This Week's Reads: Chew and Frankencastle

This past weekend I got to read through Chew: The Omnivore Edition, Vol. 1 by John Layman and Rob Guillory.  I had heard great things about this series, and came away from it very impressed.  It's a terrific, lighthearted read about some pretty awful subjects, chief among them cannibalism.  I'll be linking to a review I did for Graphic Novel Reporter in the near future for some more thoughts on the book, but if you simply can't wait there's already plenty out there on the 'net extolling the virtues of this series.  If only I had discovered this comic sooner...  If I had read it about two or three weeks ago, it would have made my list of this years best, which you can find at GNR, along with picks from other reviewers.

In related news, the production company responsible for bringing The Walking Dead to AMC are working on putting together a Chew TV series according to Deadline.  Fellow blogger and comic enthusiast Blake is hoping Ken Leung gets cast as Tony Chu, the Cibopathic investigator who gets psychic visions from the food he eats.  I'm with her on this one--Leung, best known for his role (also a psychic coincidentally enough) on LOST, is a perfect match for the character.  It would be a fun casting coup if he ends up being a contender.

I also got to plow through Rick Remender's insane transformation of The Punisher, with the newly released Franken-Castle hardcover collection.  This one is a doozy, collecting a year's worth of stories.  I have to admit, when I first heard about this story, in which Frank Castle is transformed into a Frankenstein-like monster, I was less than enthused.  After reading Remender's The Last Days of American Crime (which did make my best of list), I knew I had to check this one out.  I have since been turned into a believer and totally dig Remender's style and sensibilities as a writer.  Franken-Castle is going to be a divisive, alienating work, particularly for those who have been spoiled by Garth Ennis' interpretation of Frank Castle.  I am an Ennis fan, but let me tell you, if you pre-judge this book based solely on the premise, you're doing yourself a disservice.  You have to understand that this is The Punisher of the mainstream Marvel Universe, where the rules are a wild, hairy, crazy sort.  This is not the gritty, realistic Punisher of Marvel's adult MAX series, and that fact alone is likely to anger some, given the outrageous extreme Remender is going in crafting this pulpy B-movie horror mash-up.  It's a wickedly fun, wild read.

Remender dealt with the fan reactions in a very sensible fashion, I think.  In an interview with IGN back in March, he said,

There are obviously people who don't like the direction, but it seems to me I haven't heard anybody come up with any reason why other than the aesthetic of it and the idea that it doesn't fit the character.  I think that you can't choose your fate, and when you're in a soup with 5,000 crazy monsters and mutants and superheroes in a world like the Marvel Universe, I like the idea that it's not predictable. You're not going to fall into a hole and be picked up by somebody who "fits your character". Instead you end up in a wild situation that you have no control over. The chaos theory works better in Marvel comic books than anywhere else.

Remender also gave a terrific interview with Newsarama this past November, discussing the  storyline and reader's reactions, along with his own motivations for telling this story.

Nrama: It’s fair to say that Franken-Castle was polarizing — I was in the audience at the X-Men panel at New York Comic Con this year when that guy in a Sgt. Rock costume got pretty heated in his complaints to you about it. Did that kind of negativity bother you at all along the way, or did you just chalk it up to people not being able to accept a version of a character that’s not the one they were originally introduced to?

Remender: It doesn’t bother me, because I’m really proud of what we’ve done and I’ve worked hard for a decade to build a career in comic books doing what I want to do and not pandering. When I was a fan, the things I wanted to see more of, I’m going to do those things — that’s why I have built this career, to do comics I’d like to see more of.

It would be arrogant to discount anybody’s opinion... but he didn’t express any interesting opinion. He just came up and said, “What was I thinking?” To that I want to say, “I was thinking that, ultimately, we need bigger, explosive, crazy, fun things to happen in comics.” And that means taking left turns in the middle of the story, so the unexpected hits people like a train.

I think the polarizing effect of Franken-Castle is a testament to what we did. Tony always says, “if you’re not making somebody angry, you’re not doing it right.” While I respect people’s apprehension to it, the majority of those people didn’t read it. That’s called contempt prior to investigation, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s the kind of low-thinking that discounts people’s opinions. When people say, “I didn’t read it, but I’m sure it’s stupid.” OK, I don’t need to talk to you. There’s no conversation we need to have.

In the MAX Universe, this of course couldn’t have happened, and shouldn’t. There’s no magic in that universe. There’s no monsters. There’s no radioactive spider-men. In that universe, with the rules that are established, I don’t think anybody wants to see the MAX Punisher all of a sudden grow spider-arms or something. But Punisher in the 616, when everything is all about fantasy and science fiction — which is what superhero comic books are — this is a fitting story, and we made sure, everyone involved, that it was an important Punisher story, and that it spoke to illustrating certain aspects of Frank’s personality. Frank had just killed his own family, the question there obviously being, “did he do it because they were resurrected through unnatural means, or because he likes himself better, likes his life better, now than when he was a family man?” And would Maria ever accept him back, anyway? “Oh, hey, I’m back to life! Oh my god, you’ve turned into a monster who murders!” There’s so many interesting questions that are brought about by the certain scenarios.

Franken-Castle was another one, in terms of a character like Hellsgaard, who was a reflection of Frank. He had his family killed by werewolves, so he spent his life hunting monsters. Something that is a nice parable, and then you put Frank in the situation where he’s had to witness the ramifications of Hellsgaard’s retribution upon the monsters. He watched a young Moloid shot in the chest, and all of these nice monsters who helped him and fed him and kept him alive were being slaughtered. When you put Frank up against Hellsgaard, you kind of exploit some obvious hypocrisies in his mission statement.

As far as people’s criticisms, I haven’t had a debate with anybody who has presented me with any evidence that I did anything wrong or separate from the character. I think there are people who don’t like the aesthetic, and they find it silly, but for me, something that tries to be cool is the least cool thing possible. In Fear Agent, we borrow aesthetically from Wally Wood and Frank Frazetta and all the EC guys doing science fiction in the ‘50s. In Franken-Castle, I had been writing Doctor Voodoo, so I had read all the Dr. Strange, and the Monster of Frankenstein, and the Man Thing, and the Marvel horror anthologies. I was really immersed in that part of the Marvel Universe — you can go out and buy 20 Essential volumes of this stuff, it was a big part of the Marvel Universe in the ‘70s that’s been sort of forgotten and left behind. So for me, it’s a hell of a lot more fun to delve into that and tell an interesting story with these forgotten characters, and polish them up and make them potentially relevant again.

Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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