Quick Review: The Punisher No. 14

I read a LOT of comics each week. I recently realized that I rarely touch upon what I am reading and focus my blog instead on what is coming out on the shelves, in the cinema… what have you. In this new series of posts I’ll be providing quick and simple reviews of the comics I’ve been reading each week.

Punisher No. 14

‘Frankencastle Part 4’

The controversy over the Frankencastle storyline is huge, yet not as damaging as I suspected it would be. The one voice of dissent printed in the letters column so far from a life-long reader and fan of the Punisher merely states that he is disappointed with where the series is headed but will give it another try. Comparisons of Frankencastle to the Marvel Knights Punisher series during which Frank was brought back to life as a demonic agent using supernatural weapons are fair, to be honest. The one huge differentiator between the current direction and the MK one is that Frankencastle is really very good.

I cannot defend any accusation that the book is nothing like the Punisher or that writer Rick Remender has steered the series into a violently absurd direction. Since Frank was dismembered by Wolverine’s son Daken and his body parts rained into the sewers, the book has just not been the same, you might say. But it has been very enjoyable. I think the high level of quality shown in the Frankencastle story line is what is keeping readers from dropping this series like a bad habit.

After being diced up like bologna, Castle was rebuilt in a secret underground lair populated by monster led by Morbius the Living Vampire. Enraged at his condition, Frank strikes out at his ‘rescuers’ but even so Morbius tries to enlist Frank’s help in defending the Legion of Monsters from a clan of blood thirst monster-killing samurai.

The samurai attack the underground city and retrieve not only Morbius but the Bloodstone that he had been secretly guarding. Frank reluctantly joins in the bloodshed and by the time it appears that all is lost, he is totally committed to their cause.

The society of monster killing samurai is led by a mysterious armored creature, about whom nothing is known. Calling in the assistance of his friend Henry (a younger straight-edge punk replacement of Microchiop), Frank soon hears the story of just who this strange creature is and why he is hunting down monsters in the first place.

The Punisher No. 14

The entire issue is devoted to the origin story of Robert Hellsgaard, a man of science who was the soul survivor of a werewolf attack in Black Forest of Germany, 1898. Having dispatched every infected victim with silverware, including his own family, Hellsgaard was branded a madman and would have lived out the remainder of his years incarcerated if not for the intervention of monster hunter Ulysses Bloodstone. The two become inseparable in their quest to rid the world of these creatures of the night and begin to formulate a plan to exile all of their undead prey to a strange limbo via an inter-dimensional portal. However, Dracula intervenes and during their battle, Hellsgaard becomes trapped in a suit of armor customized to destroy any unholy monstrosity. As the armor works against him, reducing Hellsgaard to merely a skull floating in the armored suit, he is thrust into limbo, surrounded by unthinkable threats.

During his absence, a group of Japanese scientists read of Hellsgaard’s genius and created a cult in his name. As Japan was over-run with monsters against which they had no defense (aside from the Shogun Warriors shown in a quick cameo), they searched for a way to retrieve Hellsgaard from limbo, believing him to be their only hope at salvation.

The book is mostly drawn by Dan Brereton with framing sequences by series artist Tony Moore. Brereton made a huge impact on readers years back for his Nocturnals series and the Batman: Thrillkiller mini. The beautifully painted artwork firmly sets the mood for Hellsgaard’s story and also adds to the EC/Eerie vintage horror comic book vibe that Remender and Moore are shooting for.

Brereton's Nocturnals

I have to agree that this is not your typical Punisher comic book and I certainly do sympathize for die-hard fans… but this series is just jaw-droppingly well done and one of the most entertaining monthly books on the rack. Now and again there is talk about the stagnation of comics and that there is no room for new ideas. Punisher: Frankencastle may not be the messiah of the comic book medium, but it is trying something new and with a unique blend of horror, action and humor achieving it in spades.

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