In honor of the Punisher debuting on Daredevil’s Netflix series today, we’re counting down your picks for the forty greatest Punisher stories.
You all voted, now here are the final results of what you chose as the 40 Greatest Punisher Stories!
WARNING: Some of these comics spotlighted were originally rated “explicit content,” so there is some “explicit content” here. Occasional profanity mostly.
Here’s #5-1! Enjoy!
5. “Born” (Punisher: Born #1-4)
Born is a clever look back at Frank Castle’s time in Vietnam, as Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson and Tom Palmer deliver a striking tale that is based upon the basic idea that the Punsiher’s darkness was there well before his family was killed. The family being murdered was just his excuse to unleash his darkness. Here, watch him interact with his darkness while he tries to act like a human to his comrade…
Ennis more or less ignored his Marvel Knights-era work when he began his MAX run. Except for Born. This was basically the first Garth Ennis MAX story and it was so good that it explained why Marvel let him do so much more.
4. “Child’s Play” (Daredevil #183-184)
In a lot of ways, the hook in this story (by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson) is the fact that Matt Murdock’s senses have led him astray. Not knowing that a bad guy has a pacemaker, Matt believes him when he lies about being a drug dealer. So when the Punisher starts hunting the guy down, Daredevil is going out of his way to save the bad guy. In the end, Daredevil realizes the truth but still values life enough to protect the bad guy from the Punisher, leading to an epic showdown – will Daredevil shoot the Punisher to STOP the Punisher?
This was a controversial two-parter about drugs in schools that was originally supposed to appear before Miller even began his original run on Daredevil, but Marvel held up over fears about the Comics Code.
3. “Circle of Blood” (Punisher Vol.1 #1-5)
The first issue of Steven Grant, Mike Zeck and John Beatty’s Punisher mini-series is fascinating in the sense that it mostly spent its time rehabilitating the Punisher from his previous appearance, where he was shooting at people for small crimes and sort of acted like a raving lunatic while on trial (plus being a general idiot when he goes to kill Kingpin but then decides to, like, let Kingpin see him first, just because…uhm…because?). So they fix all that and by the end of the issue, the Punisher is back in business…
Then it goes into the main plot, where the Punisher is being manipulated into a scenario where he is being used as a smokescreen for a bunch of killers.
The Zeck/Beatty art is STUNNING. I like Mike Vosburg, but when he had to fill-in towards the end of the mini-series, that was kind of rough, transition-wise.
This is the mini-series that made a solo series for the Punisher possible. The characters owes these guys a ton.
2. “The Slavers” (Punisher Vol.6 #25-30)
In the most acclaimed of Garth Ennis’ Punisher MAX stories, the Slavers, we get to see a perfect example of what Ennis did throughout his MAX series. Since Frank Castle, at least as depicted by Ennis, is almost devoid of characterization (he’s basically a killing machine), Ennis goes into DEEP characterization on everyone else in the book, including, in this arc, the slave who reveals the existence of a terrible slave ring to the Punisher, the social worker who tried desperately to use the system to help this girl to no avail, the slave ring leader and the son of the slave ring leader (imagine the kind of daddy issues you would have if you ran a freakin’ slave ring with your psychotic DAD), plus some cops who look to use the Punisher for PR purposes. A dramatic scene in the story is when the young woman who started everything, Viorica, explains how it all went down.
As you might imagine, the Punisher kills all of the bad guys in violent (sometimes poetic) ways. However, like a broken mirror taped back together, Viorica is never the same, which Ennis and artist Leandro Fernandez make a point of in the end of the sad, dark tale.
1. “Welcome Back, Frank” (Punisher Vol.4 #1-12)
It’s very important to place this storyline within context. This was right after the Punisher was turned into a supernatural angel of vengeance. So Garth Ennis taking over the character and making him incredibly grounded again was like a sight for sore eyes. Joined by his Hellblazer and Preacher collaborator, artist Steve Dillon, along with Jimmy Palmiotti on inks, this run was the sort of thing that the Marvel Knights program was built for – distinct, contained and excellent work with notable characters by notable creators.
The big difference between this and older Punisher stories is that Ennis decided to take an approach similar to his Hitman series, where he would mix in a good deal of humor into the stories, as well as a colorful cast of good guys (the other people who live in Frank’s building while he lays low, as well as the two cops assigned to the Punisher Task Force, a good cop kept down because of her sexuality and a good-natured inept cop named Soap) AND bad guys (Ma Gnucci, The Holy and, of course, the Russian).
The result was a very fun book (with striking Dillon artwork) that was also quite bloody, like when Punisher killed some bad guys with POLAR BEARS!!
Dude punched a bear!!
And most importantly, the book made the Punisher a viable property again, and it is likely no coincidence that a new Punisher movie was green-lit soon after Ennis turned the character around.
Ennis would follow this up with a Marvel Knights ongoing, but really, the joke had diminishing returns as time went on (you might note that no stories from that volume made the countdown), but this first maxi-series, though, was extremely tight and fresh.
Also, apropos for today’s debut, this storyline also has a very memorable issue where Punisher forces Daredevil into a situation where Daredevil can either let the Punisher shoot some bad guys or Daredevil has to kill him. Just to mess with Daredevil. Twisted stuff.