8.06.2009

How To Make A Character Lame: The Punisher

by Brandon

Not all comic books are equal.

We fans all know that. Some comic books are just better than others. Many times it is an isolated incident. But there are some instances where a character is treated poorly over a long period of time. Sometimes is laughably bad. Sometimes it can be downright insulting to the fans.

All superhero books don't necessarily make the title characters out to be great. In fact, many longtime comic book characters have had their fair share of lame moments. One of the longest suffering characters to the disease of inequity is Frank Castle, The Punisher. Here are the five worst turns for poor Frank Castle.


Make Punisher Black
Yeah. Marvel hit some pretty bad lows in the 1990s. There probably isn't a better example than when Marvel turned Punisher black. It sounds wacky now, but someone at Marvel had to think, "This is freaking great!" at the time. It went down like this...

The Final Days story arc had gone for seven issues, including the seventh part which was a conclusion of sorts. Frank castle had been pursued by the Kingpin's sinister agents even into prison where a group of thugs led by Jigsaw carved Frank's face ala the aforementioned Jigsaw. Frank manages to escape prison, but he was still being harassed by a group of Kingpin's goons. At this point, any sensible vigilante would know that it was time to change his appearance. Frank hooks up with a drug addict underground plastic surgeon. They are apparently more easily accessible than one might imagine. Franks task her with making him unrecognizable... and she does.

I think Frank was just as shocked as anyone. What follows is a stereotypical and humorous romp through any preconceived notion white folks had about the treatment of blacks in America in the 1990s. What's the first damn thing that happens in issue #60 when Frank gets on the road? That's right: he gets pulled over in a gross miscarriage of racial profiling. Of course, Frank doesn't want to play by their rules. One cop asks him, "What's the matter, boy? Cat got your tongue?" When there is no answer, another cop whacks Frank in the back, saying, "Maybe the coon's got his tongue!" Frank proceeds to beat some ass, but the righteous ass whipping that follows is not carried off without some help.

In the 1990s, if you were going to be turned black, you could only have a few other black superhero friends. So Frank had the Falcon, Blade, or Luke Cage to choose from. Of course, if you wanted to be the baddest m&%^#$ f%^&*# on the block, the winner had to be Luke Cage. Awesome. Once Cage gets in on the fight and spirits Punisher away from the scene, they go back to Cage's hood. What do they find there? A drug dealer pushing his product on a kid playing basketball. Yeah... Marvel P.C. at its best. By the end of issue #60, Marvel readily declares the team-up as being between BLOOD BROTHERS.

But don't worry. He got better. By issue #62, apparently the mafia couldn't stand him being black and forced him back into his normal digs. I mean, come on, white bread America couldn't take a black dude waxing drug addicts and criminals. That type of righteous indignation can only be reserved for white Vietnam veterans.

Anywhere a reader steps in the four issues dealing with the black Punisher he or she is bound to find something laughably objectionable. This was an instant WTF classic. Despite my heavy trading of comics when I was kid, I always held onto these issues from when I bought them back in '91. Recommended for the sheer Borat-style laughs you will get.

Make Punisher Kitschy
The Punisher was everywhere in the 1990s. If your book didn't have Punisher in it, then you pretty much sucked. One of the oft mentioned stories that featured Punisher was the Archie crossover. The 1990s were rife with ill-conceived crossovers. That's part of their charm, I suppose. But thankfully we've moved past the need to have crossovers and events book that are meant to only move books instead of telling decent stories. Right?

The story takes place in idyllic Riverdale, U.S.A. The Punisher is in pursuit of a criminal that looks oddly enough like mild mannered Archie Andrews. Hilarity ensues as Archie and this nefarious lookalike intertwine in mesh of zany fun and good humor. Punisher does pull a gun on Archie. You don't get to see that everyday at Riverdale High. No, sir.

For added kitsch value, the Marvel edition of this featured a die cut cover. Nothing says awesome crossover like an enhanced cover. For the record, I own both versions. I'm not ashamed to admit that.

Make Punisher an Angel/Demon Thingy
The decline of the Punisher in the early to mid 1990s is a cautionary tale of too much of one thing really is too much. Most people remember that Spider-Man and Wolverine were appearing all over the Marvel Universe, but Punisher was also everywhere during this time, like the Archie crossover mentioned above. Once this overexposure and lackluster revivals completely panned out, there was really only one option left.

Kill the Punisher.

Of course, this being comics, that only meant he was going to come back... in the employee of heaven. Or was it hell? I forget which one, thankfully. The two miniseries that spawned out of this wellspring of creativity(one solo, one with Wolverine) were just terrible. They are pretty much universally accepted by all Punisher fans as the low point in a career of some pretty shitty stuff. Garth Ennis thankfully cleaned the slate with Welcome Back Frank by ignoring any developments during that dark time.

Recently, I did manage to see copies of the first miniseries at a local shop for $5 each. This retailer assumes that you are a chump.

Make Punisher Blow Up Cars in the Shape of a Skull
I have go tot be honest with you here: I actually like the various Punisher films. I'll let that sink in a minute.

Finished? Good. Knowledge is power and now that you have been informed, we can continue.

The year 2004 saw the first attempt from Lion's Gate to revive The Punisher movie franchise (if one can call it that). I can admit that there were some dumb scenes in all three Punisher movies, but the dumbest of all is the final scene of this Thomas Jane fueled film. Punisher came off as more The Manipulator throughout this film. He plotted long and hard to get back at John Travolta's character. I mean, really hard. Not only does Punisher end up waxing his guy in the final showdown of the film, he places a bunch of elaborate bombs around a car lot in order to make a skull shaped firebomb in the explosion. Really. He does that.


Yeah... I just hope all of his enemies were flying that night, otherwise it might have been hard for them to get his oh so subtle message. It would have been a waste of all his hard effort for them to be just toking up or shooting someone while he sent his fiery warning to the underworld.

Make Punisher Frankenstein
The thing that most Punisher fans like about the character has nothing to do with the fantastical world he inhabits. Most fans enjoy the Punisher because he isn't fantastical. He's real. He was never washed in gamma radiation. Nor was never bitten by an irradiated insect. As a child, Frank Castle wasn't rocketed to earth as the last survivor of a dying race. And he sure as hell wasn't born with mutated genes. The Punisher was born out of a terrible situation in which his family was murdered, with his experiences in Vietnam painting an important backdrop. He never needed superpowers to be who he was. He didn't need other worldly improvements.

We Punisher fans just like him the way he is. Punisher doesn't need to change.

Detractors are quick to point out that comic fans are just too stuck in their ways and don't allow for change. Let's be frank: there is change and there is stupid change. Changing Punisher's race, the tone of his books, or his super powers are all certainly changes. Stupid, idiotic, and absolutely rotten changes, but changes nonetheless. Changing things up for the sake of it isn't really innovative. It can be downright harmful to the character.

If Marvel feels the need to change the character, so be it. But is it necessary to change the fundamentals of the character? Any Punisher reader can already paint the idiotic "reset button" story that will have to be done because this change can't last long. But it is unnecessary. Punisher is getting a little long in the tooth. If we need a refresher, retcon his experiences from Vietnam to Iraq or Afghanistan. Don't wholesale what makes the character great.

But it looks like some major changes are in store for the Marvel Universe version of Punisher. That's too bad because Rick Remender seems to be a great writer. For at least the first few issues of the new relaunch it appeared he actually got the character. Turning Frank Castle into Frankenstein isn't exactly proof of that now. It's zany and crazy, but not in the good way. If anything, we fans are either going to be getting more Kitschy Punisher or a horror infused Punisher. Either way, we fans will just have to wait and see where our favorite character is going to now.

6 comments:

Stephen said...

i disagree archie and punisher are such polar opposites that archie greatly accentuated the unisher's badass coolness

Chris Ware said...

Oh Brandon...as a teacher, you should be ashamed of yourself. Referring to the spider that bit Peter Parker as an "irradiated insect". What would your students think?

Brandon said...

I don't care. They remind me far too much of Riverdale's perfect setting for me to care.

Matte said...

Who ever thought that Archie and Punisher deserved a place together in the same comic might have had a really weird side effect on Generic Cialis that just makes no sense

Matte said...

This looks like something my favorite comic book writer Caverta would do, he was good at messing around with stories.

Mykal said...

The Punisher franchise is cursed with bad Karma anyway, being a direct rip off of Don Pendleton's Mack Bolan. Besides, the Archie comic was exactly what comics need in this era in which Batman becomes a scruffy thug no more heroic than the street trash: Wimsy and lighthearted fun.