Frank Castle and the Marvel Universe

November 25th, 2009 by | Tags: , , , , , ,

Solo #7 was originally supposed to have a cover by Mike Allred that depicted the 1960’s Adam West incarnation of Batman dancing the Batusi. It was replaced with Wonder Girl doing the same pose. One of the rumors as to why it was scrapped was that Dan Didio wants to put the kibosh on emphasizing the West-style Batman due to beliefs that West’s portrayal ruined the character for many decades up until Dark Knight Returns returned him to form. You get the idea: you can’t take a man dressed as a bat with underwear over his pants seriously if you’re reminded of that show where Cesar Romero painted over his mustache.

Is it true? Probably not. Batman: The Brave and the Bold is very Dick Sprang Batman and Sprang’s take on the Caped Crusader is practically brothers with Adam West Batman. Then again, I’m not sure if Didio had any real say in that.

But the precedent is there. There are fans out there who seem so stuck in their ways that to even portray their beloved character in a different tone offends them. That’s the case with the current Rick Remender Punisher storyline, Franken-Castle.

People HATE this image and all it represents. If you’re seeing this for the first time, chances are you might be thinking, “What the hell is this shit?!”

It’s awesome, that’s what it is.

The backstory is that Norman Osborn has gotten sick of Frank Castle trying to kill him and the Hood, so he sent some HAMMER goons and Daken to take care of him. This leads to a fight on a rooftop where Daken not only kills Frank, but CUTS HIM TO PIECES AND THROWS HIS REMAINS DOWN TO THE STREETS BELOW!

You have to give it to Frank, because most temporary hero deaths are never that horrific. Like, when Superman died, he was just Superman with blood on his mouth and his cape torn. Green Arrow was vaporized in an explosion with no gruesome trace. Deadpool melted in his spandex. Spider-Man sort of just collapsed after stabbing a vampire with his claws that everyone forgot about. None of them got CHOPPED TO PIECES.

As an aside, I love how Daken killing Castle adds to the Daken/Bullseye rivalry. In the Marvel world context, icing the Punisher is really the best comparable thing to taking out Elektra.

Now with Frank Castle in pieces and as dead as you can get, the story continues. Of all the Marvel characters who could have shown up, Man-Thing and a pack of moloids grab all of Frank, kill some HAMMER guys, and make their way to Monster Island. Morbius the Living Vampire stitches Frank up, but Frank awakens before he could finish the treatment and crazy shit ensues. All of this because there is a group of cybernetic samurai dudes out to commit monster genocide and they need Frank to set things right.

I love this.

I’ve seen people shit on it because it spits in the face of the down-to-earth MAX stuff, made famous by Garth Ennis. This is, of course, ignoring that the Punisher first appeared in comics as being hired by a crazy old man dressed as a green goblin who had to call himself the Jackal because there was already a Green Goblin. Or how Ennis has written some crazy stuff with Frank, such as everything relating to the Russian.

Honestly, it reminds me of when the Thomas Jane Punisher movie came out. There were people all pissy about how they put in the scene where Frank interrogates a mob flunky by poking him with a popsicle even though that was an actual scene from the comics.

Looking back at Ennis’ pre-MAX takes on the Punisher dealing with superheroes and the like, I find it contradicting to what I enjoy about Punisher/616 stories. Frank Castle is a street level down-to-earth killer of common trash and mobsters. If 616 is a comedy of a world, then Frank Castle is the straight man. Unfortunately, Ennis gets too deep into how cool and above everyone Frank is to make this work. He’s too in control of the world around him, such as how he “tamed” the Hulk into doing his dirty work.

A good example of Frank in 616 done right is Robert Kirkman’s Marvel Team-Up #8. As a backdrop to a storyline involving the Ringmaster, the Punisher finds Blade spying on a meeting between mob guys. Punisher at one point shoots Blade, but due to his vampire physiology, it doesn’t do much damage. Frank figures it’s due to some heavy-duty Kevlar. Frank listens to Blade drone on and on about how one of the parties below is made up of vampires and how Blade and Frank are kindred spirits in their own personal missions. Frank silently believes Blade to be full of shit until the vampires start feeding. How does Frank take it?

It’s great because you can tell Frank wants life to be as simple as it is in the MAX world. It’s just as black and white with the good guys and bad guys, but there are no goddamn powers to mess with the order of things. Honestly, I wouldn’t put it past Frank to harbor some racism towards mutants, just for making his way of life so much more complicated.

I think the idea of doing something radical with the Punisher has been made taboo due to two things. First, is the Punishment story from about ten years ago. I haven’t read it, but by all accounts it’s horrible, meaning I kind of have to read it at some point. For those who don’t know, Frank dies and becomes like the Marvel version of the Spectre, but with guns made out of ectoplasm or what-have-you. It was a failure and Ennis abruptly wrote it off like a guy trying to change the subject of an annoying conversation.

That led to the second thing: Ennis’ MAX run. It was so iconic for the Punisher that you couldn’t think of Frank as anything more than a Bradstreet cover depiction in a gritty, real-world setting.

It was actually a big deal when Frank showed himself in Civil War and it was announced that Matt Fraction would be writing his new Punisher: War Journal series because that wasn’t proper. I thought the series was pretty good for the most part. Once Howard Chaykin took over the art it became nigh unreadable, but hey, at least Jigsaw looked right.

What made it work was Frank’s response to the craziness of the Marvel world. He’s overtaken with tiny robots and prays that he doesn’t die in a way this stupid. He disguises himself as a bartender and attends a supervillain funeral, only to stare at the events bewildered as he bides his time. When the current Kraven the Hunter kidnaps him and forces him to fight a series of animal-based villains who have been broken and brainwashed into acting like their respective animal avatars, Frank can only growl, roll his eyes and say, “I hate everybody.”

Other than the art, the main flaw of Fraction’s run was that Frank was too nice. It worked well for the World War Hulk tie-in, but making Frank a forgiving jokester probably wasn’t for the best.

That’s why I’ve been loving Rick Remender’s run on Punisher. It goes further into the realm of the comic book fantastic, but makes Frank less likeable. It does make sense in the narrative, I suppose. His partner and friend Stuart Clarke turned out to be a killer, which led to a major falling out. That would easily return a guy like Frank to cynicism.

A perfect moment in all of this is Frank’s exchange with his new tech wiz sidekick Henry. Henry is sick of how cold Frank is and asks if he even knows why he’s helping Frank in his war against crime. Frank tells him that he doesn’t want to know because he doesn’t want to care. It’s an interesting line that can be taken at least one of two ways. Either Frank doesn’t want to get attached to Henry, knowing that he’s going to get killed somewhere along the way, or he doesn’t want to get attached to Henry, knowing that he will eventually betray him like Micro and Stuart. The more he knows about the kid, the more likely he is to find some skeleton in the closet that will make him one of Frank’s targets, shades of what happened with Stuart. This proves true when Frank discovers that Henry is really the abused bastard son of Jigsaw and immediately cuts ties with him because there’s a strong chance the kid is out to avenge his father’s death.

Back to Punisher MAX, one interesting story that came out of it was Frank fighting Barracuda over the life of Frank’s newly-discovered baby daughter. Frank wins and has a living, breathing daughter, but he’s too far gone for it to matter. He gives it away and continues his life. It’s good because it challenges Frank’s character to put him in a situation like this.

Remender’s comic challenges it even further by using the science fiction and fantasy elements. Frank Castle will refuse a new family member, but what of his old family members? Prior to the Franken-Castle stuff, the first ten issues lead to a major confrontation between Frank and the Hood. The Hood has been shown to be able to resurrect people from the dead (though at a cost). Microchip is back. The Scourge’s supervillain victims are back. If Frank lets up, he’ll even bring his wife and kids back.

By the tenth issue, Frank is given the offer one last time with the bodies ready for resurrection. Microchip is there, of course, working for the Hood in return for his son’s return. All that’s needed is the sacrifice of Frank’s comrade George Washington Bridge. Frank tries to stop the ritual, but Micro shoots Bridge and puts everything in motion. How does Frank take it?

Man, say what you will about some of the art in those panels, but that is utterly chilling. There is so much that can be said about this situation and his reaction to it. Why did he kill them? Is it because they represent something he can no longer be? Is it because they wouldn’t love him anymore? Is it because their very being pushes forward what a monster he is? Is it because his existence as the Punisher would be deemed pointless? Is it because he couldn’t bear to see them involved in the Hood’s demonic magic? Is it because he feels like he’s making a deal with the devil himself and needs to defy that, even if he’s already damned? Is it because the idea of bringing back anyone, even his own beloved and innocent family, is unnatural?

If Remender has his way, I’m sure this scene will be defining for Frank for years. It’s refreshing when a hero makes a decision like this. It may not be right and the reader may not agree with it, but the hero himself might not agree either once there’s a chance to reflect. This is going to haunt the bejeezus out of Frank and it’s already begun.

616 Frank Castle is currently interesting as hell and he’s finding himself in a world of utter ridiculousness. I can’t wait to see where Franken-Castle goes next and I suggest giving it a chance.

Or, if that fails, you can just stick with Punisher MAX.

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29 comments to “Frank Castle and the Marvel Universe”

  1. I only read issue 10 last night, although I was already semi-spoilered on #11 and The List, so no harm done. It didn’t surprise me that Frank would reject the chance to have his family back, what did surprise me was that he would be willing to torch them like that seconds after they were resurrected. You think he wouldn’t want them to suffer a violent death again.

    Also, The Hood brought Turner D. Century back from the dead, but I don’t remember him being used further in this arc. Did he die in an issue I haven’t read?

  2. I didn’t like the story, per se, but I’m not in the least bit outraged at this happening. Tony Moore is pretty well-suited to doing it, though.

  3. I read the run I enjoyed it, the thing I don’t like about Franken-Castle is the midnight sons depicition. They just came off as supreme badass in their last appearance in Marvel Zombies, a comic which should end before we see Marvel Zombie Summer Swimsuit foil enhaced edition, but now them seem like totally pansies. It just hope the can explain it.

  4. “Or, if that fails, you can just stick with Punisher MAX.”

    Frank Castle vs an Amish with a sledgehammer

  5. I think the lamest criticisms have been that the Frankencastle idea doesn’t fit for the Punisher & none of it matters anyway since he will just come back to life one way or another.

    talk about unimaginative & pedantic.

  6. @seth hurley:

    In the comments section of the-isb, someone brought this up and Sims listed every single instance that 616 Punisher was in a ludicrously sci-fi/mystical setting even in more “edgy” runs

  7. @Nathan November

    I saw that In The Core Marvel Universe post right after I posted here.

    Pretty much my point exactly.

  8. @Nathan

    ha ha sorry, I put November in there. Thought it was your name, not the date.


  9. My only dissatisfaction was the portrayal of the “Monsters” as just like plain old ugly people oppressed because they are hideous. I would have preferred the dangerous and animalistic or EVIL creatures. What I am seeing thus far are moms and their kids sitting in a Jokertown pew of the Jesus Christ-Joker church.

  10. Yeah… listen. I’m willing to give Frankencastle a chance. However, I found the whole Frank-vs-The Hood thing in Remender’s run to be… unpleasant.

    To me, this just feels like a ham-fisted attempt to fit the Punisher into the 616 universe without people asking questions. I don’t really see why though. I thought he fit in pretty well for a while. But, of course, people just could NOT stop bitching about how a normal guy in the marvel universe could fit into the regular universe and go toe-to-toe with regular heroes.

    By the way, how are Daredevil and Captain ‘Bucky’ America doing?

  11. Remender lost me even before the Chaykin stuff – I just thought Punisher was a boring superhero book that read like early 2000s Wildstorm/Image, and while that didn’t appeal to me then and doesn’t now, I did keep buying out of habit, even when the Hood stuff dragged on for ages.

    Now Frankencastle’s hit and I’m not sure what the fuss is either way. I find it still reads like one or two ideas unconvincingly stretched out to fill a book, but Frank’s been in dumber stories than this that had – paradoxically – a much simpler concept, as while Frankencastle is consistent with the internal logic of a universe the Punisher – a dude with a costume and a brand – inhabits, I would consider that time he became a black guy to be far more ill-advised.

  12. My sole reaction to that cover: I don’t think I have ever seen a more obscured logo on a comic book.

    I mean, I know there’s a P, and E and an R on there, but ALL BETS ARE OFF in the middle.

  13. @AlLoggins
    “Remender lost me even before the Chaykin stuff”
    Remender came after the Chaykin stuff

  14. That Solo issue by Allred was so boss, especially the Batman story. Loved Alfred’s lines in that one.

  15. I can’t find that issue of solo for love nor money. The Tim Sale one either. That was a really great series. I’ve managed to pick up about half the issues, but they’re obviously the less popular ones. I wish they’d reprint or something. I can’t see how the cover of Solo would distort people’s perception of the Bat though, as I think about 4 people read it.

    I wasn’t going to get Frankencastle as I thought it sounded stupid, but I’ve kind of warmed to the idea now and might pick it up for the sheer fun madness of the concept. I didn’t read either of the latest 616 Punisher books, I prefer to just dip my toe into the MAX stuff from time to time. Too much Punisher gets repetitive, so why not have fun with the 616 version now that MAX is totally out of continuity?

    Frank in 616 is a joke if he can’t be allowed to kill anyone, he’s totally neutered when going up against established characters, so what’s the point in keeping him in continuity if all he’s allowed to do is fail? It’s like Leonardo’s sword deflecting lasers but never actually cutting anything in the old Turtles cartoon.

  16. @Jerk: Frank worked in 616 for years, but as of Dark Reign, he had to change. It’s an escalation thing. For years, the underworld was run by a human being who was untouchable to even Frank, but still pulled off regular crime on a human level and rarely dabbled in the superhuman. Wilson Fisk allowed the Punisher to fit in and make sense.

    Now the Hood is in charge and the NYC underworld is mostly superhuman. Frank had no choice but to step up with the ridiculous hero/villain gadgets. The problem of the story is that we knew going in that Frank wasn’t going to kill the Hood or Osborn. Remender went the surprising route by having Frank die instead.

    @Valhallahan: The Hood arc found a way around that. Back in the day, there was this Punisher-esque mystery vigilante named Scourge who killed off a couple dozen C-list villains. The Hood has resurrected them so they’ll live for another couple months. He tells them that Frank Castle IS Scourge and that they don’t take him out, he won’t complete their resurrections and will instead let them expire. So that at least gives him some targets to play around with.

  17. http://www.comicsalliance.com/2009/11/24/true-stories-of-the-core-marvel-universe/

  18. You’re putting a lot of weight of your argument into the MAX series, and certainly, you have good reason to do so. But you also ignored decades of stories that crafted and fine-tuned the expectations of Frank Castle in the 616 universe. When the Punisher was being published back in the 80s and 90s, he was in three running titles and in numerous annuals. Some of those stories defined him, like Circle of Blood, and others people just do not talk about. But in virtually all those years of stories, the connecting theme is that Frank Castle is a determined, adaptable human being bent on punishing the guilty. Take away a critical part of that engine, and people will have serious problems recognizing it as part of the patchwork of the character’s history and themes.

    Years of stories can’t be hand-waved by saying Frank premiered by fighting Spider-Man being manipulated by the Jackel. Tons of superheroes today are not compatible with their original versions. Batman doesn’t shoot gangsters to death and Wonder Woman isn’t into bondage anymore. That’s okay, they changed and grew into more recognizable directions and foundations.

    And no one is saying Frank can’t be a part of the craziness in the 616. You mentioned Frank fighting the Russian, vampires and Wolverine in 616, but he’s reluctantly fought far weirder things in the past. However, he’s fought them as a soldier and as a human. Just because Marvel wants Frank more entrenched in 616 doesn’t mean the story has to go off the rails.

    And honestly, even with all this, I don’t hold it against people for liking FrankenCastle, and I still like Remender as a writer. But this move is just baffling to me, and even though this is obviously temporary, gimmicks like this get repeated if they are even moderately successful, and that’s the real troubling issue to me.

  19. Awesome post, Gavok

    Awesome comment, Dane.*

    Together, you two seem to have said everything that ever made me useful in life. Now I’m going to end it all on the day after Thanksgiving. I hope you’re proud of yourselves.

    Before I commit suicide by reading the worst comic in the world – the Illuminati ish where the Beyonder is “revealed” to be a #$^ & MUTANT…

    Let me just redundantly say that Frank’s demise was “awesomer” than I could have ever dreamed* – enough to create a new comparative form. Even if he returns, I feel that return, unlike so many others, will have come at great cost (or, more precisely, his demise did).

    Further redundantly, I state that the stories which validate the Franken Castle concept are the same stories that portend its place in four-color history.

    But that’s ok. I got to read a kick-ass Punisher story.

    * – since I was lucky enough to not be spoiled in any way, at all, prior to reading it

  20. @Probe: It all ran together to me, I’m afraid. It makes little difference that Remender writes like Matt Fraction off his game if I wasn’t that into Matt Fraction off his game.

    Though obviously that’s just my opinion – plenty are happy enough with it and that’s surely the only prerequisite for going out and buying a comic book?

  21. Let’s be clear here; the Beyonder was revealed as not just a regular mutant, but an Inhuman mutant. Somehow that makes it even dumber.

  22. Going of topic a bit but about the Beyonder stuff I don’t really think the Bendis hate is fair, he has only changed one small thing:

    Since the shitty retcon in that random FF issue where it was said that The Beyonder was just a portion of a cosmic cube that go caught half in our dimension, it was known a small portion appeared as Owen Reese and the larger half manifested as “the Beyonder”.

    After the cube energy was reunited into the Kosmos being or whatever she travelled with Kubik before ‘she’ was finally killed in “Thanos 1-12”.

    However it has since been revealed that Owen Reese still exists in some form AND as a powerful Meta-Human.

    So ALL Bendis is doing is saying that the Inhuman mutant with the Jerri Curl still exists AS WELL as Owen.

    That’s only one small additional element. He is saying the guy from Secret Wars 2 is a “real guy” like Owen Reese not a construct like we previously thought. That’s not a big change or leap really and doesn’t contradict as much as you may think.

    On the Frank stuff.

    yes Frank has had stories that work in 616 but they usually have been against human original characters. OR you can have him be neutered like wolverine is. You have three choices when writing Frank.

    A) Have his 616 stories have no relevance to the current MU. (Which is made redundant by MAX anyway which already does this but better)
    B) Have him be neutered. Remember when he blew up the bar with no name? Cool yes? But did you also remember the issue of She-Hulk where it said “all the attendants had to be treated for third degree burns and have their stomachs pumped” Thus invalidating the whole story yeh I remember that. Lame.
    C) Go in a radically different direction e.g. Frankencastle

    Option C gets my vote, A) Is covered by MAX, B) has become stale. Frankencastle was pretty much the ONLY way it could go.

  23. @John Foley: Too true.

  24. @West:

    As corny as it can be to combine the two races, kind of mary suish, (as parodied well here http://risachantag.deviantart.com/art/DBZ-Incoming-8433061) to be a mutant AND an inhuman it does work to explain how powerfull he is/was, a inhuman or an omega mutant alone would just not be enough.

    But then I loved the entire illuminati series so I guess I’m always in the minority seeing as I liked civil war, my Hulks Green, their Spider-Mans married and talk like Bendis dialogue in real life.

  25. @Dane

    Yeah, Wonder Woman isn’t into bondage any more. *looks around shiftily*

    A piece of advice: it’s always the person who you’d least expect. Just because her stories aren’t soaked in BDSM imagery, it doesn’t mean that she’s gone cold turkey. After all, she still has an unbreakable piece of rope and the ability to hoist a man in the air by his wrists or ankles. There’s a lot that can be done with those two things…

  26. well, the idea is fun, and the art is good, but he’s still a fictional serial killer.

  27. Only dumbasses like the person who wrote this crap likes this type shit and only would a dumb fuck like this would think that the MAX Punisher is too deep. I’m a fan of the Punisher but I hate the so-called fan base. Most Punisher fans are as dumb as hell… I mean this is a group of people who likes such crap like this and the 1989, 2004 and 2009 Punisher film… what a fan base…

    The 616 Punisher has been put though just about every dumb idea that has ever come out of Marvel. Although the MAX Punisher and the Punisher 616 is the same world. People who say there different worlds made that up themselves.

  28. Haha, look at this little guy. Isn’t he adorable?

  29. Nope!