Rick Remender plumbs the vaults of Marvel lore to produce a wholly original adventure for the Punisher, one that's as much raucous violence as it is an allegorical examination of the central conceit behind Frank Castle. After being brutally murdered and cut into pieces by Daken, the evil son of Wolverine, Castle's remains are reanimated by Morbius, the vampiric leader of the Legion of Monsters. Stitched back together, his limbs replaced with hydraulic machinery, he is reborn as a Frankenstein-like monster, right down to the bolts in his neck.
Marvel's monsters are being hunted down and exterminated by a group of ninjas, led by Robert Hellsgaard, himself a freakish creature of science. Hellbent on revenge after the murder of his family by werewolves, Hellsgaard created a heavily weaponized suit of armor to keep him alive. Now, pitted against Castle, the two fight for control of the Bloodstone, a magical artifact that bestows regenerative effects upon those who bear it.
Remender takes some very bold maneuvers with the Punisher franchise throughout the lengthy Franken-Castle storyline. On the surface, the premise is outlandish, but it works well by building off the history and characters within the Marvel universe. Mind you, this is not the Garth Ennis Punisher that exists within the MAX brand of comics; those adult volumes are steeped in realism and gritty violence. This is quite squarely the Punisher of the mainstream Marvel Universe, where Frank Castle rests comfortably alongside the X-Men and Spider-Man, where magic, myth, and monsters are all tangible subjects and tools for storytelling. This Frank Castle is just as likely to take on mafia sleaze or a superpowered, murderous mutant. The only constraint within this universe is the imagination of the writer, and it's quite clear that Remender has imagination to spare.
That the Punisher can stand alongside characters like Morbius, Manphibian, and a werewolf and have that story be entertaining and engrossing is a testament to the skills of Remender as a writer. Long decried as a monster by many within the Marvel community for his murderous sense of justice, Remender takes the premise to a whole new level by turning Castle into a literal monster straight out Mary Shelley's classic work. It allows him the opportunity to then meditate on the figurative and literal interpretations of how monsters are created and what defines them. The end result is a carefully constructed story that makes for a very fun read.
The art by Tony More is a treat, too. Moore is perhaps best known for illustrating The Walking Dead, so having him serve as a draftsman for the majority of this monster mash-up is terrifically enjoyable to see. He has rendered a Punisher unlike anything that's been seen before in the history of the character, while remaining true to the spirit of the character in conceptual design.
Perhaps the most important thing to note and reiterate about the Franken-Castle story is that this really is unlike anything that's ever been done with the character. It's a bold and imaginative take on a long-running series character, and it is a ridiculously enjoyable romp. It has all the typical violence and mayhem of The Punisher, but torqued in a unique fashion in order to tell a fresh and original story that is creatively invigorating for the character. To turn this revenge-fueled gun-happy vigilante into what is essentially an ode to the Universal Horror creature-features and create a gruesome, entertaining The Monster Squad-like riff is the kind of original, outside the box, off-the-wall thinking that makes comics so much fun to begin with.
Reviewed by Michael Hicks on December 1, 2010
The Punisher Vol. 3: Franken-Castle