Punisher Comics Review 6

Season two of Daredevil herald the coming of a new incarnation of Frank Castle, the Punisher, played by Jon Bernthal. The character has his own series on Netflix and it remains to be seen if Bernthal can keep up the momentum. Since my blog’s inception I have used it to examine the character and express my fandom, but I never talked about the comics that inspired me. And so, I will dedicate a new series to covering my favorite Punisher stories.

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The Slavers (2005)
Garth Ennis
Leandro Fernandez

If you were to compare Frank Castle to a movie slasher, Michael Myers is a perfect match. They are both shapeless entities with a singular drive, operating on instinct to get what they want. Where they differ is Frank has a defined moral compass, but remains an emotionless automaton. Nicky Cavella came close to getting a tangible emotional reaction out of Castle, but pissing on the corpses of his family was not enough. What came next would ultimately do the job in one of the darkest Punisher stories ever written.

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Lining up his crosshairs on a Balkan crime boss Frank prepares to do what he does best when someone tries to steal his kill. A lone woman nearly kills the boss before fleeing the scene. The boss sends his boys to get her, leaving him alone for Castle to perforate from his rooftop perch. Tracking the woman Frank contemplates abandoning her before the boys catch her and drop their pants. Castle makes quick work of them, saving the woman from humiliation.

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On his way out the woman begs for help, but Frank wants to stay out of it until she mentions a baby. The next day the woman wakes up in Castle’s subterranean home where she tells her story. Her name is Viorica and she lived in a village in Moldova before she was kidnapped and forced into prostitution. After enduring months of abuse and selling her body to multiple men on a daily basis, she was sent to America as a part of a larger operation run by a Romanian father/son team and a woman named Vera.

After the move Viorica gave birth to a baby named Anna, but she was only allowed to see her if she worked hard. Desperate to escape with her child, Viorica ran away and met a social worker named Jen Cooke, who was building a case against the Slavers. One day, when Jen leaves the baby in what she assumed was a safe place she gets an email from Vera meant for Viorica.

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A dead baby is more than enough motivation for Frank to rip and tear. All he needs is a who, what, and where. While telling her story, Viorica laid out the details of the operation. The Slavers have middlemen to attract clients before sending them to discreet locations where the girls are held. One of the middlemen was the boss Castle deep-sixed beforehand, leading him to the man’s club for answers. Wiping out the remaining gangsters, Frank interrogates the boss’s replacement, and gets an address.

Posing as a driver for a pair of clients leaving the house, Frank pulls over the van and makes them an offer. He wants the clients to tell him everything and then to lie to the house guards about losing their wallets once they drove back. The clients oblige until a cop shows up, siren blaring. Intent on sparing the officer Castle puts the fear of God into him before fleeing, the cop’s arrival no doubt spooking the Slavers.

While trying to get information on a new house location, Frank butchers random pimps until he realizes they do not know anything. He later tracks down Jen Cooke to get something more and she gives it up without protest.

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Tiberiu and Cristu Bulat ran a militia of foreign fighters during the Bosnian War. As they massacred whole villages, the militia took the young women, and killed the rest. Castle assumes once stability returned to the region, the sex trade would be difficult to maintain without NATO intervening. So, the Bulats took their operation underground and moved west. Frank realizes trying to get more information from veterans of the Yugoslav Wars would take extreme measures and plans accordingly.

Following up on a potential location from one of Jen’s rescues, Castle heads into rural New York in search of a house on a lake. Watching from a distance he spies a squad of heavily armed men enter the house, Cristu among them. Knowing they were ready for him, Frank knew to come at dinnertime, and spike their stew with a knockout drug. Soon the whole house goes to sleep and he gives each of the men a twelve-gauge face-lift. The only man to survive was Cristu because Frank needed answers. What followed is one of the most disturbing pages in comics.

 

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Having gotten what he needed Castle makes his way back to the house when he notices Tiberiu and a dozen men had arrived. Apparently, the father came to kill the son over a business dispute. Frank takes the smart route and hides under the cabin’s dock, hoping to given them the slip. Without a second thought he decides to go loud and gives the closest man a 45-caliber castration. Frank opens fire topside until he realizes he is not fighting street trash. The Slavers are real soldiers with more than a decade of experience. As Tiberiu gives orders the soldiers overwhelm Castle, forcing him to dive into the lake.

After returning to the city he meets Jen at a diner with two off-duty cops, Russ and Miller. They came to her after learning Jen was under surveillance by a Detective Westin, a known shitbag. Russ and Miller eventually reveal Westin is on the take from the Slavers. The cops agree to help, but on the condition that the Detective lives. Frank agrees and moves to pull apart the remains of the operation.

Making his way to a business office Frank confronts Vera, the brains of the Slavers. Plunking her two guards he throws Vera face-first into the window of a secluded room. The glass does not break, giving Frank enough time to reveal how much he knows after dissecting Cristu. He throws her again and again, slowly turning her face into a bloody pulp, while looting filing cabinets for information on Westin. With his final throw the window pops out its frame and Vera plummets to the street.

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Vera’s files give Frank the address of the last house and a possible location for Tiberiu. After setting up an explosive under the manhole by the curb of the house he waits across the street for the old man’s arrival. Triggering the bomb after making a positive ID Frank charges inside. He chases Tiberiu to the top floor where he uses a girl as a shield, knife to her throat. The old man eggs him on and Castle knows he is at a disadvantage with a scattergun. Out of options he settles for a gamble and calls Tiberiu a coward in Romanian. The old man tosses the girl aside and charges Frank before Tiberiu takes a knee to the face.

Later, with Tiberiu chained to a chair, Castle brings in Detective Westin to make a deal, threatening him with Vera’s file. Frank offers to surrender the file if Westin delivers a package to the Bulat’s contacts back home and acquires Visa’s for the rescued girls. Westin asks what package before Frank turns on a video camera and douses Tiberiu in gasoline. Sparking a flame from a flip-lighter Castle looks into the camera and says “Don’t come back here,” before tossing the lighter.

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The Slavers is Taken if it were a horror movie and actually good. It shines a light on the darkest criminal enterprise in the world and makes sure you see every detail. While acts of sexual assault are not shown on the page, the description and implication thanks to Ennis’s unparalleled storytelling makes you feel all sorts of uncomfortable. Unlike the usual story arcs, trafficking and slavery is very real, and having the Punisher in the middle of it was surreal to say the least. Instead of cartoonish gangsters and run-of-the-mill thugs, Castle is faced with real monsters that make their money on sexual violence.

If you cannot stomach sexual assault and/or violence against women, stay far away from this book. For Punisher fans, get ready for Frank’s most visceral and disturbing story yet.

Punisher Comics Review 5

Season two of Daredevil heralded the coming of a new incarnation of Frank Castle, the Punisher, played by Jon Bernthal. Soon, the character will get his own series on Netflix and it remains to be seen if Bernthal can keep up the momentum. Since my blog’s inception I have used it to examine the character and express my fandom, but I never talked about the comics that inspired me. And so, I will dedicate a new series to covering my favorite Punisher books.

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Up is Down and Black is White (2005)
Garth Ennis
Leandro Fernandez

Trying to emotionally shake Frank Castle is like beating on a brick wall with a whiffle bat. The man is best described as a void, a walking abyss whose singular purpose is to bring death to those that have done wrong. If he did not have his own villains, the Marvel Pantheon of Heroes would have no one left to fight. The closest anyone has ever gotten to penetrate Frank’s black exterior was Nicky Cavella in the worst way possible.

After recovering from his wounds suffered the last time he tried to kill Castle, Nicky returns home to a council of gangsters trying to salvage what is left of their business. Soldiers promoted to Capo have no clue what they are doing and call upon Cavella for advice. His solution: kill the Punisher. Having lost everything to the infamous vigilante the council is more than reluctant to devote their diminished resources to such a fruitless endeavor.

Nevertheless, they vote on the proposal while Nicky awaits their answer. Sending his partner Teresa, the sister of Pittsy to dispose of any dissenting voices, Cavella gets the gangsters to play along. In the same night Nicky and Teresa travel to the graveyard where Frank’s family is buried, exhume their skeletons, and urinate on the bones. The act is caught on camera and the footage sent to the media. At a diner the desecration is shown on television where Castle eats dinner.

Rather than bury the bodies, the NYPD confiscates the corpses as evidence in an ongoing investigation. Frank reacts to this development by travelling around town with a light machine gun and mopping up three criminal establishments in a single night. While inflicting near maximum casualties, he leaves one alive to tell the first responders to bury his family. If they do not, then he will keep going.

Watching his work play out, Cavella is visited by an old acquaintance named Rawlins, the same Rawlins that organized the failed terror attack on Moscow back in Mother Russia. The generals that planned the operation sent him to take out Castle for fear he knows too much. Seeing Nicky’s scheme as an opportunity, Rawlins convinces him to join forces via blackmail and appealing to Cavella’s repressed homosexuality.

With the mounting body count, the NYPD gives in and agrees to bury Frank’s family. Castle decides to go after Nicky, but a part of him knows it is a trap. However, he does not care about doing the deed with the same skill that made him such a formidable vigilante. A part of him, a rage greater than he had ever felt, wants to kill Cavella regardless of the danger.

Perched on a rooftop overlooking Nicky sitting outside a café, Rawlins stares through the scope of a rifle as Frank pulls up with shotgun. Before the killing blow could be struck, Cavella is hit instead. Behind the trigger stands Kathryn O’Brien, one of the CIA operatives that worked for Bethell from In the Beginning. She lays covering fire, buying her enough time to capture Rawlins and escape with Castle.

Meeting at the home of William Roth, another of Bethell’s operatives that tried to capture Frank, O’Brien interrogates Rawlins. He was one of her husbands who left her to a dreadful fate on a mission in Kabul. Rawlins brings up the incident and O’Brien leaves him alone with Castle. Meanwhile, Nicky and Teresa come upon Roth’s residence after licking their wounds. Cavella wants to wait for back up, but Teresa has a bloodlust that is exacerbated when Nicky turns down her advances.

After removing one of Rawlins’ eyes, Frank takes a breather with O’Brien. It is not long before the two are in bed together. She confesses that despite her years of wet work, she sees him as a good man. Watching Castle approach Cavella out in the open inspired her to act, fearing he was going to get himself killed. They lay with each other one last time before Frank takes a knife in the chest from Teresa. A fight ensues that leaves both him and O’Brien bloody. Castle gains the upper hand and gives her space to empty a whole pistol clip into Teresa’s face.

Before going their separate ways, Frank and O’Brien get Rawlins to confess to the Moscow terror attack among other operations. With the footage Castle will use it as evidence to go after the generals while O’Brien will use it to clear her name. On the way out, however, they stumble upon Cavella all by his lonesome trying to make a move.

After taking a little boy hostage, Frank calls him a coward who gets other people to do the killing and dying. Nicky gives in and lets the boy go, realizing his psychopath persona is a facade. O’Brien rushes back inside to warn Roth of the oncoming police and finds Rawlins gone. The story ends with Castle walking Cavella into the woods and shooting him in the stomach, saying he will die slowly from blood poisoning.

Needless to say there is a lot going on in Up is Down and Black is White. There was a lot I had leave out of the summary because we would have been here all day. With the characters working in parallel, we get Nicky’s backstory where he killed his own family and became the victim of sex abuse by his aunt. O’Brien is also more involved where she is accused of murder while in prison and escapes to New York City. Then there is Rawlins, who is connected to O’Brien and Nicky.

On top of that there is Castle’s desire for suicide that comes out of nowhere. While on his rampage, he has a reoccurring dream of all the scum dead at his feet as the innocents watch from the sidelines. Among the corpses is Frank’s family. He looks to the innocents and says, “If my world ends, so does yours,” before turning his gun on them. And after everyone is dead, his wife Maria tells him “We are still dead” before the dream ends.

It is an interesting concept that furthers Castle’s complexity. Nicky was right to target his family’s grave because that is where it all started. That was the last time the world appeared normal and once they were gone, Frank became the void. But Cavella’s simple provocation made Castle realize that there was no point. His family is still dead and watching Nicky piss on their corpses showed a faint glimmer of reality that he had been denying. No matter how many people he killed, nothing was going to change that they were gone forever.

O’Brien is very similar in this case.  In the latter years of her life she became embroiled in a world not unlike Frank’s.  In the nihilistic underbelly of wet work she became used to the darkness and remains content.  Even after what happened to her in Kabul, she did not quit and brushed it off as another part of the job.  Her story, though not as prominent, runs in tandem with Castle’s whereas she sees him as a genuinely good person despite what they have in common.  The title Up is Down and Black is White is how they see the world and explains why they are the way they are.

Leonardo Fernandez returns with his pencils following Kitchen Irish. It goes to show that a having a competent colorist can make all the difference in the world because this is a decisive improvement. Every panel is rich in detail from the gruesome to the beautiful. The guns are accurate, the characters’ expressions full of life, and the scenes perfectly realized.

Though one of my favorite MAX books, Up is Down and Black is White is difficult to recommend if you have not read the last three books. It builds upon what was established beforehand while adding more details that have yet to come. If you are as big a fan as I, you will have no problem understanding what is going on. Otherwise, get caught up before you jump in.

Punisher Comics Review 1

Season two of Daredevil heralds the coming of a new incarnation of Frank Castle, the Punisher, played by Jon Bernthal. I think he nailed it in the trailer and I cannot wait till the premiere. Since my blog’s inception I have used it to examine the character and express my fandom, but I never talked about the comics that inspired me. And so, the days leading up to (and beyond) the premiere will be dedicated to my favorite Punisher books.

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Born (2003)
Garth Ennis
Darick Robertson

There is no denying that war is terrible. People die in the millions (usually), soldiers return home mentally unstable, and countries tear themselves apart. Some argue the Civil War is the worst conflict in American history, but when it comes to cultural stigma and generational trauma, Vietnam makes Antietam look like Grenada.

Thanks to poor planning to solve a problem 20 years in the making (look it up), the Vietnam War was a stain on our country whose effects are still felt today. What could have been a simple resolution turned into a decade long shit-show thanks to General Westmoreland. A generation of young men bore the brunt of this colossal fuck-up in the form of untreated PTSD and an ungrateful American public. And in that chaos and quagmire, Frank Castle was made.

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Told from the perspective of a grunt named Stevie, we follow the exploits of Captain Castle in the Marine Corps at Firebase Valley Forge in 1971, a lone outpost watching Cambodia. Its troops include junkies and degenerates who subsist on heroin, VC scalps, and rape. With a failure of a commanding officer at the helm, Castle maintains patrols and keeps the base running. For three tours the hunger for war kept him coming back, entrenched in the world of Special Forces as he rose to notoriety. At Valley Forge, the war winding down, Castle does whatever he can to sate his thirst.

As the days wear on, Stevie struggles to keep his fellow grunt Angel focused and off the needle. Stevie knows if they stick with Castle, his hunger will keep them alive long enough to make it home. He often reminisces about his future after the war, about all the women he will meet, and the sons that will admire him for his service. For all his naiveté, Stevie does not lie to himself about the situation. He knows the war has brought out the worst in men, some of which are in his platoon.

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Frank knows Valley Forge is just a few calls away from demolition. With the commanding officer barely sober enough to care, the grunts whither and sleep off their final days as Charlie moves in the bush. Frank can have it either way as long as he gets to fight. When an inspecting general proposes closing the base, Castle makes use of his arrogance and lures him into the fire of a VC sniper.

A part of him believes in the concept of righteousness, using the war to deal out justice from behind a gun. When his soldiers fall out of line, he is quick to reprimand them, sometimes fatally. But when Frank struggles to retain what is left of his humanity, his consciousness gets the better of him, reassuring that he is only lying to himself and he can never return to normality. He will always have a taste for battle and the voice offers a war without end.

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Come a heavy storm that prevents the aid of air support, Charlie launches a surprise attack on Valley Forge. With the grunts’ fighting spirit all but gone and the command useless, the only thing standing between the VC and a full take over is Castle and his handful of men. The battle is bloody and long, lasting well into the night as ammunition runs low. Resilient to the end, Stevie struggles to keep Angel in line as he gives into the hopelessness and gets his head blown off.

Stevie then keeps close to Frank, following his lead as Charlie swarms in. In the heat of the moment and by some miracle, air support finally arrives to drop napalm danger-close. Relieved by the incredible save, Stevie is too happy to notice a flaming VC charge him with a bayonet before he gets his wish and boards the jet plane that will take him home forever.

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With the odds drifting out of his favor, the voice hounds Frank for an answer. It questions his resolve, making him consider why he kept coming back to Vietnam, to all the blood, guts, and hate that perpetuated a waking nightmare. The voice offers him a way to survive the onslaught and when he is left with only a shovel to fend off Charlie, Frank gives in. Come the morning, helicopters arrive in search of survivors. Among the charred corpses, the only one left standing is Captain Castle.

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Born is a seminal work that not only explores the failings of the Vietnam War, but also adds dimension to a character that was a one-note vigilante. Equipped with a wealth of knowledge on the subject of war, Garth Ennis crafted a narrative that puts you in the boots of a soldier playing witness to the evolution of an antihero. The apocalyptic atmosphere would not be complete without Darrick Robertson’s detailed and expressive artwork that brings the story to life. The new Punisher may not use the Vietnam origin, but Born is essential to gain insight into how Frank Castle came to be.

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The original four-issue run is collected in Punisher MAX Complete Collection Vol. 1, including the next two stories I mean to review in the near future.

Editorial 10: The Punishers

Adapting superheroes was quite the challenge before the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Back then nobody could get it right and with every attempt came greater failure. In the case of Spider-Man, the Tobey Maguire version was on point until Sony ruined everything with bad direction and even worse writing. Then again, I think Spider-Man is a puss, so his movies can crash and burn for all I care. The same applies to the Fantastic Four who were just fine in their first incarnation before Fox got in the way.

Frank Castle, the Punisher, has undergone a similar evolution over the years. Any opportunity I get to talk about my favorite Marvel character, make fun of the UN, Australia’s government, liberals, or third-wave feminists, I tend to take it whole heartedly at the risk of going on an extended tangent. The character is my most favorite of the Marvel Pantheon and with the advent of his new incarnation on season two of Daredevil, I find it fitting to explore his evolution in film.

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Punisher is a simple character when it comes to concept, but he is complicated in origin and personality. In the Marvel comics continuity there are two versions of Castle: the Vietnam and Modern variant. Each version’s war origins are vehicles to explain Castle’s proficiency with weapons, but it is important to consider the broader implications.

The Vietnam War is one of the most shameful travesties in American history and no one experienced it worse than those who fought it. An ignorant public with no respect exacerbated the various problems soldiers brought home at the war’s end, resulting in suicides, homelessness, and addiction. If Castle fought in Vietnam, it makes sense he would fall into vigilantism. Here is a man who suffered a living nightmare shared by an entire generation, who comes home to his loving wife and two children, only to see them murdered before his eyes, destroying whatever humanity Castle had left.

All war is terrible, but in the context of modern asymmetric conflict, especially in a time when help for PTSD is more accessible, the concept of Modern Castle is not as strong. War is easier and efficient compared to the late 60s, not to mention the public and government’s treatment of veterans has definitely improved. The exterior factors that would facilitate a character like Punisher are simply not present.

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Personality probably plays a bigger role in Castle’s evolution. Both variants can posses either the Nihilism or Apathy types, and underlining both is Psychopathy. Reflected in the colors of his costume, Castle sees the world in black and white. People are either absolutely good or absolutely evil with no gray in between. He makes every decision based on this binary morality with no more thought than a squeeze of the trigger. Castle is also aware what he is doing is wrong. He understand vigilantism is illegal, yet continues his work because he believes in it. He does not care what laws he breaks or lives he ruins as long as he accomplishes the mission.

The Nihilism type is most prevalent in Garth Ennis’s Punisher MAX, which also uses the Vietnam variant. In the story Born, Castle assumes a kind of split personality on his final tour that would become the Punisher. This personality is driven by a hunger for war and bloodlust as a kind of PTSD that negates every other nonessential emotion. He is completely shut off from the world, relying only on instinct and his binary morality. He is efficient in his thought process and methodology, but retains the concept of innocence. He cares about protecting children like in the Mother Russia and Slavers books, yet has no problem killing women when they fall into the black side of his morality.

The Apathy type is more mainstream and similar to most action heroes, but not without the element of psychopathy. On that same logic, John Matrix, Paul Kersey, John McClane, Dutch, and Rambo are all psychopaths. They do not acknowledge nor care about killing scores of human beings and often laugh about it afterward. Apathy Castle is no different, throwing out the occasional joke like in Dark Reign when he used Pym particles to infiltrate a casino in a pizza before enlarging after being eaten. He does not acknowledge the implication of his violence, treating it like an everyday thing, while casually dispatching criminals without hesitation. In that regard, he has a lot in common with his contemporaries. Iron Man probably does not think about the long-term damage his repulsors, nor does Captain America when using his shield, or Thor with Mjolnir. The closest match to Apathy Castle is Black Window who immersed herself into the life of an assassin to the point she almost enjoys it.

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The film versions of Castle adhere to different combinations of his origin and personality variants. In some cases they subvert the comics and do something entirely different. The following summaries are ordered chronologically from the first incarnation to the last:

 

Dolph Lundgren, The Punisher (1989)

The most obvious choice for a character like Castle would be an action star if you were stupid. It is important to remember the comics were not what they are now, but what remained the same was the Vietnam origin. Unfortunately, the people behind 1989 forgot and made Castle a former cop, which dose not account for his very military skills and methodology.

Though Lundgren plays the Apathy type, he is too emotional in many cases. He cares about saving kids, but he also monologs about morality, God, and constantly questions if he is doing the right thing. Before the climax he turns himself in for no reason and whines in his cell. It also does not help that Lundgren is not the kind of actor for this material.

The way he kills is unbecoming as well. The opening was fine where he sneaks into a mansion, hangs a guy, and burns the place. Then he has a comical shootout in an abandoned theme park, a conspicuous fight on a pier that would have killed him in seconds, and a very loud infiltration of a building despite using a suppressed weapon. The worst scene was when he dropped into an illegal casino, told a Yakuza soldier to deliver a message to his boss, and shot up the slot machines and tables with an M60. The real Punisher would have dropped in, killed everyone, and left at least one criminal alive to carry his message because he did it about six times in Up is Down and Black is White.

Taking it as a pure action movie, 1989 succeeds when judged on its own merit. I could tell it wanted to be a Cannon Films production, but lacked the sheer insanity of Golan-Globus. However, when you use the name of an established character, be prepared for inevitable comparisons and judgments fueled by preconceived notions.

 

Thomas Jane, The Punisher (2004)

2004 is a complete reversal of 1989. Where Lundgren’s Castle was totally flawed, Jane was the second best and more accurate as a combination of Modern and Apathy. He brought a level of subtlety that defines the character’s emotional state because Castle is not one for expression. With a conservative use of one-liners Jane did a great job of epitomizing Castle’s action hero aesthetic without insulting the character. The alcoholism element was a little too on the nose, but it is not his fault because the rest of the movie is hot garbage.

Where 1989 was an actual 80s action movie, 2004 was trying to parody 80s action movies and failed. There was slapstick in some of the fight scenes, quirky roommates that get into shenanigans, and ridiculous villain characters that would have been better suited in another movie or with a different version of Castle. The movie is tone deaf and devoid of the irony that makes parody work. If you are telling a joke, it must have a point and 2004 is about as funny as an Adam Sandler movie. How can you make a story about a guy losing his family in a massacre, who turns to vigilantism funny? In what way is mass murder hilarious?

Do not get me started on the petty, boring tactics and lack of action scenes. Where the real Castle would find the people he is after and shoot them, 2004 Castle formulates a complicated scheme with many phases of planning that could have been simplified with a bullet.

 

Ray Stevenson, Punisher: War Zone (2008)

It took two movies and 19 years to finally get Castle right. War Zone is essentially a straightforward adaptation of Punisher MAX. It barrows the tone, a few ideas from In the Beginning, Kitchen Irish, and was the most accurate depiction yet. Ray Stevenson delivers a compelling dramatic performance with little to no lines and is built like a tank. On a physical level alone he nails the character as he delivers a fatal tackle here, a face-caving punch there, and efficient, calculated attacks that reflect better upon Castle’s military origins.

While it is a basic action movie, War Zone also successfully parodies the genre. By making the villains ridiculous to the point of cartoonish, it provides juxtaposition between the reality of killers and those of fiction. Castle is serious about his work and does not hide from the truth. He acknowledges he is a mass murderer and that there is no hope for any kind of redemption. The villain characters in War Zone do not care about what they do and enjoy it as if they were in an action movie. They are caricatures of criminal archetypes, like cosplaying Sopranos fans, and Castle is the naked reality of evil making them see the truth.

It is too bad the previous Punisher incarnations made War Zone poison to audiences. The movie opened amid behind-the-scenes drama and flopped, taking in only a third its budget. Thanks to fans like myself, however, the film has risen to cult status and director Lexi Alexander has been venerated for making the best Punisher movie to date.

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With season 2 of Daredevil just months away, there comes the question of how Jon Bernthal will fair as the new Frank Castle. Personally, I would rather see Ray Stevenson back in the part or even Michael Shannon in an adaptation of my script. However, I trust in Bernthal’s ability as an actor to do the very best he can while keeping in mind the history of the character. The quality of the incarnations has steadily grown over the years and it would be disheartening to see a back track into mediocrity. A bigger question is how the other elements will affect the character. Do the show runners and writers understand Castle or will they earn the ire of a very vocal fan base? We will just have to wait and see.

Scripts – 1.5

It was not long ago I finished the Rough Draft for the sequel to Punisher: Martyrdom. Shortly thereafter I began work on the First Draft with 24 pages done as of now. However, I find myself at odds with my intentions. I would like to finish and share it, but I have shown my unfinished projects little to no attention in these recent months. And so, I have decided to put the Draft on ice and complete my other work. Reviews will continue, of course. I just wanted to provide some insight into what is going on.

Scripts – 1

I find it hard to relate to most people. I share interests with otaku, gamers, gun-nuts, nerds, and comic book-junkies, but whenever I am around those people, I cannot seem to fit in. However, if there is one group I can say with confidence I belong to, it is Punisher fans.

Punisher: Dark Reign #2 was the second comic I ever bought. Later I discovered MAX from Garth Ennis and the current run from Nathan Edmondson. For Halloween I painted the Punisher Skull on a balaclava and wore body armor. If you need more proof, here is a link to a character analysis I wrote not too long ago:

http://wp.me/p4Mzvz-1x

Like fans of anything, I am hard to please. My demand lies more in the film adaptations, excluding the one with Dolph Lundgren because I have not seen it.

The one with Thomas Jane is only remembered because of his performance. He played Frank half serious and half action hero, with one-liners delivered in a dry manner. It fit the character, but what brought it all down was the hammy slapstick, schizophrenic tone, and the 80s style antagonists that were far too serious.

Four years later, War Zone came along and did everything the Jane movie got wrong right. It had the same 80s feel with the bad guys, but nobody took their roles seriously. It created juxtaposition with the seriousness of the Punisher, played better by Ray Stevenson. What it said to me was the Punisher values his humanity, despite being a mass murderer. He is affected by what he does, unlike the villains who get off on being sociopaths.

It told me Frank Castle is a hero that does not lie to himself about what he does. He does not wear a costume because he does not want to hide the fact he is a killer. In that way, I believe he is the sanest of the Marvel Pantheon.

Unfortunately, War Zone flopped and we fans never received a follow-up. Even after the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), there has not been another Punisher movie. Rather than sit on my ass reading up on miss-calculated speculation and sensational theories, I did something I knew would never be more than fan-fiction:

I wrote a feature length script for a Punisher movie in the MCU.

After months of editing, cuts, and failed submissions, I am ready to share what I have done. I cannot attest to its quality or if it is even good, but I hope to show a Punisher film can be more than a vigilante story. I feel confident in saying I have done Frank Castle justice and those like him.

Enjoy, I hope.

CT_McMillan_Martyrdom

ALL RIGHTS BELONG TO MARVEL COMICS

Analysis: Writing Frank Castle, the Punisher

As a student I must make it clear that I am not a professional in any sense of the word. The opinions expressed in this essay are based on what I have learned in my studies and personal observations. I just wanted to let you know.

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Frank Castle is one of the most under appreciated and under-written characters in Marvel Comics. Based on a variety of stories, I find he is considered a one-trick pony, a one-dimensional vigilante that is more renegade than paragon. Even other characters call him a psychopath and mass murderer. Usually he is placed in a supporting role for a book other than his own, and in titles that bare his name he is hardly the focus.

Why is this? Why do authors treat Frank like a one-off anti-hero with bland dialog and stories no different than an episode of Law and Order?

It is because no one understands Frank Castle.

All characters in fiction are hard to write, but Frank is the kind of person that requires an intimate knowledge of who he is on a psychological level. He is in no way an ordinary vigilante.

There are two versions of Frank’s origin. Both are the same, but different; one says he fought in Vietnam and another in the Middle East. For this analysis I will use the Vietnam origin.

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In Mark Millar’s Civil War, after a one-sided fight between Captain America and Frank Castle, Spiderman remarked: “Are you kidding me? Cap’s probably the reason he went to Vietnam. Same guy, different war.”

These few words speak volumes about Frank. It tells us he is or was idealistic about morality and justice, in addition to possibly being a fan of Captain America. All of that change, however, after Frank went to Vietnam, the single worst war in America’s history.

You could argue our modern wars are terrible, but when you take into account the physical and psychological damage done upon an entire generation of young men, the millions killed and poisoned, and the radical shift in public opinion against ordinary kids, fresh out of high school, who were forced to fight in a war, I could argue that you are a draft-dodging piece of garbage that doesn’t know shit about the world.

Of course war is an awful thing that creates as many heroes as victims, but Vietnam was a conflict that makes Verdun look like Grenada. There is not a single man or woman who grew up in that time that feels the effects of that disaster today. When you come home from the worst place in the world, after doing your duty to your country, to be called a murdering rapist baby killer, how would you feel about yourself? How can you move on knowing people think you are a monster? This mentality from the general public alienated millions of young men whom were already worse off with a flawed VA system and an even more incompetent government that had no idea how to deal with the situation after a series of domestic crises.

Frank Castle was one of the many soldiers affected by the war. He was a skilled sniper, but underneath his calm, stoic exterior was a man utterly changed by horror. Even Rambo could not cope with seeing his friends in roasted pieces of meat. On his return home he would have become one with disillusioned youth, had it not been for the one thing that kept him together: his wife and children.

Maria, Lisa, and Frank Jr. were his normal, his center, and reason for going on. Most returning vets would turn to heroin or suicide to cope with home life, but Frank had is family, and it was with them he was truly happy. They kept his darker side at bay, the part of him that killed hundreds, and seen the worst of humanity.

And on one fateful day, the horror is set loose after Frank sees his wife and children murdered in Mafia crossfire.

This is where the origins intersect and where most people find Frank an easy character to understand. It is the archetypical vigilante creation story; ordinary person loses loved ones and is inspired to go out and fight crime. It is Batman’s origin, a story even people who don’t read comics know about.

It is here most writers draw their conclusions about Frank. The problem is the blatant disregard for his past. Usually his military service is meant to justify his skill with firearms, but the psychological effects of war are completely disregarded.

Combat and a year’s worth of horror are taxing on a person’s mental health that becomes exacerbated after coming home. And when you consider the social effects of the Vietnam War, apply them to a man who saw his wife and children massacred in a park, you make for a logical take on the vigilante and a character with more empathetic complexity than any bat-themed billionaire.

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This brings to mind his psychological state.

Frank Castle is not crazy. He knows what he is doing, knows he is a mass murder, knows it is wrong, and does not care. This would make him a sociopath, but a sociopath is someone who willingly rejects morality. Frank Castle has a sense of morality because he murders criminals, ones that are the absolute worst. He does not shoot j-walkers or torture thieves, but when he knows someone has done true evil, he goes the extra mile.

He does not enjoy any part of it either; for him it is like a meaningless job you do just for the paycheck. In Rick Remender’s run from 2009-2010, Frank says a few one-liners, but the delivery comes of as dry and flat. This serves as a juxtaposition between the character’s action-hero aesthetic and the brutality of killing. What it is trying to say is nothing can make murder cool, no matter how witty your choice of words. It is more of a thematic aspect, but it says a lot about the character.

And on the subject of murder, Frank is very utilitarian in his methodology. He does whatever is necessary to get the job done, without the need for theatrics. He finds his targets, shoots them, and moves on. It is only when the target truly deserves it that Frank goes into Saw/Hostel territory; like the father who used his own children in pornography or the businesswoman that kidnapped girls to have them raped and drugged for prostitution.

So if he does not get anything out of it, why does Frank Castle kill people, even after getting his revenge? He is as much a hero as a victim; a man with morals and skills parallel to Captain America, and the emotional baggage of a disillusioned Vietnam veteran and a widower. To that effect, when he sees a world full of victims created by psychotic monsters, he has no choice but to cleanse them from the earth.

In the words of comic book writer Garth Ennis, “[Frank Castle] make[s] the world sane.”

Now if Frank is mentally stable and aware of what he is doing, why does he wear a costume? Wearing the skull is unnecessary because he does not wear a mask either; people and the authorities know exactly what he looks like. On top of that, why does Batman dress like a bat? To be a symbol? I understand protecting your identity, but you can do that without looking like a furry. But I digress; the reason behind Frank’s costume is simple:

If we assume Frank is a fan of Captain America, in a world of superheroes, then it is only fitting he dons a costume fit for his character. He is a murder, so he would wear a skull.

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I understand this has been a very biased analysis because I care about this character. There are millions of war veterans that have gone through the same experiences (family massacre aside) and like them, Frank Castle deservers the same respect in comics. However, I am not saying there aren’t stories that do him justice.

The best by far, if you are looking for a psychological and adult take on Frank, is Punisher MAX by Garth Ennis. The series can be a hard read because it is violent and offensive, but it is also compelling and realistic.

Another good story puts Frank knee deep in the Marvel Universe, unlike MAX. Rick Remender and Nathan Edmonson both take into account the realities of a world of superheroes, gods, and aliens. Remender goes into realms of camp with a story about Frank becoming Franken-Castle, a walking Frankenstein pun after Wolverine’s son chops him into pieces. Edmonson’s is more grounded in realism with appearances from Electro, Black Widow, and Domino against the backdrop of a drug cartel’s plot to kill the citizens of Los Angeles with a chemical weapon.

Other stories combine the serious with the fantastical. Greg Rucka’s run is more of a true-crime take, but it falls short because the focus is on the supporting cast. Another series is from the Essential Punisher Collection #2 by Mike Baron, where Frank travels the world in the war on drugs. Later he gets into a brawl with the Man Without Fear, Daredevil.

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I hope this analysis has bettered your understanding of this underappreciated character. Sure I have been very biased, but when it comes to the Punisher, I think he needs to be understood on a deeper level. Though he is not unique in concept, Frank Castle is one of the more complex characters in the Marvel Universe. It is a shame so many writers do not see it.

 

Sources

Millar M, McNiven S, Vines D, Hollowell M (2007). Civil War. New York, New York: Marvel Comics.

Ennis G, Larosa L, Palmer T (2004). Punisher MAX: In the Beginning. New York, New York: Marvel Comics.