Monday, April 30, 2018

Longbox Junk - One Shots Part 2: Hellboy, Punisher, Red Sonja, Boba Fett, Tomb of Dracula & X-Files

More one shots! I DO love these little bite-size pieces of the comic world. . .


Let's do this!


HELLBOY: DOUBLE FEATURE OF EVIL


Dark Horse (2010)
SCRIPTS: Mike Mignola
PENCILS: Richard Corben
COVER: Richard Corben


This one shot presents two stories: A haunted house that forces the occupants to bring it victims and a man who calls on the wrong God in an Egyptian museum, along with a framing device of both stories being movies shown to an audience of the dead in an abandoned movie theater.

Both stories are brilliantly illustrated by one of the true masters of horror comics, Richard Corben, and the art is worth the price of admission (heh) alone.

Likewise, both of the stories are well written by Mike Mignola, but the first is more enjoyable. The second story only fills a few pages and feels very rushed, but it's not bad at all. . .just very short.

Overall, this is a fantastic collaboration between two comic legends and is quality work from cover to cover. Very well done.


MARVEL MANGAVERSE: PUNISHER


MARVEL (2002)
SCRIPTS: Peter David
PENCILS: Lea Hernandez
COVER: Lea Hernandez

In this manga-style story, The Punisher (Sosumi Brown) is a teacher by day and "Tokyo's kinkiest superhero" by night as she seeks to destroy her nemesis. . .Skang Kee Ho.

Her teenage sister (Hashi Brown) discovers The Punisher's secret lair and takes up a cursed sword to rescue Sosumi after she's captured by the demon Oni Yew and Skang Kee Ho.

Okaaay. . .

For sheer strangeness, this story fills the bill.

I can tell. . .especially with names like "Skang Kee Ho" and "Hashi Brown", and I should mention that THIS Punisher doesn't kill, but "Punishes" by tickle torture and ass-paddling. . .that this isn't meant to be taken seriously, and given that, it's a fun little one shot with occasionally clever writing and very nice manga-inspired art.

But just because it's not bad, that doesn't mean it's all good either. The story is ridiculous, there's no backstory for the main character to tell how or why she became The Punisher, and there are a few truly groan-worthy moments.

Overall, this one shot is basically a lot of "WTF?" in a small package.

RED SONJA: SONJA GOES EAST


DYNAMITE (2006)
SCRIPTS: Ron Marz
PENCILS: Joe Ng
COVER: Alvin Lee

Red Sonja travels to the far eastern realm of Khitai where she allows herself to be captured by a ruthless warlord in order to rescue an enslaved princess, the daughter of a neighboring ruler.

Unfortunately, things aren't what they seem to be. . .the princess is no slave. . .and Sonja must fight her way to freedom.

I'll say this. . .Dynamite knows how to put together a very nice book. 40 pages, no ads, heavy gloss paper. This is a nice, thick comic for your money. You can just FEEL the heft and quality in your hand when you hold it.

The story is a simple one, but well written. The art is simply outstanding, Red Sonja portrayed in brilliantly-colored and highly-detailed manga/anime style is a VERY nice change from the usual sword and sorcery style.

Overall, this one-shot is pure quality comics from cover to cover.


STAR WARS: BOBA FETT - OVERKILL


DARK HORSE (2006)
SCRIPTS: Thomas Andrews
PENCILS: Francisco Ruiz Velasco
COVER: Adam Hughes

A scheming, low-level Imperial officer on a backwater mining planet hires notorious mercenary Boba Fett to resolve a miner strike behind the back of his commanding officer, hoping to reap the benefits of promotion for his problem-solving skills. 

Unfortunately, when Boba Fett solves a problem, it's usually not in a way that benefits anyone but himself, and his explosive "solution" attracts all the wrong kind of attention from Imperial higher ups. 

Dark Horse didn't always do a great job with Star Wars, but this one shot highlighting Boba Fett is a nice example of when they pretty much hit the nail on the head.

The story is pretty simple, but interesting, and even has a few nice moments of humor. The art is cartoony and exaggerated, but fits the tone of the story very well. . .and the 3/4 page reveal of Boba Fett is outstanding.

Overall, this wasn't the greatest Star Wars tale ever told. . .but it's far from the worst. It's actually pretty good, and is a fine example of how everything in the Star Wars universe doesn't HAVE to be epic in scope and dramatic in nature.


TOMB OF DRACULA PRESENTS: THRONE OF BLOOD


MARVEL (2011)
SCRIPTS: Victor Gischler
PENCILS: Goran Parlov & Dalibor Talajic
COVER: Bryan Hitch

In this origin story of Marvel Vampire Raizo Kodo, Raizo and his younger brother infiltrate a seemingly unbeatable warlord's camp to assassinate him. They succeed, but barely escape with their lives.


During the battle, Raizo's brother is bitten. . .and the plague of vampirism sweeps through the Kodo clan, forcing Raizo to kill his entire family. But before it's all done with, he too is infected.

I had never heard of Raizo Kodo, not being much of an X-Men fan (where I guess he was an occasional recurring character), but as a stand-alone story about the origin of an ancient Japanese vampire, this was a pretty engaging story.

It was a little predictable, and the art (while generally pretty good) was dodgy in places, but overall this one shot checked all the boxes I wanted it to in a vampire story. It's not the best vampire story I've ever read, but it's not bad at all.  



The part I liked best about it was the unusual setting for a vampire tale. . .moving things away from the typical European locales to Japan.


And finally. . .

THE X-FILES: AFTERFLIGHT


TOPPS (1997)
SCRIPTS: Stefan Petrucha
PENCILS: Alexander Saviuk & Jill Thompson
COVER: Miran Kim

Scully and Mulder investigate a case in Texas that involves UFO sightings going back to the 1800's.

They quickly discover that there is more going on than they bargained for in a story involving the fading memories of an elderly professor, alien "greys", Men in Black, a scheming drifter, and the last flight of a steampunk airship. . .

There's a lot going on in this book. . .unfortunately, it seems like it is about 50% filler to pad the length out to make a 64 page "graphic novel" when the basic underlying story could have easily been a two issue story in the regular ongoing series (at the time).

That's not to say it's all bad. Once you strip away the two useless side plots that pad the book, you have a pretty good story about a man and his daughter struggling to understand what is real and what is the result of his accelerating dementia.

What I really liked about this story is that it touched on one of my personal favorite "X-Files", the mystery of UFO sightings long before the Wright Brother's first flight.

The art is a bit schizophrenic in that sometimes it is dark and moody, and sometimes it is cartoony. The artist never quite manages to capture the likeness of Scully or Mulder, and there are a few places where the art switches to an almost watercolor painted look. The art is all over the place.

Overall, I liked this book because of the unusual subject and nice touches of humor. What I didn't like was the pointless side plots to pad the length and the occasionally shaky art.

CONCLUSION


Overall, this handful of one shots were less of a mixed bag than the previous batch.  I generally enjoyed them all, and even though there were a few rough spots here and there, I could easily suggest reading any of these.  


I'm having a hard time deciding which one I liked best, but if I HAD to choose, I'd say Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil.  Corben.  Mignola.  How can you NOT like it? If I had to pick the worst of the bunch, I'd say X-Files: Afterflight.  A good underlying story unnecessarily padded for length and with somewhat shaky artwork.  It's not BAD, just a bit disappointing.


Up next. . .


Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Longbox Junk. . .
DC's Star Trek/Star Trek The Next Generation: The Modala Imperative 8 issue crossover mini.


Be there or be square!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Wayback Wednesday - Fantastic Four #50

Welcome to another "Retro Review" edition of Longbox Junk, where I take a look at some of the more "Collectable" comics I own instead of my usual dollar box fare.  This time out we're taking a trip back to 1966 to take a closer look at Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four #50.

I have to admit something right off the top here. . .I've never been a fan of the Fantastic Four. 

Like I've mentioned in the past about Spider-Man (another character I'm not really interested in), most of my knowledge of the FF has been gained by comic fan osmosis.  I have a few issues of various runs lurking in the Longboxes and they've crossed over into other series I've read, but I've never gone out of my way to buy a single issue of Fantastic Four, except for the issue at hand and issue #51. . .which I bought purely for their covers.  

So what I'm saying is that I'm familiar with the FF, but am by no means a fan.  That said, this is only one of two issues I have written by the FF's original writer, Stan Lee, so I'm perfectly willing to give it an honest read and try to let Stan The Man change my mind.

I have ANOTHER confession to make before we get into this issue. . .I'm not really a fan of Jack Kirby's art.

If you've read some of the other "Retro Reviews" I've done here at Longbox Junk, you've seen me TRY to like Kirby's art.  Unfortunately, I don't have a large selection of his work in my collection and what I do have isn't BAD, but I find it sort of "Meh" and overrated in my extremely humble opinion. 

That said, I'm willing to give it another chance because number one, I DO love that cover and number two, it's some of Kirby's earlier work, and all I've seen before is from the 70's, where I've read he was on a bit of a decline.

So two strikes against this comic before I even open the cover on it, but I think I can still give it a fair shake. . .so let's do this!

FANTASTIC FOUR (Vol 1) #50



Marvel (1966)
SCRIPTS: Stan Lee
PENCILS: Jack Kirby
COVER: Jack Kirby

A little background:  I bought this comic book for its great cover back in January from an antique store (really more of a junk shop) where it was in a battered and partly burned CGC slab rated 6.5 for the oddly low price of $100.  A pretty good find, I'd say. For the comic collecting purists and slab haters out there reading this, I'm sure you'll be pleased to hear that for this review, I cracked that slab open and freed that old comic from its plastic prison for a proper reading for the first time in God knows how long (and to make it easier to frame on my office wall).

So I bought this book for the cover, let's talk about the cover. . .that glorious, MAGNIFICIENT cover!  Like I said above, I'm not really a fan of Kirby's art, but the stark figure of Silver Surfer on that unusual creamy brown background with the floating heads of 3 of the Fantastic Four and the yellow letters of the title combine to make this cover a real eye catcher.  I don't think I've ever seen another cover like this.  

I think it's the matte brown background that makes it so intriguing. . .I'm not sure if that color has ever been used in that way since.  One would think a plain brown background would be dull and uninteresting, but it REALLY makes the other elements pop in a big way.

If I have one complaint it's the whole "Human Torch Goes To College" thing taking up most of the real estate down in the right bottom corner.  I could do without that part, but even that's pretty well done, even though it seems a bit intrusive and unnecessary. Other than that, this comic definitely has one of my favorite covers in my entire collection.

So that's the cover.  Let's get into what's underneath. 

Right off the bat, I realize that, unlike most of the comics of this era that I've read, this isn't a "one and done", but part of a story continued from the previous issue.  A trip to the Wiki-Well let me know that this is actually the conclusion of a 3 issue story arc introducing Silver Surfer and Galactus, and that Lee and Kirby's extended story arcs such as this one were considered a bit of a revolution in comic storytelling. 

Unfortunately, I have the NEXT issue but neither of the previous issues, so I was sort of dropped into the middle of things.   Thankfully, the storytelling isn't nearly as decompressed as modern comics, so the splash page sums things up nicely. . .

(Not from my copy.  My scanner is broken, so I pulled this and the cover scan from online. The colors on mine aren't nearly as bright)

I have to admit, the splash didn't impress me much.  It's a little crowded and Galactus has plenty of bluster, but it's hard to pull off being threatening when you're wearing purple.  Probably why Hawkeye hardly ever wears his superhero suit these days and The Phantom is practically forgotten. . .BUT I DIGRESS!

The story goes like this:

Galactus has pretty much shown the Fantastic Four that they are powerless against him, but Silver Surfer has been convinced by Ben Grimm's girlfriend (Alicia Masters) that mankind are worth saving.  The Surfer confronts his master and pleads with him to spare Earth, but (as The Watcher points out) how can Galactus be convinced when what he is doing is not evil, but simply Galactus' way of survival?  And so an epic battle between Galactus and Silver Surfer begins.

At first, The Surfer surprises Galactus with his power and seems to be getting the upper hand, but Galactus was just holding back, hoping to convince his herald and longtime companion that humans are just another energy source and that Silver Surfer needs to come to his senses and return to his proper place as Galactus' herald.  During the battle The Thing, Mr. Fantastic, and Invisible Girl can only watch helplessly.

Meanwhile, Johnny Storm is travelling through other dimensions to a far away part of the universe under the guidance of The Watcher in order to retrieve the only thing that has a chance to deter Galactus. . .a device known as THE ULTIMATE MAGUFFIN. . .er. . .THE ULTIMATE NULLIFIER! A device so powerful that it can destroy an entire galaxy. . .possibly an entire universe.

When confronted by the Ultimate Nullifier in the hands of Mr. Fantastic, Galactus immediately realizes that it is the doing of The Watcher that the humans have come into possession of such a deadly device.  Under pressure from Mr. Fantastic waving the Nullifier and threatening to destroy everything, The Watcher demanding that Galactus recognize the infancy of a possibly great race being destroyed when there's plenty of other planets in the galaxy, and the Silver Surfer ready to fight to the death to protect humankind, Galactus decides it's not worth the trouble and leaves Earth.

But before departing, Galactus strips The Silver Surfer of his title of Herald and his Space-Time travelling powers, stranding him on Earth with the humans he fought so hard to protect.  With him, The Watcher also departs and the world is saved from a devastating fate. 

The End.

WAIT! This comic is only HALFWAY DONE!

That's right.  The entire epic battle between Silver Surfer and Galactus, Johnny Storm's trip through time and space to retrieve the Ultimate Nullifier, and Galactus folding under pressure from the Surfer, Watcher, and Fantastic Four, then stripping the Surfer of power and stranding him on Earth before leaving humankind to their own fate only took up TEN PAGES!  These days, all that would take TEN ISSUES.

ANYWAY. . .

After Galactus' departure, Ben (The Thing) Grimm notices his girlfriend (Alicia Masters) showing a lot of attention to the now-stranded Silver Surfer.  He gets the wrong idea and gets surly, shuffling off and feeling like a loser without hearing The Surfer blow Alicia off in favor of exploring his new home planet. 

ELSEWHERE. . .

A mysterious bald man is setting himself up as the Fantastic Four's next villain as he obsesses over the news coverage of their defeat of Galactus (Even though 3 out of four of them just sort of stood around in a force field and watched during the whole battle). 

THEN. . .

We get a page of football team drama at Metro College as the hotshot player Whitey Mullins lets his coach know what an old has-been he is and how the team would be nothing without Mullins as the star, and the coach's wife trying to make him feel better. 

AND THEN. . .

The scene shifts to the Fantastic Four's headquarters (The Baxter Building), where Reed Richards is ignoring his wife as he sinks deep into his experiments (He's desperately trying to find a way to protect Earth from future attacks by beings such as Galactus. . .but that's not really explained until next issue). Sue can't appreciate his scientific genius and need to be alone at the moment to do some work because she's being a needy b*tch.  But can you blame her?  The goddamn world was just about drained of energy by a giant guy from outer space!  A girl MIGHT need some extra attention after almost being exterminated.

IN THE MEANTIME. . .

Ben Grimm wanders the streets of New York, still feeling surly about his girlfriend paying some attention to the Silver Surfer after he. . .well. . .saved the entire world while Ben stood watching in a force field.  He scares a random woman and punches a wall because I guess that's how you got your girlfriend to pay more attention to you in 1966.

AND FINALLY. . .

As promised on the cover. . .It's The Human Torch's first day of college!

Johnny Storm seems none the worse for wear after travelling to the ends of the universe and back to retrieve a super-weapon capable of destroying everything and everyone, and his realizing that humankind are completely insignificant in the bigger scope of the infinite cosmos in the process.  But hey. . .College!

We follow Johnny as he meets his new roomie (Wyatt Wingfoot), talks to the dean, worries about being able to make it in college, and pines over his Inhuman girlfriend trapped under an impenetrable dome at the edge of the world. 

The End (for real this time)

I joke a bit, but really I like that the epic conclusion to the Galactus/Silver Surfer saga. . .the greatest threat mankind has ever faced and the moment when the mighty Fantastic Four realizes that there are things in the universe that they are utterly powerless against takes only half of the issue, and then the rest of the comic is like, "Well, THAT happened. . .but life goes on."

And that's another thing I liked a lot about this issue. . .that the Fantastic Four really didn't do that much because there really wasn't anything they COULD do.  Even Johnny Storm's trip to get the Infinite Nullifier was under the power and guidance of The Watcher.  He really didn't have anything to do with it beside provide a body.  This was a REALLY unusual story in that the titular heroes didn't really win the day at all.  Galactus just left because he was convinced that Earth wasn't worth his trouble. 

 It's fairly common these days that the heroes don't always win, but I don't think that was the case in 1966.  Most of the time (Especially in the DC comics I have from that era), the problem is solved in one issue and the status quo never changes.  I'm fortunate to have the next issue where I can see the repercussions of this story. . .with Reed Richard's obsession with protecting Earth from future attacks by beings like Galactus almost leading to his death.  I don't mean to discuss another issue, but it's almost like Richards has PTSD from the events in this comic.  It's really a dark place to go with the bright and bombastic heroes of the Silver Age, to show them as powerless against an enemy and then to show that feeling of powerlessness as a continuing story element.

Overall, even though I don't have all three issues of this story, I found myself enjoying it a LOT more than I ever thought I would.  I said at the beginning of this review that I was willing to let Stan The Man change my mind about The Fantastic Four and I have to say that this issue might have done just that. 

That said, It's not a perfect comic by any means. . .I haven't found one yet.  The Ultimate Nullifier seems like a textbook example of "Deus Ex Machina", and some of the college scenes were pretty weak compared to the philosophical debates in the front half over whether or not something has the right to exist, even though it is of no significance to a more powerful being.  But the weak points don't take away from the fact that this comic is a genuinely entertaining piece of work that holds up well to a modern reading.

As far as the art goes. . .

At the beginning of this, I confessed that I'm not really a Kirby fan, based on what I've seen from him previously, which (to be fair) was some of his later work.  I was perfectly willing to give his art a fair shake in this comic and I have to say that now I can see why Kirby is regarded as a legend in many comic collector circles.  I'm not going to go so far as to say he's my new favorite artist. . .as far as I'm concerned, Kubert still has him beat hands down. . .but I WILL say that I'm a lot more impressed with his earlier work than I was prepared to be. 

 I was especially liking his portrayal of The Thing.  I think maybe the inker had a big hand in it, but the rocky texture of The Thing stood out in a big way, with an almost three-dimensional look that some artists on today's comics can't even come close to.  The scenes of Johnny Storm in outer space were also fantastic, with a beautiful and psychedelic style that really catches the eye and invites you to linger over the panels for a while. 

Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised to find myself finally finding some Kirby artwork that made me understand why people still regard him as "King" Kirby.

CONCLUSION
I started doing these "Retro Review" Longbox Junk entries in order to more familiarize myself with the older comics in my collection.  I admit that I bought a lot of them just because I thought the covers would look nice as part of my rotating comic art collection on my office wall and I never read most of them beyond a quick flip through.  That's exactly the case with Fantastic Four #50.  I bought it for the cover and was more than happy to let it sit unread until it was time to take a turn up on the wall in a frame. . .then after a while, back into the Longbox.


But I have to say that it would have been a mistake to have never taken the time to read this comic.  Sure, it has an outstanding cover and will take a proud place on the office wall for a while, like I intended when I bought it. . .but underneath that cover, I discovered a genuinely entertaining story that really makes me want to read the other two parts of it. . .and then KEEP reading after that!  For someone who has never been a fan of The Fantastic Four, that's something. 

It's not the best comic I've ever read, but it was surprisingly good and managed to break through my pre-conceived notions of what I was going to get from a Silver Age comic.

Up Next. . .

Back to Longbox Junk Business as usual with another handful of random one shots.
Hellboy, Punisher, Red Sonja, Boba Fett, Tomb of Dracula, and The X-Files.

Be there or be square!





Monday, April 23, 2018

Longbox Junk - One Shots Part One: Aliens, Ruse, Batman, Captain America, The Goon, and Saddam Hussein!

I DO love the one-shots! They're probably my favorite kind of comic book.


To me, the one shot is one of the ultimate expressions of comic art, where the creators are tasked with the challenge of telling a complete standalone story in a very limited space.  Sometimes it works brilliantly, other times. . .not so much.


ANYWAY. . .


Here's another handful of one-shots randomly pulled from my collection.


Let's do this!


ALIENS: MONDO HEAT

Dark Horse (1996)
SCRIPTS: Henry Gilroy
PENCILS: Ronnie Del Carmen
COVER: Ronnie Del Carmen

When a mining colony is infested with aliens, the owner's daughter is missing, and Colonial Marines can't get there soon enough, mercenary exterminator Herk Mondo is called in to take care of things even though Mondo's extermination methods tend to be a bit. . .destructive.

Still, despite being unarmed, surrounded by aliens, saddled with two spoiled women, and betrayed by his employer's greedy son, Mondo gets the job done.

Ah. . .the 90's. Remember when Duke Nukem was the King of video games? Herk Mondo, alien exterminator, was Dark Horse's version of Duke Nukem. Quick with the one liners. surrounded by women, and killing everything in sight with ridiculously large guns.

Overall, despite the total "90's-ness" of this one shot, I found it to be a fun, quick read. I liked that Dark Horse tried to throw a little humor into the grim world of the Aliens line of comics, and for the most part, it worked. The realistic, yet cartoony art definitely helped sell it.

All in all, a very nice little one-shot. It makes me wish Dark Horse would have done a few more Mondo stories.


ARCHARD'S AGENTS:
THE CASE OF THE PUZZLED PUGILIST


CrossGen (2003)
SCRIPTS: Chuck Dixon
PENCILS: Mike Perkins
COVER: Mike Perkins


When former boxer and agent of famous detective Simon Archard, Peter Grimes, runs into trouble from former criminal associates, he's forced to flee for his life and into the employ of a country Earl.

Peter decides to try his hand at solving the crime when the Earl ends up dead, and discovers that he's a better boxer than detective when he picks the wrong suspect with the wrong motive. Still, he ends up with the girl, so all ends well.

I really enjoyed this one shot, which is a tie-in to CrossGen's Sherlock Holmes tribute, Ruse. The dialogue was sharply-written, the story was engaging, and the detailed art was fantastic. . .it reminded me a lot of one of my favorites, Steve Epting.

I liked the humor in the ending in that the amateur detective gets everything wrong and the case is only solved by a confession made in order to stop him from beating the wrong man to death.

All in all, an extremely enjoyable one shot that really makes me miss CrossGen's short-lived Ruse series, and CrossGen in general.  They put out some really good comics during their time.


BATMAN: THE 10-CENT ADVENTURE


DC (2002)
SCRIPTS: Greg Rucka
PENCILS: Rick Burchett
COVER: Dave Johnson

The origin of Batman is retold from the perspective of Batman's new partner, Sasha Bordeax (AKA Bodyguard), as we follow them on a typical night's patrol.

When the night is done, the peaceful morning back at Wayne Manor is shattered when Bruce Wayne's ex-girlfriend, Vesper Fairchild, is found dead on his doorstep. . .leading into the "Bruce Wayne, Murderer?" crossover.

Overall, I really enjoyed this little one shot quite a bit. The retelling of Batman's origin in comics is overdone, but Rucka keeps it interesting. The chunky art is very nicely done as well. . .it reminds me of the animated series or Batman Adventures a bit.

The only thing I didn't like about this book is that as a one shot it doesn't stand on its own very well beyond the origin retelling. I had no idea who "Sasha" was and had to dip into the Wiki-Well to see how she fit into things.

That said, despite reliance on assuming the reader is up on (then current) continuity, this was a very nice issue.


CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE ROAD TO WAR


Marvel (2016)
SCRIPTS: Will Pilgrim & Stan Lee
PENCILS: Andrea DiVito & Don Heck
COVER: Ron Lim


First off. . .the cover on this one is spectacular! Definitely worth a frame on the wall.

The story is okay. Nothing great, but not bad. It's a prequel to the "Civil War" movie and features the movie versions of the Avengers as Captain America tries to fit the new team members into place by taking them on a mission where they all have the opportunity to take turns punching a giant robot. TEAMWORK!

The art is serviceable and solid, once again, nothing too spectacular. There are quite a few full page shots, including one for each Avenger, that are nicely done.

The back half of the book is taken up by a reprint of Tales of Suspense #58 by Stan Lee and Don Heck. It's pretty good, depending on your tolerance for Silver Age art and dialogue.

Overall, this was a solid one shot. Nothing spectacular (except the cover!). It serves as a very nice introduction to the MCU versions of the Avengers, as well as a nice taste of Silver Age Mighty Marvel Bombast.


DESERT STORM: SEND HUSSEIN TO HELL!


Innovation Publishing (1991)
SCRIPTS: Robert M. Ingersoll, Gerard Jones & Charles Marshall
PENCILS: Michael Dutkiewicz, Dean Hubenig & Ernie Steiner
COVER: Mark Jones & Mike Witherby


Now, HERE'S an odd bird indeed.

At first, I thought the cover on my issue was loose, but the printing on the inside of the wrap around cardstock cover goes ACROSS the binding, leading me to believe that this book has a removable cover for some 90's-tastic reason.

Then, in another odd touch, the indicia reads: "This volume is not a reprint -- it is a re-binding of existing printed books, with original covers and staples removed. Contents may vary!", leading me to believe that there are multiple versions of this book.

Odd physical properties aside, there's not much to like about this book. The opening story, about an airman who crashes in Iraq and finds out the Iraqi soldiers following him are just trying to surrender, and the one page Rocky and Bullwinkle tribute are entertaining in a jingoistic way. . .but they only take up 8 pages total in a 64 page book.

The other two stories are. . .well. . .crap.

"Legacy" seems to be based on an ongoing superhero title, but it really looks like an excuse to draw sexy women. And it doesn't even do a great job at that. The artist is one of those who can draw women's bodies to perfection, but struggles with literally everything else.

The last story (Right Place, Wrong Time) is a bit more tolerable, with decent black and white art, but the story itself is convoluted and confusing. Some sort of sci-fi noir detective time travelling thing.

Overall, I have two words for this one shot:

No bueno.


THE GOON 25-CENT SPECIAL


Dark Horse (1995)
SCRIPTS: Eric Powell
PENCILS: Eric Powell
COVER: Eric Powell

A giant poker-playing spider, a goat-headed demon with a funny hat, a swamp monkey monster with an identity crisis, a zombie priest who makes the swamp monkey eat a dead guy's head, and the Goon punches lots of stuff!

Yeah, the story doesn't make much sense, and you get dumped right into the middle of it, but I still found this one shot to be pretty entertaining.

The dialogue is sharp, the art is nicely done, and the short backup story is pretty damn funny.

Overall, I didn't find this to be a great introduction to The Goon (as I was sort of hoping it would be), but it's not bad at all.


CONCLUSION


This handful of one-shots were definitely a mixed bag. . .from the excellent Ruse to the laughably crap-tastic Send Hussein To Hell! and everything in between.  Generally, I liked them all except the aforementioned Desert Storm one shot, and even that wasn't ALL bad.


The thing I DIDN'T like is that only half of these one-shots were really stand-alone stories (Aliens, Ruse, and Captain America).  When I read a one-shot, I'm looking for something that stands on its own.  The name "One Shot" sort of implies that.


Up next. . .


MORE one shots!


Part 2. . .Hellboy, Punisher, Red Sonja, Boba Fett, Dracula and The X-Files.


Be there or be square!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Longbox Junk - What If?

I've always been a fan of alternate reality stories. . .what would have happened if THIS would have been different, or if THAT was said, and so on.  Books, movies, T.V. shows, comic books, I love it all.  It's just interesting to me considering the path not taken.

Both Marvel and DC ran with this idea. DC had "Elseworlds" (Coming soon to Longbox Junk) and Marvel had "What If. . .?".  Personally, I like Elseworlds better, but since I have a small handful of random What If. . .? floating around my collection, then Why Not?

WHAT IF. . .?

ISSUE 2 (VOL 2)
 WHAT IF DAREDEVIL KILLED THE KINGPIN?

SCRIPT: Danny Fingeroth
PENCILS: Greg Capullo
COVER: Keith Pollard

During the events of "Born Again" Matthew Murdock finally snaps and shoots Kingpin in the face, setting off a chain of events that leads to a mental breakdown, a showdown with Spider-Man and Punisher, his own death at the hands of Hobgoblin, and Kingpin's son taking up the mantle of Daredevil.

I found this to be a fantastic issue! The story was engaging and well-written and the early work of future New 52 Batman superstar artist Greg Capullo on art was superb and really helped elevate this story. All that an an awesome cover make this issue a winner in just about every way.

ISSUE 32 (VOL 2)
 WHAT IF PHOENIX HAD LIVED?


SCRIPT: George Carragone
PENCILS: Rodney Ramos
COVER: Rodney Ramos

After the Shi'ar remove Jean Grey's mutant abilities (including her ability to use the Phoenix Force), her peaceful life as a normal human married to Scott Summers (Cyclops) is interrupted by Magneto, who has a way to return her powers. . .but she refuses, knowing it's only a matter of time before she loses control and becomes Dark Phoenix again.

Later, she's attacked by Mastermind and killed, but is resurrected by The Phoenix Force. . .revealing the truth that Jean Grey did not become Phoenix, but Phoenix became Jean Grey. Driven slightly insane by the knowledge, Phoenix finds where she hid the body of the real Jean Grey and murders her in cold blood. . .

Overall, this was a pretty good issue. A lot of reliance on convoluted X-Men continuity bogged it down a bit, as quite a few pages were completely devoted to exposition. Still, the story was well-written. The art was a bit inconsistent, with the first half being well done and the back half of the book looking a bit rushed and unfinished. The cover was deceptive in the classic Marvel newsstand "Clickbait" way, but was probably the best part of the book.

All in all, a decent issue. Not great, but not bad either.

ISSUE 43 (VOL 2)
 WHAT IF WOLVERINE HAD MARRIED MARIKO?


SCRIPT: Ron Marz
PENCILS: Scott Clark
COVER: Scott Clark

Wolverine leaves the X-Men to marry the love of his life, Mariko. He seeks to help her regain the honor of the Yashida clan, and in doing so, Wolverine discovers that The Kingpin has expanded operations to Asia and is taking over all the Japanese crime families.

All out war ensues between Wolverine and The Kingpin until it all comes down to a challenge of personal combat between them. Family betrayal and revenge result in the deaths of Mariko, Silver Samurai, and Kingpin, with Wolverine returning to the X-Men at the end of it all. . .

Overall, I found this issue to be pretty much average. Nothing really stood out as above average except an occasional nice panel of art. The story was predictable and the art was mostly bland. This issue demonstrates the throwaway nature of the What If? stories perfectly.

ISSUE 51 (VOL 2)
 WHAT IF PUNISHER BECAME CAPTAIN AMERICA?

SCRIPT: Simon Furman
PENCILS: Paris Cullins
COVER: Art Nichols

When Captain America is blinded and almost killed, the government searches for a new Captain, but their first choice, Marine Frank Castle, refuses until his family is gunned down by criminals in front of him.

Soon, Castle realizes that Captain America can't fight the street-level war against crime such as that which took his family from him, so he takes on the secret identity of The Punisher and wages a bloody war against organized crime until Steve Rogers convinces him that he's on the wrong path and Captain America, not The Punisher, is the legacy that would make his family proud. . .

Overall, this issue was pretty good. Not great, but the story was well-written and interesting. The art was a little too bright and cartoony for the dark subject matter, but it wasn't bad, just the wrong choice of artist for the story.

ISSUE 64 (VOL 2)
 WHAT IF IRON MAN WENT PUBLIC?


SCRIPT: Simon Furman
PENCILS: Geoff Senior
COVER: Geoff Senior

Instead of keeping the Iron Man technology to himself and becoming a super hero, Tony Stark decides he can benefit the world and save more lives by going public with it.

Unfortunately, his decision leads to an international arms race that escalates to the point of all out war against Magneto as the mutant population is decimated, leading to the death of The X-Men, Spider-Man reforming The Avengers, and Tony Stark going to extreme measures to stop his technology from being abused.

Overall, I found this to be a great issue. Double-Sized at 48 pages with very few ads, they packed a LOT of story into this book for the money!

The writing was engaging, the story was interesting, and the art was very nice. This could have easily been a stand-alone prestige format book back in the day.

WHAT IF. . .? CAPTAIN AMERICA: FALLEN SON
 (ONE SHOT)


SCRIPT: Marc Sumerak
PENCILS: Trevor Goring
COVER: Ed McGuinness

In the aftermath of Tony Stark's death at the hands of an enraged relative of one of the casualties of Marvel's Civil War (Giant Man) and Captain America's imprisonment, the world is left without the leadership of two of its greatest heroes.

Tony Stark's Iron Man technology gets into the wrong hands, the national Superhero Initiative comes under the control of politicians and is gutted, The New Avengers are beaten and imprisoned, and instead of a Secret War, the Skrull take advantage of the situation and move in for a full invasion of Earth. . .

Overall, this one shot was pretty good. It wasn't great, but it wasn't bad. . .just pretty good.

The story is told mainly through short glimpses of what happens after Iron Man's death. These vignettes are only a page or two long each, so the story jumps around a bit too much.

The art is hit and miss. It's good at the beginning, but as the book goes on, it gets sketchy and some panels look really rushed and unfinished. The cover is VERY nice, though.

All in all, this seems a bit rushed, and doesn't have much impact out of context from the larger story it was part of.  It doesn't stand alone very well at all.

WHAT IF. . .? CIVIL WAR
 (ONE SHOT)

SCRIPTS: Christos Gage & Kevin Grevioux
PENCILS: Gustavo & Harvey Tolibao
COVER: Marc Silvestri

Main Story: What If Captain America Led All The Heroes Against Registration 
(AKA a very long and sort of awkward title)

Tony Stark is dead before the Superhuman Registration Act is passed, leaving Captain America as the only voice of reason or opposition as Henry Gyrich goes off the rails trying to exterminate unregistered superheroes with a new generation of Sentinels. After Captain America is killed, Gyrich is elected President and the future is grim. . .

Second Story: What If Iron Man Lost The Civil War?

It should really be titled "What if Captain America and Iron Man were able to reach an understanding and end the Civil War" Because that's just what happens. They stop fighting each other long enough to agree that the Registration Act needs to exist, but Captain America is the only man to be trusted to run it right. . .

Overall, this was a good one shot. I liked the art and story better on the second entry, but there was nothing really bad about the first (longer) story. . .just that the overly-exaggerated art wasn't to my liking and the story was a bit more muddled.

The main problem with this one shot is that it doesn't really stand alone. Outside of the context of the larger story of Civil War it doesn't make much sense. That doesn't make it bad in general. . .it just makes it a bad one shot for future readers who might not know much about Civil War.

WHAT IF. . .? WOLVERINE
 (ONE SHOT)


SCRIPT: Daniel Way
PENCILS: Dave Lanphear
COVER: Tony Harris

What if Wolverine wasn't a mutant and became The Punisher in 1920's Chicago and The Watcher wasn't an immortal alien being, but was a modern-day hacker who can see other dimensions through the internet?

In this one shot, you get the answer to questions you never knew you had!

Overall, this "Wolverine as Punisher" story was interesting, but a bit flawed in execution. It feels rushed and more than a bit contrived. The art is pretty good on average, but definitely hit or miss. . .some places it's very nice. . .in others it's borderline bad.

All in all, I'd have to say that this is less of a "What If. . .?" story and more resembles DC's "Elseworlds", as it doesn't show the results of going down a different path, but is a complete re-imagining of an existing character in a different setting.

CONCLUSION

Overall, I found my small handful of What If. . .? to generally be enjoyable, if a bit on the average side.  Some of them depended too much on knowledge of (then current) continuity (Phoenix and the two Civil War one shots), and one of them was more of an Elseworlds than a What If. . .? (Wolverine one shot), but there weren't any really bad ones. . .and there were a couple that were really good (Daredevil and Iron Man).

All in all, after a bit of a closer look at What If. . .? I think I'm going to keep my eye out in the back issue bins for some more.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.

Up next. . .

ONE SHOTS! I love the one shots!

Aliens, Ruse, Batman, Captain America, The Goon, Hellboy, Punisher, Red Sonja, Boba Fett, Dracula, X-Files, and. . .Saddam Hussein?

Be there or be square!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Longbox Junk - Venom: Lethal Protector

I'll just get this right out of the way. . .I'm not a Spider-Man fan.

 As a comic book fan, I've absorbed the basic knowledge of Spider-Man by comic osmosis.  I've seen some of the movies and cartoons.  I own some Spidey comics that just sort of came into my collection by buying random boxes full of comics at auctions.  He's crossed over into other comics I've read, but I've just never been interested in following any of his regular titles.

My awareness of Venom is similar to that of Spider-Man. . .mostly absorbed by comic fan osmosis.  I knew the bare basics and that's about it.  In other words, when I got this mini in a box of auction comics a few years ago, I bagged them, longboxed them, and forgot them. . .I never read them and wasn't interested in reading them.

BUT. . .

That's what this blog is all about, right?  Digging deep and making discoveries lurking forgotten in their cardboard prison.  So just in time for Marvel's new big Venom push, here we go.  Let's do this!

VENOM: LETHAL PROTECTOR
MARVEL (1993) 

ISSUE 1
DARK SOUL DRIFTING


SCRIPT: David Michelinie
PENCILS: Mark Bagley
COVER: Mark Bagley

I'd say the best thing about this first issue is the outstanding 90's-tastic red foil cover.  Sooooo Shiiiiiiny! Takes me right back to 1993. Very nice.

Venom travels to San Francisco to get out of Spider-Man's way and try to be a hero in his own right. Unfortunately, he doesn't get a warm welcome and immediately finds himself hounded by the police.

He saves some homeless people from mobsters and they take him in, showing him the secret hidden city beneath San Fran. . .and before he even has the chance to say "Niiiice", he's attacked by guys in giant robot suits.

Meanwhile, Spider-Man sees news reports of Venom in San Fran and he decides it's his responsibility to take him in, so he jets off for the west coast.

The story is. . .okay. Lots of setup. It gets a bit wordy and some of Venom's "witty" quips are real clunkers. On the good side, we get a nice recap of Venom's origin.

The art is extremely hit and miss. Some panels are very nice, while others just seem unfinished with bland, almost nonexistent backgrounds. Also, the art is victim to a strange 90's trope of top-heavy, super-muscular characters with tiny feet. It just looks weird now.

Overall, this first issue is just okay. It seems a bit half-hearted and the art has some issues. I get the feeling this was a rush job to capitalize on Venom's sudden popularity.

ISSUE 2
WAR AND PIECES

SCRIPT: David Michelinie
PENCILS: Mark Bagley
COVER: Mark Bagley

Venom finds himself underground in a strange subterranean city of hostile hobos who don't want him there. Venom decides to find out what's making them be so mean to him and walks into a trap for his trouble. Meanwhile, Spider-Man gets a door slammed in his face by Eddie Brock's dad. And there's giant robot punching!

Once again, the awesome cover is the best part of the issue. The interior art is so 90's "edgy" that just looking at it makes me want to throw on some Nirvana for background jams while I try to ignore Venom's tiny feet supporting 600 pounds of muscle.

The story still seems to be in "setup" mode, with Spider-Man and Venom dancing around each other while they both do their thang. Once again, it's okay and not much better than that.

ISSUE 3
A VERDICT OF VIOLENCE

SCRIPT: David Michelinie
PENCILS: Mark Bagley
COVER: Mark Bagley

Venom is attacked by a squad of heavily-armed and armored mercenaries that he finds out were put together by the rich father of some rando he killed escaping custody a while back. He pretty much gets his ass handed to him as he's hounded across the city, barely escaping with his life. . .only to walk straight into ANOTHER trap set by the guy behind the hobo-hunting activities elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Spider-Man hears the sad tale of little Eddie Brock from his nanny. It seems his dad never paid attention to him. Spidey feels sorry for him. We're supposed to feel sorry too. It's hard, though. . .considering Spider-Man doesn't even HAVE a dad. Now THAT'S sad.

Venom comes off as an entitled brat who needed validation for his every action and turned bad when he didn't get enough attention. A millennial in 1993. This comic was ahead of it's time!

I don't think that was what they were going for. I think they were trying to make Venom a sympathetic anti-hero. It might have worked then. It doesn't now.

All in all, once again this issue was okay. The art remains dodgy in that special 90's way, and the whole thing feels a little cheap and thrown together on short notice.

ISSUE 4
A DEADLY BIRTH!

SCRIPT: David Michelinie
PENCILS: Ron Lim
COVER: Mark Bagley

So I imagine a meeting in the Marvel Bullpen where the discussion was how GREAT Venom and Carnage were going over with the kids. But NOW how to best capitalize on the new symbiote craze? There was SOMETHING missing. . .what could it be?

"Boobs?" came a quiet answer from the intern bringing in coffee. Loud cheering erupted and the intern was carried around the room on the shoulders of the delighted editorial staff.

And so they added boobs.

This issue is mostly taken up with a fight between Spider-Man and a female symbiote. After the battle, Spidey follows her as she escapes and ends up in the same desert base where Venom is being held prisoner.

Turns out they're pulling pieces of the alien off him and breeding more symbiotes to. . .er. . .be policemen in post-apocalyptic bunkers built for rich people who survive the end of civilization.

Okaaaay. . .whatever gets the boobs on the page and Spidey on the scene, I guess.

This story has been skirting the edge of ridiculous from the first issue. It takes a step over that edge this time out. I don't think it's going back. . .

ISSUE 5
SYMBIOCIDE

SCRIPT: David Michelinie
PENCILS: Ron Lim
COVER: Mark Bagley

Spider-Man discovers Eddie Brock is imprisoned in the same secret mad scientist bunker that he followed the female symbiote back to. . .my, my, what a coincidence! So he helps him break out and regain the Venom symbiote so they can fight the FIVE other symbiotes that want to eat their faces.

Yep. . .it's time for a Marvel RELUCTANT TEAM-UP™!

While making their escape, they discover that the hobos under San Francisco (remember them?) are protecting a huge stash of gold from over 100 years ago, and THAT'S why they are coming under attack. Venom decides to attack before they just blow the whole hidden city up to get at the gold.

The story here just seems like they were making it up as they go. Why would a group SO wealthy it can afford hidden apocalypse bunkers, giant robot suits, secret super-science laboratories, fleets of armed helicopters, and so on, need to bother homeless people in their secret underground city for their gold stash?

I mean. . .the super secret laboratory itself must have cost enough to outweigh any gold gained by their plot unless the hobos are guarding a friggin' mound of gold that Smaug would be envious of.

It just feels like the Marvel powers-that-be were yelling "BUT HOW DOES IT END? THERE'S ONLY ONE ISSUE LEFT!" and the creative team came up with the back half of this mini during a five minute huddle while the secretary stalled the editor's phone call.

ISSUE 6
'FRISCO KILL!

SCRIPT: David Michelinie
PENCILS: Ron Lim
COVER: Mark Bagley

And so we come to the "epic" conclusion!

Spidey and Venom have a Marvel "Big Misunderstanding Fight That Turns Into A Team-Up™" as Venom tries to stop the villain from blowing up the underground hobo city and Spidey thinks Venom is the problem until they talk it out a bit. After the misunderstanding is cleared up, they team up to punch giant robots until the situation is resolved.

At the end of it all, Spidey leaves Venom in San Fran and returns to his hot redhead wife back East, Venom is pleased that his first outing as a hero killed a minimum of innocent bystanders, and the hobos change their mind and welcome a homicidal alien/human hybrid into their midst. All is well. . .happy ending!

Overall, this was a decent ending and it tied up the loose ends, leaving Venom set up in a base for Comic Code-Approved anti-hero shenanigans to come.

CONCLUSION

This mini is like a time capsule of 90's art and storytelling. . .and not one of the good time capsules with all sorts of awesome things from the past.  No, this is like one of those time capsules where people scratch their head and wonder just what the hell they were thinking back when they made it.

I'm not saying it's all bad.  I'm just saying it's definitely a relic of its time.  If someone tried to pass this story off today, the internet would mercilessly let them know that 1993 called and they want their comics back.

But like I said. . .taken for what it is, it's not BAD, it's just not very good.  It's okay at best.  It just feels like something that was rushed out to capitalize on Venom's sudden popularity.

Up next. . .

I don't have the full run of this series, just some random issues, but like the Brave and The Bold that I reviewed a while back, each one is pretty much a one-shot story anyway.

I'm talking about Marvel's What If? With issues featuring Daredevil, Phoenix, Wolverine, Punisher, Iron Man, Captain America, and Civil War. . .OH MY!

Be there or be square.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Longbox Junk - Punisher (2009) Part 2

 So. . .The Punisher is dead.  But yet there's still 11 issues and 2 crossover issues from another title in this series.  How much further down the rabbit hole can this thing go?  Let's find out!


PUNISHER
Volume 8
Marvel (2009 - 2010)

ISSUE 11
FRANKENCASTLE PART 1

SCRIPT: Rick Remender
PENCILS: Tony Moore
COVER: Dave Wilkins
Ooooookay. . .NOW things get a little strange.
After Punisher is torn to shreds by "Dark Wolverine" Daken on Norman Osborn's orders, Moloids gather the bloody pieces from the gutter and take them to Morbius The Living Vampire so he can stitch them together using science/magic to create. . .

FRANKEN-CASTLE!
Of course, The Punisher is a bit confused and upset at his gruesome resurrection and refuses to help the Legion of Monsters against the Japanese Cyber-Samurai hunters decimating the world's monster population.
Yeah. . .
So we've gone from Punisher being outmatched by superhumans to him being transformed into an undead monstrosity. There's a reason why this arc ends up on "top 10 strange Punisher stories" lists.
But I'm gonna tell the truth here. . .to ME, it's really not that bad. It's not really that good, but it's not terrible. Not sure what the thinking was behind Franken-Castle, but seeing all the old Marvel Monsters (Morbius, Werewolf by Night, Living Mummy, Manphibian, and MAN-THING!) together again was really a lot of fun.
The art by Tony Moore is super-detailed and really helps to sell the totally ridiculous story. Moore's art is a VERY welcome change from the distractingly bad crap art on the last arc. Add in a fantastic painted cover and this issue isn't bad at all.
ISSUE 12
FRANKENCASTLE PART 2

SCRIPT: Rick Remender
PENCILS: Tony Moore
COVER: Mike McKone
Punisher considers suicide, but makes a new friend (a little monster boy) who convinces him not to. The Living Mummy isn't so lucky, as he fails to recruit Punisher. . .er. . .Franken-Castle. . .into the Legion of Monsters. Elsewhere, Manphibian is captured and tortured by the revealed villain of the arc, Hellsgaard. 

 Morbius and Werewolf by Night argue about keeping Castle alive, and it is revealed that the Japanese cyber-samurai monster hunters are after "The Bloodstone", which is held by Morbius.
An attack on the hidden monster city leads to the death of Franken-Castle's new friend, and now it's time to PUNISH!
Once again, the story is beyond ridiculous, yet strangely interesting. It's a testament to the writer that this Punisher run was closer to going off the rails in the previous arc than in this one. For all the bad press, Franken-Castle is (for now anyway) goofy, throwback, monster-ific fun. It's not a Punisher story, that's for sure. And so I can see why it left a sour taste in the mouth for Punisher fans. . .especially when it was sold under a Punisher title.
The Tony Moore art also goes a long way toward selling this completely ridiculous concept of Punisher as a monster. It's super-detailed and every page is a real feast for the eyes. In the hands of a worse artists, this could have gone VERY badly.
Overall, even though it's definitely not great, this is another pretty good issue. I'm surprised the creative team was able to sell this idea at all, but somehow they do.
ISSUE 13
FRANKENCASTLE PART 3

SCRIPT: Rick Remender
PENCILS: Tony Moore
COVER: Mike McKone
Most of this issue is taken up by fighting as the "Hunter of Monster Special Force" (the Japanese cyber-samurai monster hunters and Hellsgaard invade Monster city and capture the Bloodstone before escaping with heavy casualties on both sides. 
The battles are rendered in glorious, bloody detail by Tony Moore, who does the heavy lifting in this story-light issue. It's all over the top and every monster gets their moment to shine, including Franken-Castle as he mows his way through enemies while reflecting that it's the first time he's felt alive in a long time.
At the end of it all, Franken-Castle decides to become a member of the League of Monsters and the first order of business is re-capturing the Bloodstone. The final full page shot of Franken-Castle loaded down with weapons and ready to roll out is fantastic!
Once again, this is one of the most ridiculous stories I've ever read, but at the same time, it's strangely interesting. Tony Moore's art is a huge help in selling it. . .without his talent, I have the feeling that this would be a steaming pile of crap. But for now, it's still pretty good.
ISSUE 14
FRANKENCASTLE PART 4

SCRIPT: Rick Remender
PENCILS: Dan Brereton & Tony Moore
COVER: Mike McKone
In this issue, we get the origin story of the villain. . .illustrated with fantastic painted art by the great Dan Brereton! The framing scenes during the present are illustrated by Tony Moore in his super-detailed manner. Marvel played their cards right in selling this ludicrous story with fantastic art.
This issue was probably the best issue of this entire run so far except for the first issue. The origin of Hellsgaard (set over 100 years ago) is interesting and somewhat mirrors that of Franken-Castle.

I have to say that, despite the ridiculous nature of the whole thing, Franken-Castle has been pretty good so far. I'm surprised to find that it's actually a lot better than what you might have been led to believe. You just have to sort of forget that it's SUPPOSED to be a Punisher title at this point and just read it as a League of Monsters book. . .
ISSUE 15
FRANKENCASTLE PART 5

SCRIPT: Rick Remender
PENCILS: Roland Boschi
COVER: Mike McKone
Oooookay. . .
Franken-Castle flying on a dragon, mowing down Japanese cyber-samurai monster hunters with a gatling gun. And then. . .Nazi Zombies.
We go from one of the best issues in the run to one of the worst as Franken-Castle attacks Hellsgaard's mountain fortress to re-capture the Bloodstone and rescue Manphibian and Morbius.
I've wondered since the Franken-Castle story began just how much the fantastic art contributes to selling the ridiculous idea of Punisher as a monster, and in this issue I get my answer. . .A LOT. 

The fill-in art is very weak. Not quite as bad as the art on the "Dead End" arc (issues 6-10), but a dead close second. It's pretty bad.
Overall, not a very good issue. Mostly fighting, but without good art to carry the weight of being story-light. No bueno.
ISSUE 16
FRANKENCASTLE PART 6

SCRIPT: Rick Remender
PENCILS: Tony Moore
COVER: Mike McKone
And so we come to the final issue of the first arc in the strange Punisher rabbit hole called "Franken-Castle".
Most of the issue is taken up with a brutal all-out fight between Franken-Castle and a Bloodstone-powered up Hellsgaard taking place in a demonic plane of limbo. . .ending in the defeat of Hellsgaard (with the help of Manphibian) and Franken-Castle escaping with his allies, leaving a battered and broken Hellsgaard alive, but trapped in a hellish world.
Overall, a good finish for the first arc. It was mostly fighting, but with Tony Moore back on art, the visuals were able to carry the load nicely.
FRANKEN-CASTLE
(Marvel 2010)

ISSUE 17
MISSING PIECES

SCRIPT: Rick Remender
PENCILS: Roland Boschi
COVER: Mike McKone
With this issue, the title officially changes to "Franken-Castle", but the numbering remains the same.

Along with the title change, we get another artist who (once again) demonstrates the need for someone the caliber of Tony Moore or Dan Brererton to sell the ridiculous idea of Punisher as a Frankenstein-type monster.
The story is a bit weak as well. . .after being almost killed (again) by Hellsgaard, Punisher is saved by Morbius implanting the Bloodstone in him. Castle visits the graves of his family and is ambushed by ninjas at the graveyard. Franken-Castle decides it's time to get back to punishing and his first target will be Lady Gorgon as thanks for the lovely graveside ninja party she gave him.
Overall, a fairly weak issue. Mostly setup for things to come. The art was extremely uneven, with some panels being pretty good, but others looking unfinished and awful. No bueno.
ISSUE 18
PAYBACK PART 1

SCRIPT: Rick Remender
PENCILS: Jefte Palo
COVER: Mike McKone
Not a great issue. The art and the story both shout "Filler" pretty loudly. I can tell this one is just to hold place until the big 4 part crossover with Dark Wolverine coming up in the following issues. . .
Franken-Castle travels to Tokyo to take out Lady Gorgon. Ninja battles a'plenty ensue, and at the end of it all Lady Gorgon dies. . .but not at the hand of Franken-Castle, but by her own master for dishonoring the Hand. Exit Franken-Castle telling Henry that Daken (Dark Wolverine) is next on the list.
An extremely simple story with half-hearted art by yet another fill in artist. Overall, pretty disappointing all around.
DARK WOLVERINE
(Marvel 2009 -2010)

ISSUE 88
PUNISHMENT PART 1

SCRIPT: Marjorie Liu & Daniel Way
PENCILS: Paco Diaz & Stephen Segovia
COVER: Simone Bianchi
This first part of a 4 part crossover with Punisher/Franken-Castle is pretty much as average as it gets. 
The art is solid, but not great. The only thing of note is that this artist does a quite nice job with Franken-Castle. . .better than the artists on the past few issues of his own title.
The story is unimpressive. . .Franken-Castle tracks Daken down in Tokyo and ambushes him, leading to a running battle through a nightclub and down into the sewers beneath. Neither Franken-Castle or Daken get the upper hand, and the book ends with them both ready for round 2.
Overall, like I said above. . .utterly average in every way. No wonder this series AND Franken-Castle both ended just a few issues down the line.
FRANKEN-CASTLE
ISSUE 19
PUNISHMENT PART 2

SCRIPT: Rick Remender
PENCILS: Tony Moore
COVER: Simone Bianchi
Continuing from Dark Wolverine #88, Tony Moore returns on art for the second round of battle between Dark Wolverine and Franken-Castle. . .and his hyper-detailed work elevates this story-light running battle in the brutal, bloody detail that's been missing since he was last on the book.
Once again, the point is fully illustrated (heh!) that this story is rendered (Heh-heh!) completely ridiculous without a great artist to sell it.
Overall, the story is weak. . .Dark Wolverine and Franken-Castle brutally beating on each other, with the real Wolverine jumping in on the last page. . .but at least the art is strong.
DARK WOLVERINE
ISSUE 89
PUNISHMENT PART 3

SCRIPT: Marjorie Liu & Daniel Way
PENCILS: Paco Diaz & Stephen Segovia
COVER: Simone Bianchi
Continuing on from Franken-Castle #19, Wolverine jumps into the fight after not being able to convince Franken-Castle to leave. After defeating Wolverine, the battle with Daken continues. 

At the end of it all, Daken rips the Bloodstone out of Franken-Castle's chest after almost beating him to death, showing at even when he's pumped up with supernatural science energy, the Punisher is STILL no match for even C-List superhumans.
Another issue that's mostly just fighting, with art that is painfully average at best. This issue is a perfect example of the worst kind of comic book.
FRANKEN-CASTLE
ISSUE 20
PUNISHMENT PART 4

SCRIPT: Rick Remender
PENCILS: Paco Diaz, John Lucas & Tony Moore
COVER: Simone Bianchi
Continuing from Dark Wolverine #89, this final issue of Franken-Castle's revenge on Daken for killing him has Wolverine teaming up with Franken-Castle against a Bloodstone powered-up Daken. 

At the end of it all, Franken-Castle uses Daken's extremely-accelerated healing factor against him to win the battle, but Daken escapes with his life for an unsatisfactory conclusion that even leaves Wolverine standing alone on a Tokyo rooftop wondering what the hell just happened.
Overall, the only thing worth a damn in this painfully average slug-fest is Tony Moore's art. . .and since there's THREE artists on this book (the other two are barely worth mention), even that isn't enough to elevate this one past "okay".
When there's 3 artists on a single issue, you KNOW the series has pretty much been given up on.
ISSUE 21

SCRIPT: Rick Remender
PENCILS: Dan Brereton & Andrea Mutti
COVER: Dan Brereton
And so here we are at the end of one of Punisher's strangest stories. . .
After the brutal battle against Daken in Tokyo, the Legion of Monsters strand Franken-Castle on Monster Island to let the Bloodstone heal his body. After months pass, Punisher is back in human form, but his mind is warped by the Bloodstone.

The Legion, along with Elsa Bloodstone, confront the Punisher to get the Bloodstone back. . .but after getting their collective asses handed to them by the insane Punisher, Living Mummy guilt trips him into willingly giving up the Stone and its power by telling him it has taken away his ability to tell the difference between the guilty and the innocent.
In a nice little epilogue set a few weeks later, we see a very human Punisher back at work on the streets, taking down a couple of punk cop killers. No super heroes. . .no magic. . .no monsters. All is as it should be.
Overall, I found this issue to be a very satisfying end to this strange little trip the Punisher went on back in 2009-2010. The superb painted art by Dan Brereton (and the fantastic cover by him as well) was the perfect touch. All in all a great ending to this series.
CONCLUSION
And there you have it. . .the short-lived Franken-Castle saga.
I'd have to say that I enjoyed the first half of it. . .when it was a strange backdoor Legion of Monsters reuinion book.  The art was fantastic and it was just goofy throwback Bronze Age monster fun.  It certainly wasn't a Punisher book, but it was pretty good.  Unfortunately, it went downhill from there and was mercifully killed with the Punisher returned to his street-level status quo.
All in all, I think this entire series was a perfect demonstration of just why The Punisher doesn't fit well in the mainstream Marvel Universe.  Ultimately, Frank Castle is just an arguably insane guy with guns and an unrelenting desire to kill bad guys.  In this series he was shown to be hopelessly outmatched by even the lamest superhuman being, even when in the form of an undead monstrosity powered by a Bloodstone.
What we have here, my friends, is 24 issues of a lesson taught to us by one Mr. Remender and company. . .and that lesson being to stop asking for the Punisher to be in the mainstream Marvel continuity because you might just get what you ask for.
Up next. . .
Speaking of giving the people what they want, whether they want it or not.
Travel back with me to the 90's when people wanted Spider-Man without all that silly "With great power comes great responsibilities" nonsense.  


Venom: Lethal Protector!  Be there or be square.