic conflict tried to raze the Earth and ultimately having him deciding that this isn't a justifiable fate.
Now looking at my above point, you may ask, “Hey, Shockdingo, where'd you get such a stupid name?” Wait...no, the other question! “Oh yea, hey, Shockdingo, didn't you say you hated something similar? Frank dealing with monsters is pretty weird, wouldn't alien prostitutes be weirder?”
Well you got me there. One of the things that somewhat made me start accepting Franken Castle was a statement a few supporters said; “Hey, he's still defending the weak from the evil, but it's just a new community he's not used to” That's a valid point. I think taking that concept and running with it has a lot of mileage, but the most effectiveness can come from wrapping it in with our world and its related issues. Things that disgust and bring us to tears about the real world. Mixing the two worlds under the correct writer can make for a beautiful series of stories. Ultimately tying this to crime will make Frank's addition to the story more acceptable.
-Now, going with the above new world for Frank, you could even give Frank some new connections, maybe a cop (SHIELD agent?) who is part of a newly formed task force to investigate some of the weirder goings on in the MU, is a sympathetic ally to Frank and at times could offer him intel and supplies to him and Henry.
I do seriously believe Punisher can work fantastically in the craziness of the MU without losing his touch. Apply some realism to fantastical worlds and you've got gold. In a place like the MU you definitely would see mixing of realms; Daredevil holds things close to an “acceptable” level of realism, but there have been villains, mystical ninjas, MGH and other amazing things featured within his pages. You can have Frank in his element but in new and refreshing ways. You can still have a pretty realistic story, but also have some that are tipping over into crazy. With a new FACE of crime you can still have Frank rack up the body count of his new rogues without fear of people complaining about another series' baddie being killed.
Dressing up Frank himself in new weirdness can result in something gimmicky and this may even lead to him straying from his source and transforming into a new character entirely. Frank is the guy who tackles the issues that other heroes are too busy to look at, much to their dismay. Let him keep an eye on such things, but have them rapidly evolve. With all the villains getting defeated and or desperate for cash, it's highly unlikely that some amazing gadget, service, serum or substance wouldn't trickle its way into the shady underbelly of crime. There are great and amazing stories that can be told with Frank holding a uzi, or an automatic sword-gun. Dread, a user from SuperHeroHype once compared Frank to The Venture Brothers' Brock Samson
He is an incredible badass who is a relatively realistic guy in a world of madness, he triumphs by being strong (like SCARY STRONG©), a fantastic fighter who fears no man, and doesn't recognize the concept of pain. (Sound familiar?)
I don't think we should feel wary of something new for Frank, but to the writers, I say, don't get carried away. Look at what made previous stories work, and build on that. My fear is that if we continue with the same old same old stories for Frank, he could become stale, and may vanish into limbo once more. I don't want to see this happen.
Recently I read Marvel Universe vs. The Punisher and enjoyed it. It felt like Frank and it didn't have to compromise anything vital to Frank in order to work.
Thanks for reading guys be sure to see you next time. So this entry...Loved it? Liked it? Hated it? Want to kick my dog, or even give me a dog just so you can kick it and watch me burst into tears? Let me know why in the comments.
All the best,