Editor's Note: Punisher #12 arrives in stores tomorrow, December 23.
There seem to be two possibilities when writing stories involving the Punisher: either play it dark and serious, or have fun with the concept and make it ludicrous and over the top. Rick Remender takes the second option here, having recently killed off (and dismembered) the main character of the series and then had him resurrected as a stitched-together, Boris Karloff-ian freak, befitting the obvious but still funny story arc title "Franken-Castle." Since this version of the character (as opposed to the mature-readers-oriented PunisherMAX) is centered in the Marvel universe with its colorful spandex costumes, regular alien invasions, crazy inter-dimensional adventures, and commonplace magic and science-fictional technology, it's not as ridiculous an idea as it might seem, but it's still a strikingly weird thing to do with a guy who is known mostly for wielding machine guns and shooting gangsters.
The problem is, Remender seems to still be taking it too seriously; two issues into the storyline, and the Punisher has spent the entirety of his post-resurrection time moping around and feeling sorry for himself while more exciting events transpire elsewhere. That's another issue that writers often have to deal with: Frank Castle isn't that interesting of a character, and when elaborate stories get constructed around him, he can get lost in the shuffle until it's time for him to start killing. But as long as you don't worry about the star of the book not having much of a presence, the story here is full of craziness and shiny things to look at: some sort of techno-samurai assassins are killing all the various monsters on Earth, and they're led by a skull in a jar atop a steampunk robot. Morbius the Living Vampire is leading the Legion of Monsters as they shelter the survivors in a huge underground city called Monster Metropolis, and they've reanimated the Punisher to help them fight the bad guys. It's ridiculous, but it's mostly played straight, and while it isn't entirely successful in evoking the intended drama, it still makes for a fun conglomeration of strangeness and colorful excitement.
But the real star of the show is Tony Moore's art, which is pretty amazingly detailed in everything it shows, like the various creatures roaming the streets of the monster shantytown, or the art deco filigree decorating the aforementioned robot. His sense of character design is pretty great too, with the Punisher sporting giant mechanical arms and protruding tubes on his disfigured body, and he manages to wring some real emotion out of his googly-eyed monsters. Dan Brown's coloring really helps, giving a depth and texture to everything, emphasizing the lighting of the underground setting, and enhancing the mood of different scenes. It's a really good-looking book, a nice surprise for such a frivolous-seeming story.
Overall, it's not perfect; it seems to be trying to walk a balance between a serious take on the main character and an embrace of the sillier trappings of the greater setting, but there's just not that much that's interesting to say about Frank Castle, and this weighs down what could be a fun bit of monster action. But even though the character development lags, there's plenty of enjoyability to be had here, and it looks like the real action and violence are going to kick in with the next chapter. If things don't get even better at that point, we should ask Marvel for our money back.
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