Marvel Comics’ most infamous antihero, Frank Castle, aka the Punisher, strikes fear in all who see his skull-emboldened vest in front of them. Once a family man and an excellent US Marine, Frank went off to war. When Castle returned, he took his family out to a picnic. Unfortunately they stumbled across a mob execution and his wife and kids were brutally murdered. Frank Castle died that day and the Punisher was born. Swearing vengeance upon the criminal underworld, the Punisher spends his days and night committed solely to killing the filth of the earth. Adhering to a strict code, Frank protects the innocent at the cost of murdering notorious criminals.
Without powers himself, the Punisher relies on severe discipline and constant training to stay at the top of his game; he’s taken on heroes like Spider-Man, Daredevil, and even the Avengers. The embodiment of an antihero, when the Punisher was created in 1974, Marvel hardly expected the character to be such a hit. Since then, not only has Marvel tried time and again to rip-off their own success, but other comic book companies have too. Frank Castle was so influential; everyone’s felt the need to add a Punisher analog to their character lineup.
15 FAILED: WILD DOG
Ever since he’s been featured on the TV show Arrow, Wild Dog has garnered slightly more attention than he used to. That’s not really saying a lot, considering he disappeared from comics altogether for years at a time. First appearing in his own mini-series in 1987 in an attempt to bank on the Punisher’s success, Wild Dog was a star athlete and Marine. After his girlfriend Claire was murdered on account of having secret mob ties, he turned to vigilantism.
Using the skills he’d acquired over his life to hand out merciless justice, Jack Wheeler donned the laughing red dog shirt from his college team and took on the name Wild Dog. The character was an overall failure, at least in the sense that he never became an A-list hero, and he would forever remain on the sidelines. For what it’s worth, he did develop a little cult following.
14 MORE VICIOUS: RED HOOD
Jason Todd was the second Robin to Batman and definitely the angriest. Coming from a dysfunctional life, Jason had a problem with authority and wasn’t particularly keen on listening to Batman and taking it easy on criminals. Jason would fall into a trap lay by The Joker and get brutally murdered.
Following some gnarly events involving Superboy-Prime punching a hole in reality, Jason was resurrected. Found by Ra’s Al Ghul, Batman’s nemesis retrained the Dark Knight’s former partner and turned him into a lethal killing machine. Taking his knowledge to the street, the Red Hood started mowing villains down. With a new outlook on life, he was aghast Batman never killed The Joker to avenge him. In turn, Jason nearly killed both Batman and The Joker. Believing the world was better off without criminals, Jason matches the Punisher’s ferocity and then some.
13 FAILED: FOOLKILLER
Legacy heroes and villains are a special commodity. There have been five men to take up the mantle of the antihero Foolkiller and each version has fallen prone to misfortune in their stories and been mostly unpopular amongst readers in the real world. The consistency between every Foolkiller is their mission to eliminate the various amoral “fools” within society. None of the Foolkilllers have any powers, instead relying on training they gave themselves; a couple of them used a gun that could disintegrate people.
The first Foolkiller was arguably the craziest of them all, blaming agents of Satan for the decay of society and nominating himself as mankind’s savior. This Foolkiller didn’t last long, but it gave Marvel five more attempts with the character. Each attempt did nothing for the character. A poor man’s Punisher through and through, few people are clamoring for Foolkiller’s return.
12 MORE VICIOUS: DEATHSTROKE
One of DC Comics’ most ruthless killers, Slade Wilson, or Deathstroke, is a deadly mercenary. With a super solder serum running through his body, he’s defeated Batman, taken on the Justice League by himself, and even managed to duke it out with Superman. Like the Punisher, Slade’s career started in the Army, and like the Punisher, his life was quickly met with despair and suffering.
There are few antiheroes as ruthless as the Punisher, especially with his proclivity for committing unspeakably violent acts on monstrous criminals, but when it comes to sheer power, intelligence, and fighting skills, Deathstroke has him beat. Deathstroke also boasts greater willpower; Slade’s been forced to kill his own children, something the Punisher could never dream of doing. In matters where popularity is concerned, Deathstroke is slowly catching up to Frank, amassing his own, steadily growing fan-base.
11 FAILED: OUTLAW
Nigel Higgins is affectionately referred to as the British Punisher. First appearing back in 1992, Nigel was a failed attempt at doing something new and different with the Punisher. Inspired by Frank Castle, Nigel decided to become England’s Punisher. He’d then go on to team-up with Frank a couple times, pulling his bacon out of the fire and preventing a plot by the Kingpin.
Nigel disappeared for several years. When he returned, he wanted to give up the vigilante life (presumably because no one cared about the character and his books weren’t selling), saying it wasn’t his place to decide who should live and die. Disappearing into obscurity for well over a decade, he was brought back in the 2016 Contest of Champions, before vanishing into the proverbial sunset. He hasn’t been seen since.
10 MORE VICIOUS: SCOURGE
Marvel Comics created Scourge with a legitimate purpose. From an editorial standpoint, there were too many D-list villains floating about that were taking up space; Scourge was invented to clean house, so to speak. Appropriately considered the "Scourge of the Underworld", Scourge would go around and cleanse the world of costumed criminals by killing them. After every assassination, and there were a lot of them, Scourge would say, “Justice is served.” He got his own catch phrase, which is something the Punisher can’t brag about.
The trigger-happy Scourge didn’t have any super powers, but he did have a .50 cal Thompson machine gun that he used to deadly effect, along with a battle van, just like the Punisher. For a time, there were villains who believed the Punisher and Scourge was one and the same, their methods equally lethal; one was just as scary as the other.
9 FAILED: SOLO
Many superheroes were given “extreme” treatments in comic books during the early ‘90s. Despite this, publishers wanted more hardcore, extreme, gun-toting heroes. For Marvel, the trend paved the way for characters like Cable, Deadpool and for our purposes, Solo. Named James Bourne, he joined an anti-terrorist unit, fell in love with one of his teammates, only to then be betrayed by said teammate. From there, Solo swore that, “While I live, terror dies!”
Considered “terrorism’s greatest enemy,” Solo was a pretty skilled solider who could teleport. Combining the two skills, he would launch one-man wars on terror. He’d go around the world and kill any terrorist he could find, armed with comically huge guns. Though Solo would star in his own mini-series and occasionally cameo in other series, the character failed to capture the enthusiasm Marvel hoped he would.
8 MORE VICIOUS: VIGILANTE
Aside from big-league gun-toting antiheroes and villains like Deadshot and Deathstroke, Vigilante is DC’s most successful attempt at a Punisher analog. The first Vigilante was DA Adrian Chase, becoming the antihero to fight crime in a way he couldn’t through conventional judicial means. Though he started by using non-lethal methods, his mental health deteriorated and he became a full-fledged killer. Several more Vigilantes followed Adrian’s tenure, but none resonated as much as the original.
Perhaps it was because of his growing insanity, but Vigilante became more ruthless and psychotic than the Punisher. While Frank Castle would occasionally have run-ins with other superheroes, Adrian actively sought them out. Despite having no powers, he even gave heroes like Cyborg and Nightwing incredible trouble. Also unlike the Punisher, later on, Adrian didn’t have qualms with killing police and anyone who got in his way. Alas, Adrian eventually succumbed to guilt and killed himself.
7 FAILED: WETWORKS
The entire idea behind the Wetworks team was pretty simple and awful: make a bunch of Punisher rip-offs, sprinkle on some Cable, and give them a comic. The Wetworks team loved big guns, but they loved poor fashion choices more. Their unit was made up of black ops soldiers who were another incarnation of Team 7. They went rogue and merged with some fancy gold alien symbiote armor.
Sporting plenty of useless pouches on their clothing, Wetworks fought terrorists or whoever else they felt needed to meet the tip of their barrels. When they weren’t going on suicide missions to kill terrorists, they were battling vampires and werewolves. Throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, into their stories, Wetworks was an oddity even for its time. Though there was a 12-issue attempt to bring them back, people didn’t have interest at their inception, and they certainly didn’t have interest years later.
6 MORE VICIOUS: HITMAN
Created by Garth Ennis and John McCrea, Hitman lived in the DC Universe, but his adventures were grimier and more blood-soaked than nearly anyone else’s. Tommy Monaghan became a hitman, living and working in Gotham City and applying his X-ray vision and telepathy to kill metahumans with contracts on them. Even though Hitman’s actions would attract the likes of Batman, it didn’t stop him from doing what he wanted and killing whomever he needed to kill.
In fact, Hitman can boast that he’s successfully intimidated the Dark Knight; something few heroes or villains have done. Hitman and his adventures were written more in a satirical nature, poking fun at the DC Universe and acknowledging how silly and crazy and comic book universe actually was. Hitman was incredible successful and even to this day, readers and comics fans have nothing but praise for Garth Ennis’s character.
5 FAILED: WYRE
In the ‘90s, the mutant known as Cable was introduced. Incredibly popular, other characters were modeled off his design and feel. However, without the Punisher, there would likely be no Cable, and by association, every other character that was a rip-off. Wyre is such a character. He’s a rip-off of Cable who’s unquestionably inspired by Frank Castle.
An unenthusiastic facsimile of a character we already knew, Wyre was uninteresting at best. First appearing in Alpha Flight #114, Wyre was a solider who had been enhanced with synthetic wire implants. From there, he’d spend his time serving as an assassin for the organization known as The Secret Empire. He’d eventually join Alpha Flight and try his luck at heroism. Nobody knows Wyre to this day. Without a following of any kind, Wyre was lost to ‘90s, never to resurface again.
4 MORE VICIOUS: JUDGE DREDD
There’s never been an antihero quite like Judge Dredd and there likely never will be. While Frank Castle respects the law and kills those who break it, Judge Dredd is a bona fide lawman and a more ruthless fighting machine than the Punisher will ever be.
Dredd lives in a dystopian future. Here the law is harsh, but to Dredd, the law must be upheld, no matter the size of the crime. Occasionally, Dredd’s methods come across as overly brutal, as he slams the weight of the law down on those underserving of harsh treatment. In such moments, Dredd does question his role in the harsh regime he serves, but since he was created to deliver justice no matter what, that’s exactly what he’ll do. Even the Punisher has limits about what crimes he’s willing to punish, Judge Dredd does not; there is no crime he’ll ignore.
3 FAILED: FIREARM
There were a number of Punisher rip-offs and many of them were unsuccessful. Punisher knockoffs weren’t even restricted to big companies like Marvel, DC, and Image Comics. Even slightly lesser known publishers like Malibu Comics got in on the action. Appearing in Ultraverse, an imprint of Malibu Comics, was the character Firearm. The 18-issue series chronicled the misadventures of Alex Swan, a private investigator, who once served as a member of the Special Boat Service, the British equivalent of the Navy S.E.A.L.S. Earning the codename “Firearm,” on account of his proficiency with guns.
Alec would move to California and set up shop as a private investigator, hoping for a quiet life. However, he constantly got involved in supernatural and criminal affairs. If you haven’t heard of Firearm, it’s okay; there’s a reason he only lasted 18 issues and was literally never heard of again.
2 MORE VICIOUS: GRIFTER
One of the coolest and longest-lasting characters to come out of Image’s early days was the antihero known as Grifter. He sported a personality that virtually mirrored the Punisher’s, in the sense that he was totally okay with using guns to dish out lethal justice. Grifter became one of Image’s popular characters and has since become a cult classic fan-favorite.
Cole Nash, or Grifter, was created by Jim Lee and Brandon Choi and was first introduced in WildC.A.T.s #1. A member of the book’s team, he possessed telekinesis and telepath. Though if he used his abilities too often, they would put a horrible strain on his body. Though Grifter alone might not be as extreme as Frank Castle, Cole serves on a team made up of vicious heroes, all willing to dish out murderous justice.
1 FAILED: DEATHBLOW
Michael Cray was the son of a US Navy Admiral, but after both his parents were killed in a supposed terrorist attack, he dedicated his life to strapping on bandoleers, kicking butt, and shooting off large guns. Joining the military, he trained extensively in order to avenge their deaths, and was recruited to join Team 7.
Deathblow was something of a silly character; a caricature of every other ‘90s gun-enthused antihero. With the Punisher’s physical training, his creators also went and gave him a healing factor, turning Deathblow into what was essentially an amalgamation of the Punisher and Deathstroke. Deathblow’s stories were bombastic and over the top; they’d only get more ludicrous as time went by. Towards the ends of the series, Deathblow had fought vampires, died four times, and even encountered the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These days, Deathblow has been left and forgotten by the masses.
Which of these Punisher rip-offs is the worst? Let us know in the comments!