Frank Castle: (Narrating) “In certain extreme situations, the law is inadequate. In order to shame its inadequacy, it is necessary to act outside the law-to pursue…natural justice. This is not vengeance. Revenge is not a valid motive, it’s an emotional response. No, not vengeance. Punishment.” – The Punisher (2004)
A group of rival mob bosses meet in a warehouse. Someone has been busting their operations and killing their men. They are discussing a temporary truce when the lights cut out. The bosses leap to their feet and hear something land in front of them.
An explosion tears through the warehouse, shredding the criminals. One is still clinging to life as the lights turn on, revealing a man with a skull insignia on his shirt. The Punisher pulls out a gun and executes the crook.
The Punisher is Marvel’s most popular anti-hero. While superheroes send their foes to jail, The Punisher kills his so that they can’t cause more harm. So who is he? Why does he kill criminals? Why haven’t superheroes stopped him? Let’s find out.
Sole Survivor: The Punisher’s Backstory
Foggy Nelson: “See, Frank Castle never came home. He just traded in one war zone for another.” – Daredevil “Semper Fidelis” (Season 2, Episode 7)
The Punisher first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #129 in 1974. He was created by Gerry Conway and John Romita Sr. He started as an enemy of Spider-Man, but became popular enough to star in his own series.
Frank Castle is a veteran who who was picnicking with his family. Unbeknownst to them, rival gangs were meeting nearby. The gangs fought and killed Frank’s family in the crossfire. Frank survived and vowed to kill all criminals. He created a Kevlar suit, obtained some guns, and set out to end crime as The Punisher.
The Punisher slaughtered criminals by the dozen and rose to prominence when he tried to kill Spider-Man. Spidey had been framed for the murder of businessman Norman Osborn aka the Green Goblin. The Punisher nearly killed Spider-Man, but backed off after learning the truth.
Judge, Jury, Executioner: The Punisher’s History
The Punisher: “Some people would tell you that I’m crazy. They would be wrong. It’s not crazy when the state of the world makes you want to kill everyone responsible. It’s crazy when it doesn’t.” – The Punisher Max #9
After defeating Spider-Man, The Punisher started targeting supervillains as well as ordinary crooks. For plot convenience The Punisher never killed any major villains, but he managed to kill many unpopular ones. He even detonated a bomb at Stilt-Man’s funeral, killing countless minor supervillains. Never heard of Stilt-Man? That sorta proves the point.
Many superheroes tried stopping The Punisher, but failed because they weren’t willing to kill him. Jailing him was less than useless because Frank would kill random inmates before escaping.
The Punisher had a long career of vigilantism, but was finally killed in the 2015 book Secret Wars. As the Marvel Universe was about to be destroyed, Frank crashed a party that The Kingpin was throwing. He slaughtered Marvel’s biggest crime bosses before joining his family in death.
One Man Army: The Punisher’s Powers and Personality
Matt Murdock: “Your Honor, New York hasn’t seen a trial this divisive and this public in years.”
Foggy Nelson: “Finding an impartial jury is not easy. Everybody has an opinion about Frank Castle.” – Daredevil “Semper Fidelis” (Season 2, Episode 7)
The Punisher is a veteran Marine with SEAL and was invited to US Army Airborne training. He is highly trained in martial arts, stealth, assassination, and has mastered every type of firearm. He wears a Kevlar suit with a giant skull insignia on its chest. The skull is heavily armored and used as a shield. I guess The Punisher is too cheap to just buy a helmet.
Writers disagree about whether the Punisher is a hero. Some write him as a well intentioned anti-hero while others portray him as a serial killer using his family’s death as an excuse for his actions. Punisher creator Gerry Conway describes him as a “Rorschach test” and told Back Issue magazine that The Punisher “…is a thin character on his own merits, but that allows for a lot of interpretations and different angles of approach.”
There are lines that the Punisher won’t cross. He won’t kill people for misdemeanors like jaywalking, He doesn’t kill honest cops, and he never hurts children. Frank had also implied that the last murderer he ever killed would be himself.
The Actors who played The Punisher
Hollywood has bombed three times while bringing The Punisher to the screen. The first Punisher movie was released in 1989 and starred Dolph Lundgren and Louis Gossett, Jr. Thomas Jane starred in the 2004 adaptation. Finally, Ray Stevenson played Frank Castle in 2008’s Punisher: War Zone, a Lionsgate fiasco that earned back on $10 million of the $35 million in estimated costs.
The Punisher appeared in Spider-Man: The Animated Series with John Beck voicing. The Punisher was limited to lasers and non lethal weapons because of children’s programming guidelines, but still got his intentions across. Norman Reedus of Walking Dead fame voiced the Punisher in Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore, but was replaced by Emmy winner Brian Bloom in the sequel Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher.
The Punisher finally got a worthy portrayal in Daredevil. Jon Bernthal, another Walking Dead alum, added a human element to the divisive anti-hero that left fans clamoring for more. They will get their wish when The Punisher appears in Netflix’s The Defenders before getting his own show.
Didya Get all That?
He’s Judge, Jury, and Punisher.
Jared Bounacos has written for Movie Rewind since 2017.