Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Top 10 Tuesdays – Ten Things To Know About Franken-Castle

The entire opus that is the tale of Frank Castle fallen, returned, and awesome is collected in one massive hardcover. I will spoil the article right now and claim that this book is definitely worth buying. For many reasons. This was one of my favourite comic products of 2010 and you’ll have to hit the jump to see exactly why this book is something that must be experienced to believe. And love.

1 - C’mon, It’s Franken-Castle

If you can’t laugh at that title then you’re off to a bad start. It’s just fun without even knowing what it’s about. This is Frank Castle as Frankenstein's monster, it’s Franken-Castle, geddit? This idea is just one of those things that’s either going to sink or swim. In other words, it’s brave comics and you have to take your hat off for that at the least.
It’s annoying to hear people say this must be like the time the Punisher became an angel, or something. Without even having read this tale, people just label it against something else. Now, I haven’t read this angel Punisher series of which people speak but if it was completely off-the-wall interesting and insanely inventive then, yeah, this comic is exactly the same…

The Punisher as a reanimated corpse is an idea I can get behind. I like comics, I like zombies, I like writing and art that are just beautiful in so many respects. This comic is for me. But I can understand if it isn’t for you; but if you don’t like it then you have to be able to tell me how and why in more than three sentences in a row. I would actually be really interested in seeing why people didn’t click with this comic because it’s not the sort of thing that could be considered mainstream, that’s for sure. I rate it as one of my Top 10 comics of 2010 and this list will explain why, starting with this point. I think the idea of Franken-Castle just as a high concept is both hilarious and something I have never read before.

2 - Legion of Monsters

You know whom we don’t get enough of? The Legion of Monsters. Morbius the Living Vampire, Man-Thing, Manphibian, N’Kantu, The Living Mummy, and Jack Russell, the Werewolf By Night. These are all great characters, products of the 70’s, who just don’t get enough play anymore. It’s hard to squeeze them into any regular, day-to-day story in the Marvel U but once your lead man gets dismembered then they can come in to help save the day. This is exactly the sort of tale that is suited to fit them, and like a glove it does fit.

Much like these oddities, the science that brings back Frank Castle from the dead isn’t lingered on. We just know it has worked and we accept that. We don’t need pages of exposition to understand just how it is he can walk and talk again, we just need to enjoy it. I like that Remender was smart enough to realise that if he just forges on then the audience will follow him and hopefully enjoy the tale. It helps that he writes the tale, and the players within it, so very well.

Remender brings a very decent characteristic ear to each of these monster-heroes and it works really well. The world they inhabit, and the thoughts they raise through actions and words, are very well put together. And, sometimes it’s just fun to watch a Mummy and a werewolf hang out with a vampire and a reanimated killer. These guys work on the page and make things a whole stack of fun. You don’t come into a Legion of Monsters story looking for meta-textual allegory about Wikileaks. If you get one, fine, but you go into this tale wanting something that’s going to make you sit back and enjoy the freak ride. That’s exactly what you get here.

3 - Tony Moore

Career best work is a line spouted far too often in this field but it might just be true for Moore on this title. He brings detail to every page and every character and creation. Everything feels like a labour of love, an independent creation. Each monster has a new and interesting look/take and in the hardcover you really want to stop and run your nose across the art. There’s a density in each panel, an eye for the little things that make a complete whole. Moore draws this like the masters of years gone by drew these sorts of tale. There’s an EC horror vibe on these pages, a palpable quality that brings such a weird world to life without a doubt. You can almost smell the decay and moral ambiguity in the air.

Whether it’s a skull floating in a strange metal suit or crying Manphibian, Moore gets more acting out of his fake characters than most artists do when drawing humans. You don’t doubt a scene at all and you become absorbed, and that’s what I want from a comic. It’s also a testament that Remender throws a stack of zany ideas and actions into this tale and Moore steps up to every challenge and nails it. Japanese monster hunters die horribly, Morbius stares intently, a church of monsters overrun by a flowing man of fire; these are things that work in your mind and thanks to Moore also work on the page. There’s nothing this man can’t bring to life and make into an artwork that is morbidly mesmerising.

The last thing that is really owed to Moore is the visual of Franken-Castle himself. The look of this shambolic monstrosity is consistent and consistently dynamic throughout the tale. There is dead skin and scars and pipes and bolts and it’s all like nothing we’ve ever seen before, There are hinting homages to Frankenstein’s monster but mostly this is a creation we have never seen before. I love the look of Franken-Castle and would easily buy an action figure of this creation if it were ever available. The whole story kind of hinges on the look of this man and Moore sold it incredibly. A home run in so many ways.

4 - It’s Not The Punisher

I think you do need to reconcile yourself to the fact that this tale isn’t really the Punisher, or at least not as you or I know him. This isn’t a crime tale, or at least not the sort of crime the Punisher normally deals in, and this isn’t street level (it’s mostly below the streets). This is taking the Punisher and repurposing him for a new idea. And I don’t mind that.
I am not the world’s biggest fan of the Punisher. I own the Fraction/Remender run on War Journal, and I like the MAX work done with the character, but I didn’t pick up this title when Remender relaunched it, and I don’t buy it right now. The Punisher just doesn’t appeal to me most of the time and so I do not mind that this story veers very far away from what we know the Punisher to be. This does not annoy me, but I can see how it might for others. I would hope they could set the difference aside and just enjoy this story for being its own thing, but if this feels like blasphemy to their sacred character then that’s fine. Me, I actually prefer Franken-Castle and just wish this status quo had remained for a little longer. There are surely so many more fantastic stories that could be told with this set up, though Remender does wrap it all up pretty organically.

Although, if he ever wanted to come back with an Untold Tales of the Franken-Castle series I’d buy that in a heartbeat.

5 - Grindhouse Is Back

There seems to be a resurgence of stories that are just insane. They throw as many ideas against the wall as they can and what sticks to the wall is used and what is smashed against the wall and falls is now something new and broken and can probably be used anyway as well. This title is a perfect Grindhouse flick. If Franken-Castle is ever made into a motion comic or animated adaptation (which as I write it now I really, really, really want to happen) then I’d have to see it at a flickering drive-in just to get the pure experience. I’m surprised the panels and pages weren’t produced like the opening credits to Se7en just to get the authentic feel.

There are plenty of superhero comics out there doing their own little superhero cycles month after month. If you want the basic cape story then it’s available. If you want something different then you have to venture into the creator owned titles, usually. But Marvel has taken some chances recently, and they have paid off. Jason Aaron turned Ghost Rider into a Grindhouse flick and people went, relatively, crazy for it. There are so many aspects and creations within the Marvel U that suit this Grindhouse feel so perfectly and Ghost Rider is one, and the Punisher is another, especially when you throw in the Legion of Monsters. If Marvel just produces a great Beta Ray Bill title in this fashion then I’ll finally have a trilogy of omnibi (omnibuses? You decide) that will be worthy of their own shelf.

This title has plenty of violence, and the gore and pain is certainly over the top. People don’t just get punched, they get dismembered, they spew blood, they become melted shadows of what they once were. Baby Manphibians are murdered senselessly, men combust at the touch of fear, and dragons fly into towers and breathe flames of retribution. It’s all so glorious and you don’t get time to breathe as it all happens in front of you. This title isn’t afraid of having too many brave ideas and visuals.

6 - Let Go And Have Fun

Comics are supposed to be fun, aren’t they? Sure, when Ozymandias is finally confronted I expect a speech, when Yorick meets up with Beth I want to hear what they have to say, or when someone enters The Undertow I want erudite dialogue. Those sorts of comics are made to be studied for form and technique. Not to say that this comic doesn’t display an excellent mastery of the media, it’s just that you read a comic like Franken-Castle because you want action and insanity and pure splendour tapped right into your veins.

This comic works like a wild ride in the very best sense at all times. There’s action, and great action dialogue, and monsters, and violence, and fights, and all the stuff that you wanted from a comic when you were young. Hell, you probably still want it now even if you are an adult. This comic is fun and smart if you know the type of smarts to look for, but mostly it’s fun and it’s goofy and it’s just amazingly engrossing. I don’t think you need to say more about a comic to get across the point that praise is deserved.

7 - Other Artists

Tony Moore does a brilliant job of setting up the entire tone of the series but he is also helped by other artists, and most of them are pretty good in their own right. I’ll go in order, which sadly means I start with John Romita Jr. What can I say, I just don’t dig his art. And it’s funny, most people I know don’t either but yet he’s still a legend in the industry, a titan, and so he will always be around. His work on the Dark Reign tie-in one-shot is mostly just not my style. His blocky and lined characters never look good to me and he easily draws the ugliest Norman Osborn I have ever seen. But in saying that, you have to respect his ability to stage an action sequence. The fight between Daken and Castle is impressive and it seems that JR Jr has become the go-to guy for all your violent gore and dismembering. He does that sequence very well and so I guess it’s all worth it in the end.

Roland Boschi steps in for two issues and his issues feel like Moore-lite. That sounds like more of a criticism than it really is. It’s nice that a fill in artist could match the main artist so as to create consistency throughout the book. It is appreciated, though his Franken-Castle is nowhere up to Moore’s. The face is too sketchy and the shoulders far too hulking. Otherwise, he’s a good fit to drop an issue when Moore cannot.

Jefte Palo does a fill in issue and he’s a guy whose work I think could only match up with a few characters within the Marvel U. The Punisher is one of those characters and Franken-Castle certainly is. His artwork is sparse and often implied and there’s a raw motion to his action that I always find intriguing. Needless to say, his issue is good. Then we get the Dark Wolverine issues from Stephen Segovia and Paco Diaz. The art is good here but it just doesn’t match the tone of this tale. It’s all too polished, I don’t want to be able to see these characters in such a clear light. The less light on most of them the better and this is too crisp. It doesn’t ruin the whole tale but it does take you out momentarily for those issues.

The other man I’ll mention is Dan Brereton. He paints certain sequences and they are absolutely gorgeous. It’s a bright shock to see his style pop up but it still works for the narrative. Seeing Brereton render some of these monsters makes me think of old horror movie posters and the Universal majesty and reverence these guys used to be treated with. While Moore could have handled these sequences, I feel, they are just made that much more grand through Brereton’s skilled eye. It’s probably not often you’ll get to see this kind of a thing in the monthlies so you might as well soak it up.

8 - The First Half Is Better Than The Second

There are 14 issues included in this tome. The first half deals with Franken-Castle’s creation and then war against a maniacal villain who is out to kill all monsters. The second half deals with Franken-Castle finding vengeance against the man who killed Frank Castle, Wolverine’s bastard son, Daken. The whole book works well as one big tale but it definitely feels like it’s two different parts of the whole. It’s all satisfying and worth the investment but for my money the opening arc is the strangest, and superior, section.

“Dead and Alive”, issues #11-16, is all about Franken-Castle teaming up with the Legion of Monsters to protect them, and himself, from a swarm of monster killers slowly working the globe to eradicate any creation that isn’t pure. It’s a tale that throws everything out and pays off in so many ways. It looks gorgeous, it has brilliant pace, and all the characters work well together. It is an absolute win for me in so many respects. Had the second half been as good as the start this comic would have taken a shot at being even higher up my top of the year list.

The second half, “Missing Pieces”, which is the next five issues of the retitled Franken-Castle as well as two issues of Dark Wolverine that tied into the whole tale, is good but it’s not great. Franken-Castle is out to find vengeance on Daken because it was Wolvie’s son who chopped him up in the Dark Reign – The List – Punisher issue. Franken-Castle is determined to track the mohawked, arrogant villain down and deal him back some justice. It’s an interesting tale, and certainly has its moments, but it just doesn’t compare to the sheer spectacle of awesome that is the first half of this collection. Though, in the next point, I’ll explain why it is still pretty decent.

9 - Fighting With Daken

The showdown between Daken and Franken-Castle is basically just 4 issues of fist fight. It’s like The Quiet Man but with subversive supers, or perhaps it’s more apt to say it’s like They Live but with more variety to the hits. Either way, if you know what these comparisons mean, you’ll know they mean this rumble is a damn fine scrap to watch. I normally wouldn’t advocate on behalf of a 4 issue dust up but this one certainly has that little something extra going for it. It’s not just fists to faces, it’s flying kicks on construction equipment, it’s claws through muscles and torsos,it’s being caught between massive moving vehicles, it’s warped healing factors exploding in tissue like a Cronenberg wet dream.

If you think about a fight between a reanimated killer and a born and bred killer descended from Wolverine then you have certain expectations you want to see matched. This fight almost lives up to what you want because Remender, and Daniel Way in the tie-ins, don’t mind making the fight as crazy as they can. The amount of inventive effort spent in trying to think up this entire endeavour and the first tale with the Legion of Monsters is also put into concocting different ways for these guys to harm each other. Well, actually, they can’t really harm each other, or so it would seem, so it’s a license to cut loose and throw everything in that you can. It’s nice to see a physical altercation completely unfettered and able to go on for so long. It doesn’t make for great story but it does serve as amazing spectacle.

10 - Self-Containment

One of the biggest reasons I love this book is because it speaks for itself. You only need this hardcover to get absolutely everything you need. It doesn’t matter what came before it and you don’t ever have to chase up what comes after. You can open this book at page one and when you finish place it up on the shelf, the one reserved for your best collections, and just never read another Punisher tale. As much as people complained that this story doesn’t count because he’s always going to magically revert to his human form (it is comics, after all) I think that lends this tale a little bit of room to breathe and try new things. Remender could do whatever he wanted because the safety net of the status quo was always there to save him.

You buy this book and you are not beholden to anything else. You also get one large and satisfying story with a beginning, middle, and end. I was especially impressed that they included the Dark Reign issue in this collection as I was slightly worried they wouldn’t, even though events within it get the Franken-Castle ball rolling.

Verdict – Must Read. I know this is a list but it’s also a review so it gets a verdict. I think you have to read this book. It’s just not fair to not reward such a bold direction and such pure talent with words and images, and matching the two together. This barely feels like a Marvel book, or it maybe feels like the sort of Marvel book they would have published years ago when they were actually keen on experimenting with character and plot. Franken-Castle is the sort of comic that offers a marvellous concept but then actually dazzles you with its execution. It says a lot that I was giddy with anticipation to read this book and it then didn’t disappoint. I think it says even more that I giddily look forward to getting to read this again.

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Andrenn said...

I'm very disappointed in you, Ryan. Very disappointed indeed. No mention of the Monster Mash vibe this story gives? For shame. Seriously that has to be 1 of my biggest compliments is that it feels like an old Universal Movies Monster Mash only cranked up to 11. With that insane over the top Grindhouse style you mentioned.

Definitely think Moore's artwork alone is worth buying this, though I wasn't too fond of the fill in art. Boschi was pretty good and Bereton was fantastic, love his work, but Segovia and Paolo both didn't cut it for me.

I am not at all a Punisher fan. The character has never appealed to me and this is the first time I've added a Punisher comic to my collection. Even then I still loved this.

100% agree that the first half is the better half. Its the wildest and craziest and I loved seeing the Legion of Monsters. I wish this had lasted a lot longer so we could have gotten a team up with Ghost Rider or a new Midnight Sons with Franken-Castle on the team. I can dream, can't I? I'd buy an Untold Tales of the Franken-Castle comic in a heartbeat. Make it happen, Marvel!

Ivan said...

Ryan, the "angel" thing is truly terrible. It's not fun, not "so-bad-that-it's-good", nothing. Just a bad idea and bad comics. And it takes itself too seriously. It's nothing like Franken-Castle.

Rol said...

I've not read any of Remender's Punisher yet though I did enjoy his recently collected Last Days Of American Crime. I've been toying with getting this and you jumped bumped it much higher up my list. Cheers, Ryan.

Space Jawa said...

Generally, I don't like Punisher at all, and the less he's in the comics I do read the better.

However, given all the stuff I've read about Franken-Castle, I'm currently planning to pick it up. However, I'm also planning on waiting till they release the Trade Paperback version.

Midnight Monk said...

I wasn't a huge fan of the Franken-Castle story at all but I did enjoy the trip to Lady Gorgan's place and Daken vs Frank fight basicially because I love Daken but it I suppose it served it purpose as Frank is back to doing what he does best

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Andrenn - I did mention the Universal feel of the whole Legion. I just felt this was more Grindhouse than Abbott and Costello meets the whomever.

@Ivan - Is the angel stuff collected anywhere, ah, who cares, I probably wouldn't read it anyway.

@Rol - yes, glad to have you over on my side of thinking, old friend.

@Space Jawa - yeah, I'm sure it'll hit in softcover soon enough. Then you must pounce.

@Midnight Monk - Iinteresting that you enjoyed the parts I thought were weaker, that's cool to know. I really dug Jefte Palo's work on that issue, just solid stuff. And sadly the whole thing was never going to last, Frank would always be back but I'll always findly remember the fun times shared with Franken-Castle.

twobitspecialist said...

Wow. Two Top Tens Tuesdays in one day? I approve.

The Dangster said...

I honestly don't know why people hated Franken-Castle or the concept. Fans should know that:

1. It was awesome.

2. Temporary: C'mon, you seriously thought he's going to stay as Franken-Castle. Though, I wouldn't mind if it went on for a while longer.

3. You have Punisher Max and other minis if you need a non-corpse Frank Castle. Get over it.

I feel like saying the second half wasn't good isn't a good argument in why you should read it. Mostly because I liked the second half and the audacity of having the most vicious and violent 4-issue fight in the mainstream marvel universe.

Jormungand said...

The Quiet Man mentioned in a Weekly Crisis article? Good stuff. Not much of a film, but damn do I like that marathon fight. "Bar towel!"

Franken-Castle wasn't the first time the Punisher was shown as being monstrous though.. the best Punisher sequence I ever read was the ending of the graphic novel Return To Big Nothing. Shocking, chilling, appalling, utterly un-heroic, Castle executes a wounded unarmed man that has surrendered. In a time when the anti-hero has become the hero, this sequence shows that if Frank Castle is "our hero", we're screwed.

Matt said...

Amen, brother.

FrankenCastle was one of my favorite books from the past few years due to it's sheer insanity. The moment Man Thing and Frank teamed up for a Fastball Special was the moment I knew I'd love this book forever!

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