Franken-Castle #21 - Untitled - Remender, Brereton, Mutti and Malison
Story - Garth Ennis has a lot to answer for. Ever since the Northern Irish genius turned his twisted mind towards Frank Castle, a lot of fans have expressed the opinion that his way is the only way. That the Punisher only works in a realistic, MAX, crime setting, that putting the character into the actual Marvel Universe is wrong. Now I'm not saying that I didn't enjoy Ennis' run on the Punisher, it was a masterpiece, but this view is incredibly reductive, ignoring the facts that the Punisher worked perfectly well for 30 years in the Marvel Universe before Ennis changed things, and also that Ennis' run itself featured many familiar MU characters, such as Daredevil, Wolverine and Nick Fury. Ennis' run may have been definitive, but it shouldn't restrict the character.
Which is why Rick Remender's take on the character is so refreshing, rather than attempt to follow Ennis' template, he just went for it, and threw Frank into the Marvel Universe with gay abandon, putting the character into some of the weirdest corners of the Fictional Reality you could think of, turning him into a Frankenstein's Monster along the way. I never thought I'd read a Punisher comic which featured Morbius, Man-Thing, Living Mummy and Werewolf-By-Night. It was a total unexpected delight, providing that there can still be unpredictability in the Marvel Universe. It may have been total madness, but it was still however, The Punisher. Throughout this whole crazy storyline, the actual personality of the Punisher/Franken-Castle has remained the same as ever, he has the same drive, the same anger, he's the same guy. But with a metal arm and stitched on head. This is what the myopic MAX only people don't understand, through his inflexibility, the Punisher is actually one of the most flexible characters in comics, much like Batman, he has a very well-defined motive and characterisation, and can easily be dropped into almost any genre and remain the same.
But alas, all good things come to an end, and this issue features the last appearance of Franken-Castle, and it's a distillation of all that made this series great. Franken-Castle is on Monster Island, fighting a lot of giant-Godzilla monsters, and then the Legion Of Monsters and Ellie Bloodstone show up and he fights them. It's crazy 4-colour goodness, but at the same time, it's still an examination of who Frank actually is as a character, about what defines him, about what makes him The Punisher. The Living Mummy really nails down what the Punisher is. Again, very surprising.
At the end, Frank is back to normal, and he heads back to New York City, for a coda story leading into Remender's upcoming 'In The Blood' mini-series. Remender gets to stretch his more traditional Punisher muscles here, using Gang-slang, and having Frank take out some Hoods. In the end, I have mixed feelings about this, it was a thrill to see The Punisher back in black, but I also really loved Franken-Castle, and am sad to see it end so soon. Sigh, we'll always have that time you flew a Dragon and fought Nazi-Zombies.
Artwork - This issue features the work of two different artists, and they provide a wonderful contrast. Dan Brereton returns to paint the main story, and it's wonderful, his work looks like Pulp-Novel covers, and this style is perfect for a story featuring so many weird and wonderful monsters, it looks larger than life and is just great fun. Andrea Mutti's work in the coda brings us back down to Earth, the colour palette is darker, and it's more realistic. They both show the two sides of the Punisher, he can be a dark crime character, or be just as comfortable in the craziness of the Marvel Universe, it's up to the writer to walk this tightrope, and Remender does a good job of it, but he needs artists like this to convey the duality.
Best Line - I found much of Ellie Bloodstone's dialogue to be hilarious, Remender actually made her sound British, but this is the best one 'I've fought Frankenstein -- and you, sir, are NO Frankenstein'