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Franken-Castle: A Look Back at Rick Remender’s Graveyard Smash

October 7th, 2010 by | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Just last week, Rick Remender’s infamous Franken-Castle story arc had come to a close. Never have I seen a more divisive reaction to the character’s developments in all his history. At least with his whole Punishment Spectre-lite run, just about everyone hated it. I thought the whole Frankenstein concept was interesting and fun and I’ve seen many agree with me, but I’ve seen just as many hate it with the fury of a million Nick Furys. My local comic shop for months had a bulletin board with nothing up it other than Punisher #11 with a sign over it saying, “DISGRACE!” I kept forgetting to lovingly lick the covers of whatever Punisher issue I was buying while at the register.

Since Matt Fraction took up the character in Punisher: War Journal, Frank Castle has become more and more involved in the greater Marvel Universe. Outside of Jigsaw being killed off (and then being replaced with another guy taking up the mantle several issues later), not much carried over into Rick Remender’s Punisher run other than his latest injection into the superhero scene. The problem was that the Dark Reign banner put Frank’s writing in a corner. With Osborn and Hood in charge of things, he obviously had to be itching to take care of them, but even as the protagonist, he can’t. There’s far too much plot armor to work through. So how does one write a story about Frank Castle being completely impotent as an unstoppable vigilante?

The first ten issues of Punisher and the one Annual take their time to get to something super-strong. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun bunch of issues, but the first five-issue arc is so closely melted into the second five-issue arc that there doesn’t appear to be much more than wheels spinning in place. There is one piece of interest in all this in the introduction of supporting character Henry Russo. Henry is a young hacker who tracks down Frank and makes himself the third man to take the role of Punisher’s tech-savvy sidekick. I really like Henry and want to see more from him. Thankfully, he’s gotten play in other stories like Deapdool: Suicide Kings and Anti-Venom: New Ways to Live.

Yes, yes. I’ll get to the next We Care a Lot soon. I promise.

Despite the borderline feeling of redundancy in the opening couple stories, things finally pay off in the end when Hood tries to buy off Frank by resurrecting his family. Panicked beyond belief, Frank forces a resurrected flame-based villain to fry his family’s resurrected bodies (as well as the resurrected Microchip’s resurrected son). We may never know if he was truly right in doing so, but it’s something he’ll hold onto until the next writer forgets about it.

Also of note is that Frank discovers that Henry is really the estranged son of the original Jigsaw and wordlessly leaves him behind in response. I dig this part because you can understand each side on this. Frank’s had a bad track record with tech sidekicks as is, so Henry was already on thin ice. Finding out he’s the son of a man Frank maimed and later killed means keeping him around is only asking for trouble. After all, why the hell was he keeping this a secret? But for Henry, there’s plenty of reason for him to feel outright betrayed. Remender gets to that later.

Things go from interesting to downright shocking in Punisher: The List, where Osborn’s had enough of Frank’s shit and sends Daken off to take care of him. Daken’s been needing a bit of a rub to make him more to the world than Marvel vs. Capcom 2 Bone-Claw Wolverine, so he gets to do this.

Ouch. There you go. Frank’s dead. Not for long, though! The cover for Punisher #11 is revealed and much discussion is had. My own reaction was more cautiously optimistic. At best, it could be a fun-as-hell status quo with ridiculous shit that shows another angle on what makes the character work. At worst, it would be something to make fun of. Considering how outrageous the concept is, I’d be satisfied either way.

Let’s look at the Franken-Castle experiment one step at a time. First is the opening six issue arc with Tony Moore taking the brunt of the art. Daken tossed the chopped up remains of Frank off the side of a building and when some HAMMER goons try to find the pieces, they meet up with a handful of Moloids. Moloids are the easiest to kill of all villain fodder, but they have Man-Thing standing up for them! There’s something great about the enigmatic swamp monster having the backs of the meek creatures that it would never meet up with in any other story. Man-Thing takes care of the HAMMER soldiers, allowing the Moloids to scamper off with the pieces of Frank.

Frank wakes up enraged to find Morbius the Living Vampire panicking over how he isn’t finished yet. Frank, out of his mind, strangles Morbius, demanding to know what he did to him. Morbius points to the mirror to his side.

And here… we… go.

Franken-Castle goes on a rampage, dealing with all the new supporting characters as a way of introduction. They’re mostly mainstay Marvel monsters different between those I know, those I know of and those I had never heard of. Werewolf by Night is the cynical, angry one who wants Castle dead ASAP. Man-Thing is the loyal and trusting mute soldier. Living Mummy is the wisest and calmest of them all. Manphibian (he’s not in this sequence, but I might as well mention him) shares Living Mummy’s compassion, but is grounded to the point of being the most human one in their little civilization. Morbius is the leader and while he is the smartest of the monsters and is flawed in priorities, he suffers from a lack of any real characterization in Remender’s run. He comes off more as Morbius the Living Plot Device. He’s the reason Frank is put back together. He’s the reason the bad guy is after them. He’s the reason Frank goes back to normal later on. The only thing Morbius really gets out of this run is a quick badass scene in the sixth issue.

There is one other character, new and created for this story. Franken-Castle stumbles into an underground church of monsters and everyone runs for it, screaming in fear. The only one who stays put is the priest, who appears to look like a black, molten version of the Thing in a black robe. He speaks gospel to Frank, but the problem is that Frank’s mind is more broken than usual. As the Living Mummy and the Lava Priest each try to talk Frank down, each one randomly stumbles into a word or phrase that only proves to set Frank off even more. Living Mummy claims that the League of Monsters are Frank’s new family and the mere mention of “family” makes Frank remember his recent experiences with the Hood and Microchip. Lava Priest tells him about God’s plan and how God doesn’t make mistakes. I don’t need to tell you why Frank would take offense at that.

Then this over-the-top story takes another over-the-top turn. There’s more to the priest than meets the eye.

That giant lava monster has a lava tumor that is lava ordained. This is awesome.

Finally subdued, Frank is given a special pill that he has to take regularly to keep him from the Incredible Hulk mentality. Morbius gives the backstory and explains the strange events from the opening few pages, where Japanese men in cyber shogun outfits have been slaughtering innocent monsters under the orders of a man they call “Captain of Science”. The Hunters of Monster Special Force have shown up recently to eradicate any and all monsters. None of the superhero teams have come to the rescue, so the Legion of Monsters have banded together to gather survivors and bring them to the old Morlock tunnels under New York City. They need Frank for his military experience.

Despite seeing the bad condition of all the monsters, Frank decides that this isn’t his fight.

We get our first glance of our true villain, portrayed as a decrepit head in a glass jar atop a shadowy metal frame, as he and his Japanese minions torture a captured Manphibian. He refuses to tell them where the League of Monsters are hiding, but the Captain of Science shows that he doesn’t need his info. He already knows from torturing and murdering Manphibian’s children, which he proves by showing him the grizzly remains. Why did he do all this when he doesn’t need the information? Because he’s a dick.

Frank is still in the catacombs of the monster society’s land where he contemplates committing suicide to make up for what he did to his family’s reanimated bodies. He’s soon befriended by a Moloid child in a Devo shirt, who says nothing, but offers Frank chocolate and watches TV with him. He still isn’t going to help them, even though Living Mummy leads him around Monster Metropolis and shows him what’s at stake. One minor touch I really liked is how in one hallway is a painting of the original lineup of the Midnight Sons next to a more up-to-date painting of the Midnight Sons from Marvel Zombies 4.

This issue mainly shows off the Bloodstone, a cursed relic that the villain appears to be after. Morbius has been holding onto it, as it keeps his thirst for blood at bay. Part of him wants to find a safer place for it, but it’s quick to take control of his mind. The Lava Priest, who found the Bloodstone in the first place, warns him that they’re in great danger the longer he holds onto it, but it’s too late. The Hunters of Monster Special Force has arrived and they’re already killing. Morbius tries to hide the Bloodstone, but the armored Captain of Science, named Robert Hellsgaard, appears to overpower him and steal the stone for himself. He commands a minion to bring Morbius along for torture.

It’s been two issues so far and despite the ridiculous nature of what’s going on, there hasn’t been much in terms of action or, more importantly, punishment. It’s been a lot of concept building, but nothing in terms of payoff. Then the final two pages show us that we’re going to get some nice payoff very, very soon. Check this shit out.

The third issue is nothing but lots of ass kicking as well as kickass death scenes. Monster hunters are clawed to pieces. One is cut in half with a katana and doesn’t even realize it for a few seconds. A man gets a large gun barrel shoved down his throat, then a bomb shoved down the barrel, followed by having his body thrown at his fellow hunters.

The guy who gets it the worst is Yamato, the head lieutenant in Hellsgaard’s army. First he’s shot with several shells that are initially caught in his body armor. The shells transform into – I shit you not – drill spiders and burrow into his insides and make him cough up blood. When he tries to join his leader Hellsgaard in safety as his helicopter flies him away, Franken-Castle does the Fastball Special with Man-Thing.

Oh, Jesus. Frank is smiling.

It’s decided that even though this is all Morbius’ fault, they really need to go rescue him and get the Bloodstone back. It’ll make Hellsgaard near unstoppable and if they don’t nip this problem in the bud now, he’ll come back to destroy Monster Metropolis soon enough. To calm us down from all the action we just witnessed, we get an issue of Henry reciting the history of Robert Hellsgaard.

Henry mentions that Frank woke him up in the middle of the night with a shotgun poked to the ribs with Frank looking like he does, which is mostly played for laughs. That’ll come back into play later.

As it turns out, Hellsgaard isn’t regarded as a villain too often in the articles Henry finds. In some countries, he’s considered a total hero and has a following. The only damning file he can find is one belonging to the Howling Commandos from the failed monster-based relaunch of several years back.

Hellsgaard was a brilliant inventor born in the 1800’s. He returned to his village after a lengthy leave of absence to find the entire population dead. Everyone, including his wife and children, were mauled to death by werewolves. He ended up having to kill his werewolf wife with a silver knife and then went around killing every single one of them, or at least stabbing their human corpses before the infection could take. Since werewolves turn back to human when they die, he got the blame. Later he was rescued by famed monster hunter Ulysses Bloodstone.

The two became brothers in arms and killed a lot of monsters, but it only proceeded to increase Hellsgaard’s hunger. They came up with two ways to help rid the world of monsters more efficiently. One, Hellsgaard built a portal to limbo in order to toss the monsters prone to resurrection. Two, he created his own steampunk Iron Man armor with weaponry created specifically to kill certain monsters.

I should note that Dan Brereton takes the artist role in these flashback pages. The painted images are brilliantly done and feel like they belong to whatever genres the scenes reflect. When Hellsgaard and Bloodstone deal with Dracula, it looks like a classic 70’s Marvel Dracula story. When we later see some giant monsters in Japan, they look like giant rubber suits given life.

And yes, I mentioned Dracula. Probably the most amusing part of this retelling by Henry is how he refuses to get over Dracula being part of this. It’s like he’s breaking the fourth wall and telling us, “Look at this. I’m in a fucking Punisher story and I’m talking about Dracula as being a damned player in what’s going on! What is this?!”

Dracula found out about Hellsgaard’s new bag of tricks and had a fight with the two monster hunters. He ended up knocking the suited-up Hellsgaard into the portal and the poor bigot had to spend his time hanging out in limbo with nothing to do. The armor kept him alive somehow, albeit he did still age to an extent.

In the 70’s, Japan had a big problem with all those giant radioactive monsters tearing their cities apart. Yamato, the eventual victim of Man-Thing’s touch, discovered Hellsgaard’s notes. Soon, he and his scientist brethren started to idolize him. They traveled to Hellsgaard’s castle in the Alps, turned on the portal and brought him back to the land of the living. They bowed in his presence and worshipped him. Hellsgaard took to being their leader and helped exterminate all the giant creatures terrorizing Tokyo. Then they moved on to the vampires. Then they moved on to the other monsters. Basically, anything that qualified as a monster in their eyes. Then they went after morlocks, mutants and really ugly people.

Therein lies a problem.

“Robert Hellsgaard hates monsters! And he’s half monster! And he hates irony!”

“Robert Hellsgaard? I hear he goes about nine-feet-tall and weighs two and a half tons!”

“He’ll eat a hunchback if you dare him!”

“Are you guys talking about Robert Hellsgaard?! I KNOW Robert Hellsgaard!”

“Then let me buy you a round, Dracula!”

Sorry, lost track of where I was going with that. So yeah, dude’s pretty much a monster. Rather than accept that, he and his boys have been trying to find some way to heal him up and make him more human. That’s where the Bloodstone comes in. Not only will it bring him back to normal, but it’ll make him increasingly powerful and driven to kill.

There are two things I really like about this look at Hellsgaard. One, he’s an obvious foil for the Punisher. His family was murdered. Only he has the skills and insight available to take revenge. He’s brutal and won’t stop killing. The difference between the two is the difference between “monster” as a description of visual identity and “monster” as a description of behavior. Frank Castle hunts down humans who have monster behavior. Hellsgaard hunts down monsters who may or may not have such behavior. It doesn’t matter to him and by this point, the ratio has him skewing far more to the innocent victims.

That’s really the point of the whole Franken-Castle storyline. Dress him up in a silly appearance and have him interact with swamp creatures all you like, Frank Castle is still Frank Castle. Evil is still evil. Punishment is still punishment. Remender handed Frank’s fate some strange lemons, but Frank will make his lemonade regardless.

The other thing I like about Hellsgaard is that he doesn’t have to be strictly a Punisher villain. I genuinely think that he can be brought back and be used as a major player in the supervillain community. The guy murders mutants after all.

Roland Boschi fills in as artist for an issue and the art definitely takes a step or two down. His stuff isn’t so bad, outside of a couple odd facial expressions and how utterly awkward Franken-Castle’s body looks. It just lacks the punch of Moore’s work.

This issue is another action-based one where Frank sneaks off alone to rescue Morbius and Manphibian. The craziness keeps up as Frank flies in on a dragon and uses it to cause quite a body count. Then Nazi zombies show up out of nowhere and Frank has to fight them off with shotguns and machetes. Luckily, he’s able to keep them busy by feeding them some of Hellsgaard’s henchmen. While Frank does find Morbius and Manphibian, he’s then cornered by a Bloodstone-fueled Hellsgaard, setting up for the climax.

This last issue of the arc is a fantastic one, as it’s one big Franken-Castle vs. Hellsgaard boss fight. Morbius seems almost dead from torture and Manphibian gets shot in the head before screaming to Frank to avenge his children. Frank too is beaten, since his need for a pill is worsened by being completely outnumbered. Hellsgaard tosses Manphibian into the portal and prepares to do the same for Frank. Instead, Frank tears the head off one henchman and tosses the body onto the dying Morbius. It works out so the neck wound is right over Morbius’ face. Frank tackles Hellsgaard and they both end up in limbo.

Remember when I said Morbius got one cool scene?

The Hellsgaard fight is a good one. It starts off one-sided with Hellsgaard confident. As it continues, Frank keeps getting momentum and Hellsgaard keeps taking him back down. Yet each time, Hellsgaard becomes more and more dramatic. Though Frank isn’t 100% in terms of control over his body, he’s still able to mess with his head. Soon he’s doubting himself. Hellsgaard’s realizing that he might not live through this after all. This doubles when Frank is able to smash the glass covering Hellsgaard’s head.

With the two barely holding together, the fight isn’t won by either. It’s Manphibian who makes the victory his by climbing up the back of Hellsgaard’s armor and tearing him from the contraption. Though there’s a rather large hole in his head, Manphibian points out that his brain is in his neck. Frank prevents Manphibian from going the revenge route and instead they walk through the portal with the help of Morbius.

As Frank is carried out by the two men he was sent to save, he mentions that they should just leave Hellsgaard alone. The weak, old man thanks him for his showing of mercy. Frank takes a second to smirk at him. “Yeah right. …Mercy.” And we’re left with a shot of Hellsgaard kneeling next to his smoking armor, imprisoned in limbo yet again.

Those six issues were definitely a blast, but the arc was merely the honeymoon. Sadly, it’s over. At #17, the series goes from being Punisher to Franken-Castle, but the name change only adds to the disappointment. You see, the opening arc knows that transforming Frank is a risky maneuver, but goes out of the way to show reasons why it works. Afterwards, Franken-Castle’s existence is nearly secondary to the story.

The next two issues, with Roland Boschi and then Jefte Palo on art, are based on Frank getting back to business and hunting down those loose ends that Marvel can afford to let him kill. But first, we do get some good follow-up to the previous arc.

Frank’s body is in bad, bad shape. Morbius can’t fix him up like he inexplicably did before (seriously, I don’t think they ever did explain how he actually came back to life), so Living Mummy suggests using the Bloodstone. On one hand, it’ll gradually fix him up. On the other hand, it’ll make him too much of a handful if it goes to his head or – even worse – if he goes nuts from lack of pills. At least it’s a good place to keep it safe.

There’s a scene where Manphibian comes to tell him about a problem they have in light of their recent adventure. It’s a nice, subtle touch how you see Frank wordlessly take notice as there’s not only a painting of him in the one hallway, but he’s been added to the series of statues honoring the League of Monsters. Anyway, they have all the surviving members of the Hunters of Monster Special Force locked up, but they don’t know what to do with them. The authorities won’t give a damn about how they killed monsters, so what do they do?

Manphibian tells the prisoners to all calm down, since he doesn’t plan on killing them.

This scene is a bit of a double-edged sword. Sure, it’s a good way of showing that Manphibian is the type of lagoon creature to take the higher road than Frank and Hellsgaard, but it’s kind of a dick thing for Frank to do. The last issue had him prevent Manphibian from committing murder for the sake of vengeance and now he’s basically saying, “Just kidding, go to town.”

The best scene from this short arc comes from Frank waking up initially. Henry tends to him and tells him to take things easy, especially because Morbius says that’s the best idea. Frank isn’t hearing any of it and asks Henry if he’s found any missions for him to take part in. Henry starts to vent about how Frank asks so much of him despite having screwed up his life again and again. Frank blew up Henry’s home in an earlier story, then went and left him alone with no conversation because he’s Jigsaw’s son. Then he gets killed in front of Henry and comes back from the dead to wake him up in the middle of the night. Henry is pissed and yet Frank still asks, “You find us some work?”

Henry snaps even further. He talks about how he’s been spending the last few weeks in a sewer, feeding Frank, cleaning his wounds and taking care of his bedpan. In a fit of anger, he even throws said bedpan at Frank. As it bounces off his robotic shoulder, Frank still shows no response.

“Cleaning your bedpan for the past few weeks goes FAAAAAR beyond making up for what my dad ever did! No more cold and sadistic garbage from you. You want to keep working with me – we will have an understanding. This crap is going to end. Now.”

They should have brought Henry in to tell off Batman circa 2005. The kid would have set him straight.

Funny that the son of Jigsaw is described as “put together”.

As Franken-Castle visits the reburied bodies of his family, he finds himself hunted down by the Shaolin Scientist Squad (from an earlier Remender story) and later Lady Gorgon (who attacked Frank back during Fraction’s run). He touches base with Henry, who he has gathering intel on various enemies of Frank to later hunt down and gets the info he needs to find Lady Gorgon. The following issue involves Frank fighting a bunch of Hand ninjas and chasing Lady Gorgon through Tokyo. It’s a big chase sequence that ends with Lady Gorgon going to her sensei for help and being stabbed instead. Frank tells Henry that he’s moving on to Daken next.

It wasn’t really a BAD issue, but even as a story that has Frank crushing two ninja’s heads together, it really breaks the momentum of the Franken-Castle concept. Like with how those opposed to One More Day/Brand New Day will point out that you didn’t NEED to make Spider-Man single to write most of the stories, the same argument could be made that you don’t NEED to make Frank Castle a patchwork man to have him hunt down Lady Gorgon and kill ninjas. I bet if they simply shoved the Bloodstone into him in the first place and downplayed the Frankenstein aspect, angry fans would be a lot less angry.

I’m going to stop for a second to mention the only guest appearance Frank’s made in this form in another comic. Deadpool Team-Up #894 is about Deadpool being hired by an attractive woman who wants vengeance for her innocent husband being killed in the Punisher’s crossfire. Deadpool is taken in by her hotness and takes the job, noting to himself that the Punisher is already dead. So instead, his mission becomes to find a blood-soaked Punisher shirt so he can use that as evidence.

The writing is by Ivan Brandon with the art by Sanford Greene. Greene’s art is pretty nice for the most part, but every now and then you’ll see some weird anatomy around the eyes. I guess you can chalk it up to cartoonish charm.

See what I mean? I think this panel perfectly shows why Deadpool is the best character to use in a crossover with Franken-Castle. He’s the only one who can acceptably point out how utterly fucked this all is and then fit in with the silliness.

Wade wades through the sewer and comes across Xemnu the Titan, a big, white-furred mute that only communicates with projections of flashbacked events. Xemnu leads Deadpool to Monster Metropolis, where nobody bats an eye at his unmasked appearance.

Heheh. Can’t beat the classics.

Deadpool sees that Frank needs his pills to stay in control and decides it’s a great idea to not only steal the pills, but down them himself. It does make him sick in the end, but not in any comedic way that would normally befit the story. He simply just gets ill for two panels. What a letdown.

The two fight it out and much fun is had. Frank gets impaled with katanas, Deadpool gets a flamethrower through the throat, Deadpool gets smashed through the floor and when he tries to use a chainsaw, Frank is able to catch it with his hand and throw it back. With only a few pages left before the writer runs out of space, they get Frank to take his pills and Xemnu shows that the woman who hired Deadpool is also a criminal and her husband wasn’t so innocent after all. Frank is ready to punish Deadpool, but he barters his way out of it by offering a team-up to take care of the woman who set them against each other.

By the time they do make themselves known, we find that the woman had been using her seductive magic on a backup plan.

A Wolverine guest appearance is a good enough segue to move back into the main series. The next story Punishment takes place over the course of four issues. It starts in Dark Wolverine #88, then goes to Franken-Castle #19, Dark Wolverine #90 and Franken-Castle #20. Tony Moore is back on the Franken-Castle issues while the writers of Dark Wolverine are Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu with Stephen Segovia and Paco Diaz on art.

The art in both series is great and the fighting is fun too, but it really didn’t need to be four issues long. It really could have been two at most. It didn’t even need to take place in both comics either. Usually a stunt like this is so they can get a sales spike for either comic, but both Dark Wolverine and Franken-Castle were scheduled for cancellation by the following issue. Hell, the final Dark Wolverine came out before the finale of Punishment.

Also, the big problem is that we know that we’re only going to get blue balls. We know that as much as Daken and Franken-Castle want to kill each other, neither is going to succeed this time and there’s nothing that’s going to change either’s mind.

Let’s get through this by the round.

Round 1: Frank beats up Daken, but his vitals are going awry. He ends up letting Daken slip away while he takes a pill. Daken took notice that there was some red glowing in Frank’s chest.

Round 2: Daken hunts down Frank, but it becomes Roadrunner vs. Coyote. Don’t believe me?

Frank owns Daken again and again and again, each time more painful than the last. Finally, he picks him up and prepares to toss him down a pool of wet cement. That’s when Wolverine comes by to save his son.

Round 3: Frank is so busy fighting Wolverine that Daken gets away again. Frank wins the fight, but is too strapped for time to send Wolverine into the cement. He climbs out of a manhole just in time to get run over by Daken driving a truck. Daken proceeds to cut open Frank’s chest and steal the Bloodstone for himself. With Daken amped up and Frank weak, he’s able to throw him around like a ragdoll, murder police with even more ease and ignore it when he’s run over by a truck. He also bitches out Frank.

“Dusty old turd from an entitled generation doesn’t know when to shuffle off to the old folk’s home. It’s not your fault. You’re a victim of ego. All those years, people cowering before your reputation. But that’s all it is. Reputation. Perception. In reality – you’re a hack. An aging B-list starlet, desperately pole dancing. Anything to feel like you’re still in the show. A sad ego pleading for relevancy. Same ego went and pointed your sniper rifle on a man fantastically out of your league. Do you feel significant now, you faltering geezer?!

“You should have stuck to gangsters, Castle. Greasy Italian stereotypes, drug barons, turf wars, corrupt politicians – but it was too small fry for the ego. All just overcompensation for a profound inferiority complex born of one abject failure – you couldn’t protect your family.

The only thing saving Frank is that Daken starts growing gross tumors all over.

Round 4: Wolverine electrocutes Frank to get him back to his feet. They fight Daken on top of a helicopter and crash it into the top of a building. Frank puts a gun to Daken’s head and bitches him back.

“All that big talk back there. What a failure I am.”

“Got to you, did it?”

“Funny is all. Coming from you.”

“From me it’s funny, huh? Why’s that?”

“Reputation coattail rider, dressed up like someone else, lecturing me about compensation. I built my reputation. Ground up. You? Snuck into the show on another man’s back. You’re just a poser.”

Daken jumps at Frank and stabs him, allowing Frank to get close enough to shove a grenade into Daken’s ribcage. The explosion knocks him back and all those tumors reappear a hundredfold. Just a sea of gross flesh, looking like that thing from Akira. Frank tells Wolverine that the healing factor and Bloodstone were having a weird effect on Daken, so causing the healing factor to kick made him an explosion of tumors. Wolverine cuts out the Bloodstone, puts it back to Frank and has a brief argument about how he can’t allow him to kill his son. I do like how they briefly touch on how Wolverine is trying to protect his son from the madman who lost his marbles because his son was killed.

Wolverine turns around once to see Daken’s gone and turns around again to see that Frank’s gone. And that’s it! That’s the story. They stop hunting each other because the crossover is over.

Frank’s return to normalcy was sadly telegraphed long ahead of time by showing up in the dreadful first issue of Shadowland. It would finally come to be in Franken-Castle #21 with Dan Brereton back on art. The setup is that Henry and the League of Monsters have sent Frank to Monster Island in order to spend weeks away from humanity. Frank heals up over time and takes to the jungle life. Where the strong prey on the weak, Frank is there to prey on the strong.

Brereton is the best choice to do this issue, far more than even Moore. When it’s time for the normal, human version of Frank Castle to show himself, there’s an epic feeling of, “I’m BACK!”

Look at that! It feels like a big deal. The good news is that he’s fully cured of being a patchwork monster. The bad news is that the Bloodstone is eating away at his rage, making him think even crazier thoughts. He’s beginning to go further and further off the deep end with thoughts of how he’s going to completely change the world. Henry, the monsters and Else Bloodstone (daughter of Ulysses and star of Nextwave) talk about how they need to separate Frank from the Bloodstone NOW.

When they get to the island, Manphibian tries to talk Frank down. We see Frank’s thoughts are balanced between paranoia and confused understanding, but before he can make his decision, he’s shot at by Elsa. Manphibian is understandably upset, but not nearly as upset as Frank. He thinks they’re all out to steal his lucky charms, so he prepares to hunt them down.

He outfights the monsters and makes a complete fool out of Elsa several times over. It takes the combined wisdom of Werewolf by Night and the Living Mummy to finally win Frank over. Werewolf by Night defends Elsa from being murdered despite being a monster hunter and Living Mummy points out how the Bloodstone is altering Frank and taking away his ability to distinguish between the innocent and the guilty. It’s the only thing redeeming about him and is the only thing separating him from the likes of Hellsgaard. This speaks to Frank and gives him the will to cut the gem out of his chest and throw it at Elsa.

Aw, look at the poor, crying Manphibian.

Again, Morbius didn’t do anything of note.

There’s a backup story in that issue about Frank going back to New York City to be his usual street level self, but that’s basically the end of the whole Franken-Castle episode. I’ve noticed how blunt the endings are. Once the climax is finished, the story simply ends. No conclusion or anything. Hellsgaard’s defeated and END. Lady Gorgon is stabbed and END. Frank and Daken escape unnoticed and END. Have your stupid Bloodstone and END.

The other issues have their own pattern. Each cliffhanger ends with a cheesy one-liner best imagined to be performed by David Caruso.

YEAAAAAAH!!

So now that Frank is back to being Frank, how do I feel? I guess it’s time. Really, I wish Remender and Marvel in general could have done more with the concept. The first six issues of Frank being a monster was some excellent stuff, but they really blew their wad. Everything that followed couldn’t hold up to the balls-to-the-wall feel that helped make it all work. The concept needed a lot of momentum to keep people interested and to keep the positive word of mouth out there to help silence the outrage, but it couldn’t keep up the strength. The last issue was very good, but it only serves as a reminder of what could have been.

I’ll continue with Remender’s upcoming Punisher: In the Blood miniseries, though I hate to say that it probably is the right time for him to leave the character alone. I just hope he doesn’t kill off Henry. I’m sure he will, but I hope he doesn’t.

If anything, I think this experiment (as well as Marvel Zombies 4) has shown that we need a League of Monsters on-going series. I’d read the shit out of that. At least give us more Lava Priest.

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13 comments to “Franken-Castle: A Look Back at Rick Remender’s Graveyard Smash”

  1. Okay, people, just on a tangential note: I read this post with Devo’s “Beautiful World” on a loop and it increased the intensity of the experience a thousandfold. It would be the credits music were this story a TV series.


  2. Amen, Franken Castle has been my favorite Punisher story line in the Main Marvel Universe. I have 8 years of Ennis and 1 Year of Aaron PunisherMAX if I want Frank Castle killing varying background Mobsters.

    My favorite part of the run however wasn’t in the issues themselves but it was in one of the letter columns. It was Remender addressing the feelings of the people who didn’t feel the shift worked and is now one of my favorite things to post in discussions about storytelling in comics.

    http://i838.photobucket.com/albums/zz302/rvancetal/Remendertellingitlikeitis.jpg

    (Why don’t more comics still have letter pages anyway?)

    I love that Marvel is putting the entire thing in one nice big hardcover that I will be picking up and my interest in the Punisher moving foward is waning now that the Monsters are out of the book.


  3. At the end of the day, I’m glad it’s over. A person once told me that this was Marvel’s way of trying to integrate Frank more into the craziness of the Marvel main universe, and I became a little more sympathetic to the idea. However, there was hardly ever a story that made me think you could only tell it with Franken-Castle,which you touched on.

    For me, the Hellsgaard arc just came off obnoxious and shallow with the “WHO’S THE REAL MONSTER HERE?” moralizing. Frank not killing Hellsgaard due to some poetic form of justice makes me remember one reason why I haven’t been enjoying Frank in 616 lately; they always have to pull out these excuses for Frank not to be the killing machine that he is. It’s equivalent to Spider-Man not handing a villain over to the police because he doesn’t feel the guy deserves three free meals a day in jail.

    The other stories felt like they were there because Remender or the editors felt like they should have been there, regardless if they were good stories or not. Going after Lady Gorgon was a nice bit of continuity/filler, but aren’t there at least four other resurrected villains out there? Two of them killed a recovery group for marines. Is any writer going to go back to that? Previews say no. The Daken fight was four issues of Looney Tunes fighting, with no changes whatsoever to either character. The last issue I felt was the worst, barring the art. As much as I don’t like the Franken-Castle concept, it at least had a well-paced arc of resurrection, madness, apathy, and acceptance. Frank going back to human was done off panel and wrapped up in 22 pages. Even though they brought in more “Don’t me a monster-monster” dialogue, it didn’t feel like a satisfying end at all, just something they had to do to bring Frank back to the status quo.

    I didn’t like Franken-Castle because it was gimmick #37 in a series that has only been around since November 2006. A frightening amount of stories have been devoted to Frank taking part in every event barring Siege, or dressing up like Captain America for six months, or killing an innocent via hate rays, or having Jigsaw give creepy, pseudo-gay dialogue towards him. It wouldn’t even be that bad if any of these things had any gravitas to them like in Captain America or Spider-Man, but they’re just either dropped or forgotten for the next gimmick.

    Not everything was bad about Fraction’s and Remender’s run. Henry was a great addition, using old hero-tech was a great compromise of the power-disparity Frank normally has in the world, and having Frank deal with that SHIELD agent hunting him gave Frank a capable guy that he couldn’t just kill. It just seems that Marvel has as much faith in Frank Castle working in their universe as DC does with Wonder Woman, and that makes me glad I at least have MAX to fall back on.


  4. Remender’s response is great, thanks for posting that Rick!

    And awesome write-up Gavok, I regret not reading this when it originally came out.


  5. I have this all stacked up for me to read, and I AM EXCITED.


  6. @Dane: Yeah, at least that didn’t do something really offensive, like turning him black.


  7. Is “at least he’s not black this time” really the standard we want to hold Frank to?


  8. @Dane: Wasn’t that storyline the one that managed to convince people that Mike Baron is a rabid conservative, despite how he’s actually not?


  9. No idea, I never read it or heard about that implication.


  10. […] rip-roarin’ Runisher (ruh roh, Raggy) run to date, with specific emphasis on the Franken-Castle issues. I am linking to this just to show Greg Burgas that this run was, indeed, […]


  11. I’ve actually been waiting for this to wrap up and get collected so I can buy it, based solely on your recs.

    Eddie Brock and Frank Castle were made for each other. I know they’ve messed that up more than they haven’t, but I’d buy that for four dollars.


  12. I want a Anti-Venom and Frank on-going. Dress it up in a buddy cop vigilante book and you’ve got gold. Awesome write up Gavok, I’m a big fan of your columns! :)

    *crosses fingers and hopes the next We Care a Lot deals with Anti-Venom* :smile:


  13. I thought the Deadpool Team-Up didn’t live up to it’s potential, but I really enjoyed the last issue of Franken-Castle, mainly for the art. (I didn’t like the epilogue, since ‘sending a message’ for Frank is ‘leave the bodies where they’ll be found.’)

    Still disappointed there hasn’t been a Franken-Castle action figure. Seems a no-brainer, right?