If the question is: "How can you have a 'Punisher' series in the mainstream Marvel Universe that's something more than just a watered-down version of 'Punisher MAX'?" then Rick Remender has the answer: upgrade the inherent superhero absurdity from goofy fun to completely, giddily, absurd.
That's what we get with "Frankencastle," and it's magically, deliriously ridiculous. And very, very good.
Remender has prepped us for this even-more-absurd tone. He's softened us up over the past year. First, he teamed up with Matt Fraction in the "War Journal" title to bring us a semi-realistic Punisher super-saga, but he wasn't afraid to go to the extreme when the Skrulls showed up. Then, in this series, he pushed the Frank Castle vs. Norman Osborn angle, making this a more traditional superhero series. But in the following arc, with the Hood resurrecting the Scourge villains, and the climactic moment of the Punisher blasting his resurrected family with a flame thrower? Remender proved that he wasn't going to give us the safe, traditional Punisher tales.
Then he killed Frank Castle in a one-shot last month, cutting up his protagonist and tossing his pieces into a back alley.
I'd heard that something called "Frankencastle" was coming, but the death and dismemberment of the Punisher was still a surprise.
"Punisher" #11 picks up right after that, with Osborn's H.A.M.M.E.R. crew picking up the scraps that were once Frank Castle, only the subterranean Moloids got to the body parts first. And Man-Thing's on the side of the freaks.
Tony Moore, Remender's longtime "Fear Agent" collaborator, draws the best Man-Thing splash page I've ever seen. It could be turned into a poster. And the rest of the issue looks great too, as Moore shows Punisher's resurrection at the hands of the Legion of Monsters. Morbius -- looking more sickly than cool in the hands of Tony Moore, a choice which adds a fittingly pathetic desperation to the character -- along with Jack Russell and the rest of the monstrous gang, need Frank Castle's military expertise to plan a defense of their land. The "Hunter of Monster Special Force" has come, and the monsters soon face their demise.
Their only hope? Frankencastle, a mix of flesh and metal and rage. Perhaps they need a plan B.
Killing Frank Castle and bringing him back in this absurd form is quite a risk -- it will surely turn off some longtime fans who prefer the more serious side of the character. But it's the kind of choice that makes for good comics. It allows for the series to become more visually interesting -- this issue alone is full of more spectacular visuals than we've seen in all the previous issues combined -- and it breaks through the normal Marvel comic book safety net.
Where is this book headed next? I have no idea, and that's exciting.