“Punisher” #1-16 (2011-2012), “Punisher War Zone” #1-5 (2012-2013)
In three years with the Punisher, Greg Rucka crafted some of the most brutal and visceral crime stories Marvel has ever published. Early on in his run Frank Castle lost an eye while fighting the Vulture and things only became more savage after that. Rucka created a rich supporting cast for Castle and fully integrated the rest of the Marvel Universe into the Punisher’s dark world. Already a supremely accomplished crime writer when he arrived on “The Punisher,” Rucka put Frank through the ringer, providing some of the greatest challenges in the character’s history and deftly showcased the bloody aftermath of Castle’s mission, focusing on those impacted by the Punisher and his unrelenting quest for vengeance. Some of Rucka’s highlights included an unforgettable confrontation between Castle and the Avengers and a team-up with Daredevil and Spider-Man, a story that should appeal to fans who enjoyed his encounters with Matt Murdock on TV.
“The Punisher” #1-5 (1986), “The Punisher” #80-81, 85-88 (1993), “The Punisher Holiday Special” #1-2 (1993, 1994), “The Punisher Summer Special” #3 (1993), “Punisher War Journal” #50, 65-74 (1993-1995), “The Punisher War Zone” #38-40, “The Punisher War Zone Annual” #1-2 (1993-1995)
In 1986, famed crime and action writer Steven Grant proved the Punisher could carry his own solo title. Before Grant, the Punisher was relegated to guest roles, usually in books like “Amazing Spider-Man” and “Daredevil,” but when a young Grant pitched the first “Punisher” series to Marvel, it was clear that this writer knew his way around a crime tale. His “Punisher” series was ahead of its time, one of the very first Marvel series that embraced the grim and gritty trends of mid-’80s. In this groundbreaking series, Grant shows the Punisher at his worst, manipulating rival mobs into a turf war, killing any man or woman who gets in his way and leaving death and broken lives in his wake. Grant made it clear the Punisher was no hero; he was, and continues to be, a brutal killing machine driven by a thirst for vengeance. Grant also established the villainous Jigsaw as Castle’s main rival, a feud many writers have revisited again and again. Grant’s take on the Punisher made the Marvel Universe — and one very violent vigilante — meaner than they’d ever been.
“Punisher MAX” #1-22 (2010-2012), “Punisher MAX X-Mas Special” (2009) Garth Ennis wasn’t the only scribe to write the R-rated adventures of Frank Castle, though his shadow certainly loomed large. Rest assured, if anyone could make sure the bloody, brutal, pull-no-punches world of “Punisher MAX” was in good hands, it was “Scalped” co-creator Jason Aaron. The fan-favorite writer pulled off what no crime boss, drug lord, or serial killer ever could — he killed Frank Castle. During the course of his “Punisher MAX” run, Marvel established that the mature readers title took place in its own continuity separate from the mainstream Marvel Universe. In turn, Aaron took full advantage of this situation and introduced MAX analogues of some of Marvel’s legendary street level characters, including new, ultra-violent takes on Kingpin and Bullseye. What followed was mayhem so brutal it pushed the boundaries of the MAX label and led to the end of Frank Castle’s one-man war on crime. Through all the gore, Aaron never lost the humanity of his characters and delivered some of the finest drama and pathos ever experienced in a “Punisher” comic.
“The Punisher” #45, 49, 63, 89-93, 97-104, “Punisher Annual” #6 (1991-1995), “The Punisher War Journal” #38-64, 75-80 (1992-1995), “The Punisher War Zone” #1-11, 25-37, 41, “Punisher War Zone Annual” #1-2 (1992-1995), “The Punisher Back to School Special” (1992-1993), “The Punisher Summer Special #2-4 (1992-1994), “The Punisher: A Man Named Frank” (1994), “Punisher/Batman: Deadly Knights” (1994),”The Punisher Holiday Special” (1995), “Marvel Knights” #1-15 (2000-2001)
Chuck Dixon has long been considered one of the greatest action writers in comics and his long run on “The Punisher” only enhanced that reputation. Dixon took the Punisher back to the character’s pulp-inspired roots as the writer borrowed as much from classic men’s fiction as he did from Marvel history. The writer’s numerous Punisher tales were all diesel fueled and struck a perfect balance between cinematic action and comic book chaos. Mixing equal parts “Death Wish” and James Bond, Dixon’s stories were 100% Punisher as the writer developed created the perfect template for a Frank Castle story — find a unique hook, make it seem like victory is impossible, and then unleash hell. When Dixon launched “Punisher War Zone,” the third “Punisher” monthly, he told a story that sent Frank Castle undercover to infiltrate a mob family. What followed was a classic tale of mayhem and death. Later in the same series, Dixon and legendary artist Joe Kubert presented “River of Blood,” in which the Punisher went behind enemy lines in Russia to take down the Russian mob. Castle was outgunned and on unfamiliar turf, but he proved to the world that no matter what country he was in, the Punisher means death. Dixon’s Castle had a consistent voice and was filled with a coiled, violent energy mixed with the writer’s pitch perfect pacing and masterful sense of story. Combine that with an uncanny ability to know his narrative way around a gun fight and Dixon cemented his place as one of the greatest writers in the Punisher’s bullet-riddled history.
“Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe” #1 (1995), “The Punisher” #1-12 (2000-2001), ” Punisher/Painkiller Jane” #1 (2001), “The Punisher” #1-7, 13-37 (2001-2004), “Marvel Knights Double Shot” #1 (2002),”Born” #1-4 (2003), “The Punisher” #1-60 (2004-2008), ” “Punisher: Countdown” #1 (2004),”The Punisher: Official Movie Adaptation #1 (2004), ” Punisher: The End” #1 (2004), “Punisher: The Cell” #1 (2005), “Punisher: The Tyger” #1 (2006), “Punisher MAX Presents: Barracuda” #1-5 (2007), “Punisher: War Zone” #1-5 (2009)
When “Preacher” co-creator Garth Ennis arrived on “The Punisher” in 2000, the character was at its lowest ebb of popularity. Overexposure and questionable story directions — Punisher as an angelic assassin…? — contributed to reader malaise. In 2000, Ennis and “Preacher” co-creator Steve Dillon redefined Frank Castle as part of the Marvel Knights imprint, ushering in a new age of high quality “Punisher” stories and setting the bar very, very high. Ennis built a new supporting cast and introduced unforgettable villains for Frank to go up against. Of course, this being the Punisher, villains like Ma Gnucci, the Russian and Barracuda didn’t last long, but they were still memorable enough to revitalize the tired Punisher mythos. Ennis’ years on the Marvel Knights “Punisher” were filled with violent humor and slapstick chaos, but when the writer moved the vigilante to Marvel’s MAX imprint, things took a very serious turn. The mature readers stories did away with most of the humor and still managed to deliver some of the best crime and military drama mainstream comics have ever seen. The Punisher’s world had never been so brutal as he took on real world threats like sex slavers, Islamic terrorists and third world warlords. The writer’s finest hour came with “Born,” a heart-wrenching look at the Punisher’s origins during the Vietnam War. Ennis set the standard for all those to follow and showed the world Frank Castle is equally at home in chaotically violent humorous stories as he is in gritty war or crime dramas, making him arguably the greatest Punisher writer of all-time.
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