"The Punisher: Franken-Castle" Graphic Novel Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Marvel Comics
Originally Published as Dark Reign: The List – Punisher, Punisher #11 - #16, Franken-Castle #17 - #21, and Wolverine #88 - #89
Written by Rick Remender and Daniel Way
Illustrated by Roland Boschi, John Romita Jr, Jefte Palo, Daniel Brereton, Tony Moore, and Stephen Segovia
2011, 344 Pages
Trade Paperback released on May 11th, 2011
The Punisher is a character that doesn't really fit in with the rest of the Marvel Universe. He's a murderous one-man army out to eliminate the mob in vengeance for the death of his family. It's for this reason that he can't really hang out with Spider-Man or the Avengers. He's not going to fight Doctor Octopus or Kang the Conquerer. He's going to kill drug dealers, pimps, and hitmen. This is not to say that there aren't any good Punisher comics. Garth Ennis wrote what is probably the quintessential stories featuring the character a few years ago. He did such a good job that the powers that be kept Frank Castle away from the rest of the 616 Universe so as not to taint the plot. Since then, the Punisher has been brought back to the fold and a few writers have taken a crack at trying to integrate him with the super hero world that he lives in. Author Rick Remender took a different approach to this problem. He killed Frank Castle.
This isn't a spoiler. It's a key part of the plot for Franken-Castle. Seriously, if you got this far and didn't figure out that the Punisher died as part of the storyline for Franken-Castle, you're an idiot. Anyway, after going after Norman Osborn, the head of the government organization H.A.M.M.E.R., Frank was literally cut to pieces by Wolverine's disgruntled son Daken. That looked like the end for the Punisher, until his parts were collected by Moloids and reassembled like Frankenstein's monster by Morbius, the living vampire. It turns out that someone is hunting down the world's monsters and they need Frank's help in preventing their extinction. I didn't make any of this up. This is the actual storyline. The character went from taking down mob bosses to briefly fighting one of the biggest super villains ever to hanging out with a vampire, a werewolf, and Man-Thing.
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By all accounts, this should be stupid. The whole thing sounds absolutely crazy, but that may be why it's so great. Remender took a character that doesn't fit into the traditional Marvel Universe and found a niche for him in the most bizarre corner he could find. I mean, what was the last story you read that had the Manphibian in it? Frank brings his own brand of justice to the man looking to exterminate the Legion of Monsters.
That makes up the first half of Franken-Castle. After that story wraps up, it's time for the Punisher to get revenge on Daken for putting him in this position in the first place. This is a brutal story of vengeance as Frank hunts down Wolverine's son, setting traps to put him through as much pain as possible. Considering the fact that Daken inherited his father's healing factor, there is plenty of opportunity for pain.
Once that's complete, Remender puts all of the toys back where he found them. The Punisher returns to normal in a way that totally makes sense and plays very well with the character. It's as if he went on this weird vacation like something out of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. This is something that Frank would tell people at a bar after a few beers. “Did I ever tell you about how I cut to pieces, brought back to life by a group of monsters, and had a robot arm?”
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Although the story in Franken-Castle is awesome, the artwork really hurts the comic. It wouldn't be that bad if one artist was used. Unfortunately, there's a string of them that provided pencils for this book, so everything looks very inconsistent. None of them had similar styles, so there's no easy blend from one to another. Instead there are abrupt changes between each issue.
The one standout artist in Franken-Castle is Daniel Brereton. His work harkens back to old pulp comics like Creepy or Tales from the Crypt, which is a perfect fit for this type of story. He illustrates a flashback scene that provides some backstory for the villain of the first arc as well as the final chapter showing Frank's return to his old self. I wish that Brereton could have drawn the whole book because it would have been much better off as a result.
Franken-Castle is a departure from the norm for the Punisher. It's going to exist as an anomaly and we'll probably never see anything like it ever again from Marvel. It's over-the-top, gory, and excessively violent, but most of all, it's fun. Remender simultaneously stays true to the character and his roots while putting him in a completely ridiculous situation that can only exist in a comic book.