by Patrick Ehlers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
I aways struggle to identify with the Punisher. The straight line from Army vet to man suffering from personal loss and PTSD to gun wielding maniac only ever plays as tragedy for me. Like… where’s the fantasy? Where’s the escapism? Writer Donny Cates and artist Dylan Burnett address this dissonance by taking the two most sadistic parts of Frank Castle’s origin — military service and a mind set on vengeance — and mythically amplifying them both in uniquely Marvel ways. The result is, and I can’t believe I’m saying this about a Frank Castle story, tons of fun.
Cates and Burnett make it clear that they’re out to use every single facet of this character’s biography from the first couple of pages. There are three straight pages of individual panels trading off labels that this version of Frank Castle has carried at one point or another. The first page starts with the standard origin, the one I’ve always struggled with: “Solider. Dead Family. War on Terror.” But the last panel on the page begins the subversion: “Death”. It’s the second page that starts to weave in parts of the Ghost Rider and Silver Surfer identities, leaving heavily on some of the touchtone words and phrases for those characters. I mean, if you were playing $100,000 pyramid and the subject was “Marvel Characters” you’d use “Spirit of Vengeance” to get Julie Bowen to guess “Ghost Rider”, right?
It’s in that third page of labels where Punisher-Ghost-Rider-Silver-Surfer starts to take on his own identity. Cates even does “Death” twice on this page, itself a repeat from page one. It was the twist before and it’s the twist again! And then, just because we haven’t quite established this character as demonstrative of the entire Marvel Universe, he wakes up in Valhalla to tussle with Odin. Burnet and colorist Antonio Fabela take this mythological omnivorism as a cue to go fucking nuts, blowing up the visual innovation of Jack Kirby while contrasting light and color with Frank’s everlasting deathwish.
I mean, get a load of this morose motherfucker brooding on a verdant hilltop, wearing a skull t-shirt while admiring the goddamn rainbow bridge between realms. Odin bemoans that there’s a mortal in Valhalla, but that’s what makes Frank Castle so interesting — he’s a character of extreme contrasts.
So when Frank travels back in time to kill Baby Thanos in cold blood, the tone is simultaneously colorful and ominous, serious and sorta silly. I’m not sure I even have other reference points for this kind of mood. It’s everything and the kitchen sink combined to make a singularly strange, and uniquely compelling world.
When the issue ends with Frank strapping Baby Thanos to his chest in some kind of chain-bjorn, I can’t really guess where we’re headed next. But I do know enough not to be bored by these adventures of Frank Castle.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?
Hey, so I’m a bad Donny Cates fanboy, and didn’t read the Thanos series from which this character spawned. What’s the deal there? Is this Frank Castle just some kind of multiversal variant? It’s cool jamming all this vengeance and angst together into one silver-maned bad-ass, but I wasn’t sure if there was anything more nuanced to it than that. I’m sorta happy with him just being an elemental rage-man.
I could quote your entire comment and have it apply to me. I don’t know what the hell is going on with this. The last page was one of the most ridiculous pages I’ve ever seen in Marvel – and it was perfect.
(however, I’m much more sympathetic to the Punisher as a character. I think there’s been a lot of pretty fun Punisher stories lately)