How Lee & Kirby's "Fantastic Four" Birthed the Marvel Universe, Part 1
There it is. Bask in its glory. There is so much in so little that this teaser image can be dismissed as cheap marketing, stringing readers along, chasing after a dead horse in the form of the zombie bandwagon, even vaguely familiar. But, the longer you look at it, the more you start to see and if you really think about it, turning Frank Castle into some sort of sewn together undead abomination is simply what’s left, America.
If we get honest with ourselves, the Punisher is pretty much what we make of him. Originally a tiny sketch of a dude with a Skull where an alligator should have been on his shirt. He was a moral allegory for Spider-Man to balance himself out against- no, that’s not true. He was a one-note villain’s assistant who had a cool costume and managed to escape under the ‘misunderstanding fight’ trope. Then he became someone that Spider-Man could measure himself against and find himself the better man. Then he fired automatic weaponry on a jet-ski.
What happened? What did we do? Did a skull shirt really sell us on a guy who was one knit cap away from being a thug himself? Personally, I think the 80’s showed up and the macho ideals of the thick-necked, gun-toting hero wading through the blood and guts of his enemies fit Frank Castle as much as anything would. A man with a skull on his chest and gun in his hands looking a little like Sly Stallone isn’t going to be much else and with the titles running at the same time, his popularity was cemented. He fought criminals of every shape and fired guns of every size and set himself up as sort of this action figure hero, a guy who could take on any criminal element imaginable, from drug cartels to Doctor Doom.
We fit the Punisher to our most relevant interests which were, at the time, pretty shallow but certainly action packed. You would think with the holofoil 90’s, the Punisher would have thrived better but this when we had Castle run a mob family for a bit and then have his own private ‘Clone War’ so to speak where Frank Castle became an undead agent against the supernatural, sales declined. If the Punisher was anything we make out of him, why didn’t these work? Despite the obscene popularity of Spawn, the supernatural direction was rather out of left-field and not very well thought out. I don’t have to tell you how awkward it is to think of the Punisher running a mafia family; even in the world of professional wrestling, sometimes you just can’t make a heel out of a face. Even with our anti-heroes, they carry enough weight with the reader that the idea of them turning towards an even darker side is hard to follow.
By the time Garth Ennis came along, he was able to clear away the past directions and point the man with the gun at the bad guy. His approach was so simple, so basic a character in his motivations that readers came back for the dark humor and gritty violence. When he moved to a MAX imprint, Frank Castle was almost inhuman, this force of nature, an unflinching view of hard line justice that made for award-winning stories and the inspiration for two movies (like it or not). But as all good things come to an end, Mr. Ennis left the title on a high note and left editors scrambling. Matt Fraction brought back the dark humor in Punisher: War Journal and three different crime writers tried to find a place for their view of the Punisher but missing their mark enough for a ‘bold, new vision’ to be arranged.
i09 reminds us that the ‘Rest In Pieces’ banner refers to storyline starting in this month’s Punisher #8 wherein he’ll be facing off against the Dark Avengers and eventually Daken, Dark Wolverine. Well, by the stitched up, tube-chest wearing semi-corpse we see in the promo art, we can get an idea of how badly this fight is going to go. But really, isn’t some cobbled together corpse of the Punisher what’s left of a character that’s been dictated by fan whim and writing genius? And isn’t it fitting that Daken, a sort of violent one-note character a step up from your common thug, gets Frank Castle back to his roots?