Dolph Double Feature: Dark Angel (1990) & The Punisher (1989)

dark angel scream factory Over the past few years, I’ve had a lot of fun diving into the action movies of the 80s and 90s focusing on stars like Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. As it turns out, Lundgren and his films have turned out to be a lot more impressive than I would have imagined. Not only does it turn out that he’s a brilliant man, but what I’ve learned about his life has been pretty fascinating. He also makes really fun movies with lots of kicking and explosions.

One such movie is Dark Angel (a.k.a. I Come In Peace) which I’d never seen and only started hearing about in the last two or three years. Shout Factory recently released the film on Blu-ray and a buddy of mine sent me a copy. I jumped at the chance to start watching the week before last, but fell asleep and then found myself in a place without a Blu-ray player so I had to hold off on finishing until last night. But, I will say the movie about alien drug dealers running afoul of Lundgren’s Detective Jack Caine and his new partner Special Agent Smith (Brian Benben) was worth the wait. While investigating the murder of a police officer, Caine and Smith become more and more aware of the intergallactic threat which they fight in an abandoned warehouse, as you do.

The disc comes with a retrospective that scored Lungren, Benben and director Craig R. Baxley (Action Jackson) to talk about the movie. It was really interesting learning that Baxley was tight with stunt people, so he was able to really beef up the explosions and other action elements, all of which look great in Blu-ray. Lungren also points out an interesting aspect of the story that I didn’t think about, but it’s cool to see a sci-fi movie that’s on a relatively small scale. This isn’t an alien invasion movie with a few people fighting them off, which is what you tend to get. From story and explosions to actors and ideas, I dug Dark Angel and am glad to have it in my collection for repeated viewings.

The Punisher 1989 poster Moving from Dark Angel to The Punisher seemed like a pretty natural move for me. Not only did they come out a year after each other, but they both feature a bad ass Dolph sporting uncharacteristic dark hair! Plus, it helps that the latter has been in my DVD collection for years.

A lot of people complain about how bad comic book movies were for so long and, compared to the effort put in these days, it’s fairly accurate. But, I think The Punisher — directed by Mark Goldblatt (Dead Heat) — is an overlooked gem. Frank Castle is actually one of the easiest comic book characters to bring to film which makes him a good choice for a lower budget, street level movie concept. His wife and kids were killed so now he’s driven by the desire to kill all criminals. There’s no flying or lasers or superpowers, just lots of shooting, punching and explosions which were right up Lungren and company’s alley in the late 80s.

This movie finds Castle living in the sewers, befriending weird rhyming guys like Shake (Barry Otto) who give him information and avoiding cops on the hunt for him like Jake Berkowitz (Louis Gossett Jr.) and Sam Leary (Nancy Everhard, who was in Trial Of The Incredible Hulk that same year too!). Castle’s after a mobster named Gianni Franco (Jeroen Krabbé) who’s on the ropes after years of the Punisher taking out his men compounded with the recent appearance of Lady Tanaka (Kim Miyori) who’s trying to take over by kidnapping all the mobsters’ kids. To save the kids, Punisher teams up with Franco to get his boy back.

The film features several great fight scenes, but there are two particularly fun ones. Castle heads to Coney Island in an attempt to get the kids back and faces off a ton of gun-toting ninjas in an amusement park ride. How rad is that? The end of the movie also features Castle and Franco storming Lady Tanaka’s skyscraper, taking on all kinds of threats as they climb towards their adversary. For some reason, many of these scenes are tinged red, but I still really enjoy this high body count explosion of violence. This is one of the few comic book movies that also fits right in with that great 80s/90s action aesthetic and I love it.

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Trade Post: Punisher Welcome Back, Frank

Punisher Welcome Back FrankPunisher: Welcome Back, Frank (Marvel)
Written by Garth Ennis, drawn by Steve Dillon
Collects Punisher #1-12

I have a confession to make, something I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone before. I actually liked Michael Golden’s weird demon-hunter version of Punisher. Whew, that feels good. At the time that that miniseries came out, I had little-to-no experience with the character beyond a few random Marvel comics, his appearances on Spider-Man: The Animated Series and maybe the Dolph Lundgren movie. In other words, I didn’t have a huge connection to the character. I also had a thing for new takes on old characters, after all that’s what got me into Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and all the main Marvel books (during Heroes Reborn).

It wasn’t built to last, of course and was soon replaced by a run on the book that is considered one of the best of all time: Garth Ennis’. This Marvel Knights series (hey, remember when that was a thing?) was actually my first introduction to both Ennis and artist Steve Dillon who had already created one of my favorites comics of all time, Preacher, though I didn’t know it at that time. (If you’re curious what I thought about Preacher, check out these three posts) It was also one of the first comics I ever read that really dove into some pretty intense, over-the-top violence.

I was actually pretty focused on violence when I got this book in from a Swap as it was shortly after the tragedy in Connecticut. I mean, who wants to read about a crazy man running around killing hundreds of people who also happen to be bad guys? Well, I picked the book up and started flipping through and landed on the intro that Ennis wrote in which he directly addressed that exact topic. As he makes the point through the entire intro, I won’t quote from it, but he essentially compares the book to a cartoon and says that no sane person would really take Frank Castle seriously. He’s nuts and so is the story, but it’s supposed to be and therein lies the entertainment value. Fiction gives us a way to explore aspects of life without actually having to experience them, it’s okay to let yourself go and jump into stories filled with characters, events and situations you would never want to actually join in on.

So, with that in mind, I tore through these 12 issues. I think I might have actually read the whole thing in one night even. I don’t think I really grasped the satirical or parodic nature of the story when it came out because I wasn’t as experienced with such things, but they were in the forefront of my mind this time around, which was fun. I also really like how Ennis handled that whole “used to kill demons for angels” thing. Basically Frank sum up that series and then says that he told the angels to take a hike and now he’s back. This is all done in voiceover boxes while Punisher’s out there doing his dirty work. It’s a great way to handle continuity without getting too deep into it and actually holds up really well. Anyone taking over a continuity-heavy book or character should read that first issue, take notes and do their best to copy that.

Anyway, the actual story follows Frank as he tries to get the mob to remember how dangerous he is. His main target happens to be a mob run by Ma Gnucci who sends a real badass by the name of The Russian to take out Punisher who happens to be living in an apartment building with a trio of characters who play their own roles. There’s also Detective Soap, a loser cop who’s tasked with tracking the Punisher down, a job that most of force doesn’t actually want completed. The great thing about this series is that each of these elements get their own beginning, middle and end, all of which are pretty satisfying.

The only part of the book that didn’t make a lot of sense for me though involves another subplot and the ending, so this graph contains SPOILERS. Several pages an issue are given to these other vigilantes who pop up in the wake of Punisher’s return. There’s the priest who wants to kill sinners, the rich guy who kills undesirable elements in his neighborhood (read: poor people and non-whites) and a guy who attacks big business folks. We see them do their thing and even band together but then by the end, they just get murdered by Punisher after they swear their allegiance to them. On the one hand, I get the idea that Ennis is showing how crazy Punisher is by comparing him to these guys. Is there really that much of a difference between focusing on murdering criminals and murdering poor people? I mean, we like to stand behind the criminal-murderers because it sounds more altruistic, but both characters have something deeply wrong with them that drives them to kill people on a regular basis. On the other hand though, it seemed kind of pointless aside from making that point. Does that make sense? Plot-wise there wasn’t much/any strength purpose to it, so that was kind of a bummer.

But, that’s a small quibble, really. I still love this book and reading Ennis’ first arc on the book really makes me want to go back and read his entire run. I bought probably the majority of that series when it was coming out but lost track in the mid to late 2000s when I was working at Wizard for whatever reason. I’ve got all the singles somewhere, but I’m working on getting the trades because I love me some trades.

Ad It Up: Donkey Kong & Mario Handheld Games

nes handheld pun 15 1989Anyone remember these NES handheld games starring Mario, Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr.? I didn’t even know they existed until I saw this ad while reading Punisher #15 from 1989. I was mostly taken by the artwork on this ad which seems more stylized than a lot of other DK/Mario artwork I remember from being a kid around this time. Man, that Mario looks MAD.

Ad It Up: House II

I’m fairly certain I’ve scene the original House and thought it was nuts. Apparently, I didn’t write about it on the blog though. I might have missed it because searching for a one word title is not the easiest of things. Anyway, earlier this week, I watched House II: The Second Story on Netflix Instant and thought it was a goofy, fun treat. You can see hints of that on this goofy poster which features a tiny green bug-dog, star Arye Gross and John Ratzenberger who has a cameo in the flick. I’ll write more about that later today. Anyone remember seeing this ad in comics like the second issue of the 1987 Punisher miniseries? I think it would have been very appealing to me at the time!

Ad It Up: MASK

Here’s a look at some of the MASK toys I mentioned in my post about the new DVDs from Shout Factory yesterday. Of the toys seen above, I had Switchblade, Thunder Hawk and Gator. A neighbor-friend had the Boulder Hill Playset and I was very jealous. Still am. Gator came with a metal depth charge thing that fit in the back and you could launch out that looked like a tiny barrel or a shiny piece of gnocchi. My dog Rusty ate it for some reason, but she pooped it out and I got it back. I know, gross right? Scanned from the first issue of the 1985 Punisher miniseries.

Comics Comics Comics Comics: What If… (Vol. II) #57

Sometimes a comic just calls to you. 1994’s What If… #57 was one of those comics. I saw it while flipping through long boxes this year and just had to have it. See, the idea is that, in this version of Marvel history, the Punisher became a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. which makes all kinds of sense. It helps that I’ve been a fan of Punisher for a while, love S.H.I.E.L.D. and that my favorite issue of What If… is #44 in which Venom attaches itself to Punisher and things work out surprisingly well. The thing I love about What If issues is that many of them are really asking “What if we didn’t have to worry about continuity and could really treat these characters in fun ways, what would happen then?”It’s fun to see those questions answered in the course of one single issue. Nuts to decompression!

That’s exactly what happens this time around thanks to Chuck Dixon and Mike Harris as Punisher finds himself jammed up, knocked out and presented with the option of either working for S.H.I.E.L.D. or being thrown in jail by Nick Fury himself. It should come as no surprise that Frank Castle not only loves taking on bigger criminals instead of low-level hoods on the street, but also gets into trouble with Fury for going overboard. Hey Fury, what did you expect?

Punisher’s got his own squad, each of whom wears the Punisher symbol on their berets (in my head, they’re called the Punishers or something rad like that), but after not following Fury’s dictates one more time he gets saddled with a crappy detail following Dum Dum Dugan into the jungle where a bunch of Hydra agents kill most of them (including Dugan). Punisher gets some coordinates from his old pal Microchip, makes his way to a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility, steals some gear and sets his sites on Hydra’s main headquarters: Hydra Island.

The mix of traditional S.H.I.E.L.D. elements like the glider suit and mid-air battles fit so well with the Punisher’s mentality, that I could easily find myself enthralled by a comic set in this world, though it seems that after FrankenCastle, people aren’t very interested in new takes on Punisher. I’ve always thought an alternate universe where S.H.I.E.L.D. recruits superheros as they develop and really trains them would be fun, but with more of a James Bond/Steranko vibe to it than what the similarly themed Ultimate universe turned into. Harris has kind of a Howard Chaykin style going on which is interesting, but this issue would have been a lot more fun for me personally if a more detailed artist had the gig.

The book ends SPOILER with Punisher succeeding in rigging Hydra Island to explode with him still on it and taking fire. I assume from the dialogue box on the last page that he actually dies before the bomb goes off. I’ve seen Punisher die a few times in various alternate realities, most notably Punisher: The End, but I think this is one of my favorites because it actually seems like Frank Castle’s crazy mission to punish the evil actually had some kind of real effect aside from cleaning up a few blocks of turf in Hell’s Kitchen.

I’ve read my fair share of What If issues here and there over the years including both the first and second volumes and many of the one-shots that have come out in the past few years and not all of them have been great. It’s no small task to not only set up how this universe is different than the regular 616, but to also give it some dramatic moments, good dialogue and make things fun for everyone involved.

Crossovers I Want To See: John Constantine & Punisher

Originally, I was going to pair up John Constantine with Wolverine because they’re both characters with mysterious pasts who seem to constantly run into people they’ve had dealings with that readers have never been introduced to before. But, while looking for art by Tim Bradstreet of Wolverine, I saw all the Punisher artwork and the incredibly obvious smashed itself into my head: Constantine should team up with Punisher with art by Bradstreet or Steve Dillon and written by Garth Ennis (late 90s version if possible).

Here’s how I’d write the thing, in case anyone was curious. Punisher’s hunting down some mobsters in London and soon finds himself way in over his head because it turns out they’re mixed up with some magic. Luckily for him, Constantine’s been hunting this monster down and while he doesn’t stop the demon, he does scare it away in time to save Punisher’s life. From there, the pair team up to take on the monsters both human and otherworldly with lots and lots of bullets, blood and swearing along the way. I envision a scene between Frank and John where they’re exchanging their favorite curse words, possibly while fighting a monster. No, it’s not the most original story in the world, but it sure would be fun, wouldn’t it? A mix of great action and fantasy would be rad.

What I like about both characters is that neither of them could be considered good men, yet they do what can be considered good: removing evil from the earth. They’ve both done terrible, awful, horrible things, but they’ve done it with the supposed intent of helping their fellow men (the good ones at least). I think they’d pair well together once they saw that. Neither would be 100% comfortable because they’re dealing with the kinds of elements they don’t usually interact with.

If only Marvel and DC could stop their nonsense and get some fun crossovers going. I’m sure they’re a logistical nightmare, but I’m also pretty damn sure they would sell like crazy.