WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for The Punisher #9 by Matt Rosenberg, Szymon Kudranski, Antonio Fabela and Cory Petit, in stores now.
Marvel's relaunched run on The Punisher has been one of Frank Castle's bloodiest to date. Following Frank's renouncement of Hydra after his ghastly actions in Secret Empire, Baron Zemo has decided to make an example out of the vigilante, taking him prisoner in the sovereign nation he runs now, Bagalia.
As expected, it's been torture, not just of the body, but also of the mind for Frank. And sadly, it just seems to be going from bad to worse, because while Frank manages to lead a prison break and bust out of jail, Issue #9 now reveals that Zemo's plan for the Punisher goes far beyond death.
The last time we saw the dictator and Frank together, Zemo was busy maiming and playing games with him, going so far as to carve the antihero's iconic skull into his chest, so that Frank would remember the monster he'd become. It was Zemo's way of leaving a signature on the war veteran, and at the same time desecrating the symbol and reminding everyone it was always steeped in blood.
So, one can imagine that, when Frank gets free, he starts slaughtering Hydra assassins to cut a crimson path to Zemo. As we see Frank blinded by rage and driven by a desire for retribution, it leads to fans wondering why Zemo just didn't kill him in the first place. We all know you can't keep the Punisher caged. When Jigsaw asks the same question, well, we find out Zemo wants to turn Frank into his own living weapon -- a new version of the Winter Soldier.
Recently, Jigsaw was impersonating Frank and tainting his name, killing Zemo's enemies for him in a ploy we thought was centered on Jigsaw exacting revenge. But it turns out this was phase one for Zemo to begin reconditioning Frank for a new legacy of death. Zemo admits to Jigsaw that plans are afoot to turn Frank into a Hydra super soldier; a mindless drone obsessed with doing the only thing he knows to do: kill. Zemo intends on making him the banner for the flagship of murder and genocide his Bagalian empire is intent on, which is ultimately the worst thing he can do to the Punisher.
Frank's always been a weapon out of necessity, but if Zemo succeeds, he'll merely become a tool to be deployed. Right now, it's all about the villain breaking Frank down psychologically and, once that psyche is fractured, he'll convince him he's nothing more than a killer. Of course, knowing Hydra, Zemo probably has the same technology used to brainwash and control Bucky Barnes after he was thought dead in World War II, which turned him into the original Winter Soldier.
This is a very duplicitous scheme because Zemo's not reinventing the wheel too much, he's merely steering the vehicle -- Frank -- in a different direction. That is, to make him a Hydra dog of war, and more or less the same thing he was when he followed HydraCap in Secret Empire.
This news earworms into Jigsaw's brain and he laps it up because he also knows this is the ideal way of getting even -- turning Frank into a legit, cold-blooded assassin. It's about time we got illumination on Zemo's endgame, but honestly, taking a stalwart of justice (even though we may not like the Punisher's methods) and warping his image and identity like this is truly as cruel as it comes, and is indeed vintage Hydra.
We know how long it took Bucky to get over his past and, if Zemo does get his hands on the approaching Frank, the Punisher's history and any sense of good he's accomplished is about to come to an end. Jigsaw and Taskmaster are backing the Hydra leader as well, and right now Frank Castle is walking into the biggest trap of his life. One that'll end his career in every sense of the word.