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.