Day 11 of this year’s Halloween Horrors series brought us a look at The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation‘s “Jenny”, courtesy of debuting contributor Joanna Skrabala of Bloody Popcorn. Now, please welcome the other half of that dynamic duo, Johnny Skrabala.
While I (sadly) don’t know too much about the illustrious Mr. Johnny, I do know that we both share a strong love for 90’s era horror comics, in particular Marvel’s Midnight Sons series of comics. While Johnny’s featured character was not a part of that series, there is no doubt that it would have fit in without much effort. Hell, even some of the same characters from that series are name-checked here.
As someone who undoubtedly received quite a bit of his “introduction” to horror from the brightly colored pages of comic books, I was beyond pleased to see someone tackle the medium for this year’s series.
Johnny, the floor is yours……
Franken-Castle and the Legion of Monsters Halloween Spooktacular
Everyone knows Frank Castle’s story. He was a cop. His family was gunned down. He became a one-man vigilante justice machine, fighting crime as The Punisher. Wolverine’s son dismembers him in a fight, leaving him for dead, until a bunch of monsters cobble his body back together and resurrect him as Franken-Castle. A tale as old as time.
For the uninitiated, that’s basically what went down in the pages of Rick Remender’s Punisher series circa 2009. That volume spun out of the then large-scale Dark Reign event, which I barely remember because these sorts of cataclysmic events really became the status quo. Basically, Norman Osborn was running S.H.I.E.L.D. The first 10 issues of Remender’s run are standard Punisher fare, which is, in general, bloody, violent, and fun. Then, during a series of Universe-wide Dark Reign-themed one-shots, Frank’s story took a big turn and got dramatically more interesting. In the not-so-concisely titled ‘Dark Reign: The List – Punisher’ one-shot, Osborn sends Wolverine’s son Daken (which I assume is pronounced like Dokken)—AKA DARK WOLVERINE!!—on a mission to kill Frank Castle, who had attempted to assassinate Norman. During a bloody battle, Daken dismembers Frank and leaves his limbs in a bloody pile.
Enter Morbius, the Living Vampire. He and The Legion of Monsters reconstruct and resurrect The Punisher as a Frankenstein-like creature, Franken-Castle, and seek to enlist him as protection from a group of Japanese Samurai warriors that have been systematically slaughtering all manner of monster. After a few issues, the series is officially re-titled Franken-Castle for the remainder of the run.
Remender’s story is fun, but the real draw for me, aside from the obvious horror elements and the use of the monster universe, is allowing such a dramatic change to occur to a popular and long-running character. And I mean, the Punisher had never really been intrinsically linked to the supernatural sect of the Marvel U. In the 21st century, mainstream comics are plagued with sameness. There are good stories to be found everywhere, but they still generally involve the same ideas, the same tropes, the same conclusions, just different execution. I don’t think anyone was going to dive into that Punisher run and expect him to come out on the other end as a hulking, cybernetic, undead monster. I know I wasn’t.
Turning the Punisher into a Frankenstein sort of creature is so fitting. The Punisher already operates in the same dichotomy that Frankenstein’s monster is often cast—a hero to some, a monster to others.
Even if we know the whole time that Franken-Castle is not permanent and at some point, the Punisher will return and things will get back to normal.
In October 2010, my wife and I were visiting some friends in Massachusetts. It was, like, the most autumnal, Halloween-y weekend I’ve probably ever spent, between the red, orange and yellow trees that were pulled right out of whatever movie gives you the most seasonal nostalgia to the pumpkin picking and apple cider donuts to the perfectly crisp fall air that most of the time only exists in my brain when I’m fantasizing about Halloween come Labor Day. After a pumpkin spice-infused morning, we naturally stopped at Newbury Comics (on Newbury Street). I left with KISS bumper stickers, the then-new WASP album Babylon, and the final issue of Rick Remender’s Punisher/Franken-Castle run.
The next morning, while my wife was showering and getting ready for that day’s seasonal excursion (seriously, the apple cider donuts were so damn good), I slipped the comic out of my Newbury Comics bag, curious as hell as to how this was going to be wrapped up. I’ll, you know, steer clear of any spoilers—except one: the story, the excellent saga of Franken-Castle, ends very anti-climactically. Unfortunately. Multiple artists were used for the story anyway, which was already slightly disconcerting, but for the finale, the art was provided by master Halloween/horror painter Dan Brereton. Normally, that would be cool, because his work is so suited to the monster-y stuff, but it felt so disconnected from the 10 issues that had come before. But ultimately, I was there for the monsters and the novel approach to Punisher, and in that respect, the run really killed it, so I’m not complaining.
To my knowledge, Franken-Castle, as a concept has not been reanimated since. There’s an issue of Deadpool Team-Up at the time that featured the anti-hero monster, but that’s about it. And that’s a shame. So, here’s my ultimate Halloween wish: more Franken-Castle! I’d be totally stoked on more stories set within that timeframe. Punisher can still be running around in the current timeline, killing them all and letting God sort them out. But I’d love an oversized one-shot (maybe a Halloween special even?) featuring Franken-Castle, Morbius, Werewolf By Night, The Living Mummy, Man-Thing and even Satana or Ghost Rider. Franken-Castle and the Legion of Monsters Annual Halloween Spooktacular. Needs to exist.
A boy can nightmare, right?