Good-Bye, Frank


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The late 1990s were a dark period for the Punisher franchise. Just a few years prior, the character was able to support three ongoing titles. But by 1998, the property was in a place where Marvel was willing to try anything with it just to keep it alive.

Part of their plan was to bring the Punisher over to their Marvel Knights imprint and give him a new status quo. Instead of hunting the scourge of the underworld as the Punisher, Frank Castle would receive great powers from Heaven and become a holy hunter of all that was evil.

The whole spiritual assassin thing wasn’t the new direction fans were looking for. In 2000 Marvel decided to give the Punisher another revamp. This time, they brought in the experts—Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon.

Ennis and Dillon were previously best known for their collaboration on Hellblazer, a story of a bitter and sarcastic dealer of the dark arts, and Preacher, a story of , well, a preacher imbued with the “voice of God”. So it would be natural to think that the pair would be keeping with the mystical/spiritual theme established in the prior miniseries.

What fans got, however, was a return to basics. Frank Castle was back taking on mob families where they lived and them trying to stop him. But Ennis and Dillon applied their own unique twist to it. They brought the ultraviolence and gallows humor on display in the Preacher and applied it to the Punisher.

Bad guys were fed to grizzly bears. Goofy Russian assassins telling their victims about tourist locations they’d like to visit after the assassin kills them. A man dispatched by being suffocated under a morbidly obese man. It was the same old Punisher that was so popular in the early 90s, but with a sense of humor. It was funny without diminishing the Frank Castle character.

Ennis and Dillon’s first 12-issue miniseries reinvigorated fan interest in the Punisher and plot points were taken wholesale from it and put into the 2004 film adaptation of the character. The impact the first miniseries made meant a sequel ongoing series was a given.

The next Punisher series ran for 37 issues and all but six were written by Ennis (Dillon was around for the first 7 issues and only 3 or 4 afterward). It continued the tone and gore from the miniseries and featured crossovers from Spider-Man, Daredevil and Wolverine.

At the end of these 37 issues, Ennis felt the need to take the Punisher in a new direction. He wanted a more realistic and mature take on the character. Even though the series was a success, it was cancelled and restarted under Marvel’s mature readers imprint, MAX.

The goofy humor was toned down and the stories became more gritty and realistic. The Punisher faced enemies and situations that could conceivably happen in the real world. And a whole bunch of nudity and sex was added to the graphic violence. This Punisher wasn’t meant for kids in any way, shape or form.

But that doesn’t mean that the stories weren’t any good. Ennis over his 60 issue run on this title let everyone know that he was the definitive Punisher writer. The character had been around for a quarter century before Ennis got his hands on him, and had a lot of great writers working on him, but none seem to understand Frank Castle like Ennis. He brought weight and gravity to the character and made him seem real.

It is a testament to Garth Ennis’ skills on the title that he is being replaced by not one, not two but three writers on the series. Crime novelists Gregg Hurwitz, Duane Swierczynski and Victor Gischler will rotate on the comic. Hurwitz starts it off in a couple weeks when his first issue hits the stands. A sneak preview will be attached to tomorrow’s issue.

But if you’re like me, three writers are not enough to replace Ennis on the book. He has left a legacy on the Punisher that is all but irreplaceable. Lucky for us he will be reuniting with Steve Dillon on the character for a six-week weekly miniseries, Punisher: War Zone, in December. After that, all we can do is hope he makes another return to Frank Castle in the future.

Also out this week:

Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe:

Leave it to Marvel to provide some historical context to Garth Ennis’ tenure on the Punisher by reprinting his first work on the character the same day his epic run ends.

This one-shot originally hit the stores in 1995. It is an alternate reality take on the Punisher origin. Instead of Frank Castle’s family being exterminated by the Mob, they are killed in the crossfire of a battle between the X-Men, the Avengers, and a group of alien invaders. When the heroes only offer lame excuses for the consequences of their actions, Castle decides that they need to be punished.

What happens when Marvel’s superhuman community becomes the Punisher’s target instead of the criminal element? Well, the comic’s title is fairly self-explanatory.

Garth Ennis (W), Dougie Braithwaite (A), Marvel Comics, $4.99. One-Shot.

Final Crisis: Revelations #1:

For some, Greg Rucka once again writing a comic featuring Crispus Allen and Renee Montoya is a dream come true. After all, his treatment of the characters in Gotham Central made that series a cult favorite. The fans of that title have got to be excited about this series.

However, a lot has changed for these characters since Gotham Central was cancelled. Crispus Allen has died and is reborn as the Spectre. And Renee Montoya has left the force and taken up the mantle of the costumed vigilante known as the Question. The two former partners are reuniting. But will they be allies, or is the Question the next target of the Spectre’s vengeance?

Greg Rucka (W), Philip Tan (A), DC Comics, $3.99.  Five-Issue Miniseries.

Golly! #1:

Judgment Day has been cancelled. Called off. Rescheduled for another time. The Earth has been given a reprieve from the end of days, for a little while at least.

However, much like Andrew Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans, some of Satan’s minions on our planet haven’t gotten this news. Their plans for the apocalypse are still underway, and about to go forward no matter what. Now Heaven has to find an agent on Earth to nip these demons in the bud before anybody gets hurt.

Unfortunately, the person they chose was a carnival ride repairman. How does being able to fix a Tilt-a-Whirl qualify you to fight the legions of the dammed? God only knows.

Phil Hester (W), Brook Turner (A), Image Comics, $2.99.  Ongoing Series.

Secret Invasion: Inhumans #1:

The reveals about which characters were Skrulls was one of the biggest selling points of  Secret Invasion. Fans wanted to know which one of their favorites were replaced by weird little green goblins from outer space. But now that a number of reveals have taken place, the fans want more. They want to know when their hero was replaced, are they alive or dead, and what the replaced hero’s friends and family are going to do about it.

This week, we get the answer for Black Bolt. He was one of the first heroes revealed to be a Skrull. But he was also a husband, a brother, and a monarch. The absence of the real Black Bolt leaves a big whole in a lot of lives. The rest of the Inhumans are set on finding out what happened to their leader, and failure is not an option!

Joe Pokaski (W), Tom Raney (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. Four-Issue Miniseries.

Helen Killer #4:

Helen and Jonah failed in their appointed task—protecting the life of President William McKinley. They unraveled the conspiracy around the President’s death and set about to bring all the conspirators to justice. However, an evil genius long believed to be dead has our heroes captured. Now, Helen and Jonah might be able to give their apologies to McKinley—in person!

When it was announced that they were making a comic book focusing on the deaf and blind Helen Keller becoming a secret service agent, I thought the most we could hope for was high camp. But the series was really a great action adventure story which tackles the concept seriously—and makes it work! I recommend picking the title up if it gets collected in trade paperback format.

Andrew Kreisberg (W), Matthew JLD Rice (A), Arcana Comics, $2.99.  Final Issue.

Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #1:

The first Atomic Robo series became quite a cult favorite with more than one critic or blogger. The historical sci-fi with a great sense of humor touched a vein with a lot of readers, and it quickly became one of those small press books that garners a self-generating stream of buzz, eventually being nominated for an Eisner Award for Best Limited Series.  

Now, the concept is back for another miniseries. This time, it is 1943 and Atomic Robo is our only hope of stopping an army of Nazi robots. The only thing is, to do that, he must defeat Hitler’s personal commando, Otto Skorzeny. That is a task that is easier said than done. Could Atomic Robo’s second miniseries be his last?  

Brian Clevinger (W), Scott Wegener (A), Red 5 Comics, $2.99. Five-Issue Miniseries.

Antoine Sharp, The Atheist Vol 2 #1:

Who does the United States Government turn to when it needs to investigate supernatural cases? Well, if this was TV, that would be Mulder and Scully. But in comics it’s Antoine Sharp. He is independently contracted with the government to investigate the things that go bump in the night.

His latest case takes him to South Carolina as he is called to investigate the chronic disappearances of newlywed women. He soon finds out that their new husbands have taken to burying them alive. That act is pretty horrific, but it is nothing compared to the reason why the act is happening. What lies behind this despicable practice? That’s what Sharp is about to find out.

Phil Hester (W), Kevin Mellon (A), Desperado Publishing, $3.99. Ongoing Series.


William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer. He also is the comic review editor for PopMatters and is the comic book movie editor for Film Buff Online. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

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