REVIEW: Franken-Castle #21

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Or – “What Happens When An Irreversible Story Needs To Be Reversed…”

The death of Frank Castle at the hands of Daken in the latter days of Dark Reign led to one of thoese stories that has everyone divided on it’s merits.  Like Morrison’s X-Men, Miller’s All-Star Batman & Robin, and pretty much everything that Mark Millar has written since he left The Flash, the arguments about this one range far and wide from those who love seeing something new in the Punisher-verse to those who can’t stand seeing a realistic character in such a ridiculous circumstance.  No matter where you stand, though, you have to admit that people are talking about the Punisher, and no news is bad news…

Franken-Castle #21
COVER BY: Dan Brereton
WRITER: Rick Remender
ART: Dan Brereton
LETTERED BY: Joe Caramanga
PUBLISHED BY: Marvel Comics

Previously, on Franken-Castle:  After the events of the superhero Civil War, Frank Castle actually tried to go mainstream, even taking on a new look and attitude that emulated the then-deceased Captain America.  His interactions with the supervillains of the Marvel Universe led him to confront The Hood, who used his mystical might to resurrect the various victims of the Scourge-killer (proving that NOBODY stays dead in comics, even if they have ridiculous headgear and fought Uri Geller once) before going head-to-head with Norma Osborn.  Norm-O’s brand of wacky in the wicky-woo took Frank down, though, as Norm-O’s pet killer literally sliced him to pieces.  The various hunks of Frank Castle were gathered up by Morbius and the Legion of Monsters and rebuilt into an undead thing that actually looked pretty damn cool.  After working with Morbius and friends, Frank went to Japan to fight Daken again, and was unsuccessful in murdering the Dark Wolverine.  Having escaped, Frank is now searching for someplace to lick his wounds and heal up from another batch of should-have-been-fatal injuries.

After last issue’s battle ended somewhat poorly, Frank took flight in a small boat, headed for sanctuary.  His technologically savvy pal Henry (whom I can’ t help but think of as “New Microchip”) gives him a course for an uninhabited island where he can cool out and heal his wounds until extraction arrives.  One small problem:  It’s Monster Island, the Mole Man’s home.  Henry tells Frank to rest, and stay low-profile, allowing the Bloodstone (power source of soldier-of-fortune Ulysses Bloodstone and his daughter, Nextwave mainstay Elsa Bloodstone) to “do it’s work.”  What work, you ask?  Nothing more than full regeneration from a Frankstein state, Faithful Spoilerite…  Weeks pass, and Frank’s body regenerates as he becomes part of the Monster Island ecosystem and loses what small grasp he has on sanity.  He vows to find and punish his former allies, Morbius and the rest, for abandoning him on the island to fight dinosaurs and other awesome things that most people would find super-awesome.  Back home, Henry and the Legion of Monsters try to figure out what to do with an enraged and bloodstone-empowered Punisher, finally calling in an expert on the power:  Elsa herself.

Frank gets less and less coherent, declaring the predators of New York to be cancer, and the power of the blood stone to be his scalpel.  “I will eradicate the disease… all the tissue around it.  A wave of mutilation,” thinks Punisher as he reaches the lunatic event horizon.  Manphibian shows up to try and parley with him, explaining that the stone is feeding on Frank’s need for revenge, all the while unaware that Castle is thinking of ways to gut him and wear his innards for a hat.  As was inevitable, though, just as Frank starts to see reason, Elsa Bloodstone takes a potshot at him to try and get her daddy’s rock back, and all hell breaks loose.  Dan Brereton can paint the hell out of things, and his rendition of the battle between Bloodstone and Punisher is really awesome.  “I’ve fought Frankenstein, ” sneers Elsa, “and you, sir, are NO Frankenstein.”  Heh.  Punisher uses ingenious strategy (setting Elsa’s face on fire thanks to the Man-Thing) and finally manages to get the upper hand on his former associates, stalking away into the night with a terse, “We’re done.”  Some weeks later, in the meanest streets of New York, a pair of drug dealers celebrate their recent score and the murder of a police officer.  Entering their apartment, they find The Punisher waiting, in his traditional skull-head garb.  Using nothing more than his reputation and the thugs’ cowardice, Frank talks one into killing the other in exchange for his freedom, then shoots the remaining thug through a window.  He leaves the body in the street with a sign showing his symbol and a single word.  “Back.”

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m a little bit sad to see the monstrous Franken-Castle go.  Sure, it wasn’t your father’s Punisher, but it was something different, something we hadn’t seen a dozen times before, something that one couldn’t pick up the OTHER two Punisher monthlies and read a variation of.  Castle purists seem to hate it, and I understand why, but there are half a dozen Punisher tales that have to be ignored if you really want to take him seriously as a “street-level, realistic character,” so you can just add this one to the list.  The use of Marvel’s 70′s black-and-white Monster characters was ingenious, and Rick Remender had me looking forward to a Punisher book each month (albeit as it went into the bags to go to the back-issue bin.)  This issue wraps that whole thing up nicely and serves as  a return to the dark and gritty Punisher antics we all know and love, and even *I* kind of look forward to that.  Franken-Castle is like a sorbet to clear the palate before taking on another course of high-caliber blast-o-rama badassery, and there’s nothing wrong with any of that.  Add to the mix the lovely renderings of monster-enthusiast Dan Brereton, and you’ve got yourself one fine tale of redemption and resurrection here.  Franken-Castle #21 wraps up the undead golem phase with a band and relaunches Frank Castle on his single-minded mission of blah blah blah fishcakes, and does it with style, earning 4 out of 5 stars overall.  I’m saddened to think that I won’t be reading it with the same amount of zeal and excitement anymore, though…

Rating: ★★★★☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  Why CAN’T the Punisher have off-beat tales like this without there being such a massive backlash?  Every other comic-book type gets to have a little fun now and then…