As much as some fans may defend Dolph Lundgren, Thomas Jane or Ray Stevenson’s portrayals of The Punisher, everybody was happy when Marvel got the rights back. Then, when it was announced Frank Castle would play a major part in “Daredevil: Season 2,” and that Jon Bernthal (“Fury”) was cast in the role, fans lost their minds. Bernthal didn’t disappoint; his look, demeanor and skills were all pulled right off the comic page.
There are few anti-heroes who get as much love as the The Punisher and after seeing the numbers on “Daredevil: Season 2,” Marvel and Netflix were quick to announce Frank would be heading up his own solo show in 2017. So, it's the perfect time to take a look at some of the best interpretations of The Punisher by acclaimed writers like Garth Ennis, Jason Aaron and Matt Fraction, as well as some fun parallel universe versions.
One of the oddest twists in classic Punisher continuity was during the “Dark Reign” (2008-2009) event when Norman Osborn used his hero status after “Secret Invasion” (2008) to gain control of S.H.I.E.L.D. and recruit his own Avengers line-up. Frank was not buying Osborn’s “good guy” act and attempted to assassinate him. So, "Red" (as Pun calls Norman) hunts him down and fires on his truck with Hellicarrier missiles. When that doesn’t work, he sends in Daken (Wolverine’s son) and scores of H.A.M.M.E.R. Glider Troops. The fodder chase Frank into the sewers and that’s when he comes face-to-face with Daken. Much like his pops, Wolvie Jr. is all about the slice and dice, and he leaves Pun in four pieces.
The pile of Frank is found by Morbiu,s who takes him to Monster Metropolis and pieces him back together. Resurrected as Franken-Castle, he goes on to fight at the side of the Legion of Monsters for a stint. At the time, this drastic change to Frank’s status quo was not well-received. However, after coming back to the arc after a couple years, we think it was a fun ride. Campy, sure, but fun regardless.
14 SURVIVAL PUNISHER
When The Punisher agrees to help out a Vietnam buddy named Sammy in “Punisher” #77 (1993), it turns out to be much more than he bargained for. Sammy is living in Kratinka, Alaska, and is concerned about a suspicious secret base that has popped up in the mountains. So, the two of them take Sammy’s bi-plane to suss out the situation. They are attacked by a chopper from the base and Frank ends up falling out of the plane when they are fired on.
Punisher endures the fall and quickly gets into survival mode. He thinks back to his time at the USMC School of Infantry, where he learned survival techniques from his Native American scout, Phan Bighawk. He sets up animal traps, fashions a weapon and then goes hunting. He tries for a deer, but when it escapes, he is confronted by a grizzly. Frank ends up hunting and killing the bear. He then clothes himself in its fur and uses one of its huge paws for a club. He eventually goes on the offensive and attacks the base. This was a great story arc because it showed that Castle did not need guns to take out criminals.
13 SUPERVILLAIN GEAR
There are any number of cool takes on The Punisher in his own titles over the decades, but some of the best versions are from his guest starring roles. In the “Deadpool: Suicide Kings” (2009) miniseries Deadpool teams up with Daredevil, Spider-Man and Punisher to take down Tombstone. However, at first Frank thinks 'Pool is guilty of blowing up a building full of people and is keen to punish him. He manages to land a head shot with a high-powered crossbow, but you know how that goes with ol' Deadpool.
While this was the standard Earth-616 Frank, the way Mike Benson ("Moon Knight") writes the interplay between him and Poolie is fresh and funny. More importantly, Punisher has a incredible armory full of supervillain gear that he uses to hunt Deadpool in this series. Within the first two issues, he manages to break out Torpedo’s gun, a Doctor Octopus arm, one of Whiplash’s electro-whips and Grim Reaper’s scythe. Then, for the team-up portion of the arc, he shows up to save the day wearing Unicorn’s battle ram, Klaw's sonic cannon, and riding Green Goblin's glider while wielding Pumpkin Bombs. How can you go wrong with The Punisher suped-up with confiscated villain weaponry?
12 ORIGINAL SIN PUNISHER
Another odd couple team-up we love over here is The Punisher paired with Doctor Strange in “Original Sin” (2014) by Jason Aaron. Castle likes to works alone... with the exception of Microchip... and that time with Rachel Cole-Alves… and his Thunderbolts stint. Anyway, you know what we mean. So, when he has to do the obligatory comic team-up, a good writer will highlight that he is hating every minute of it. In this case, Strange has an equal disdain for Castle and refers to him as a murderer several times. Both characters are being considered by Nick Fury to be his replacement as The Watcher On the Wall in the story.
Aaron managed to write Frank with his trademark gruff and zeal, but since it was a big event book, he couldn’t have him just killing at will. His solution was to couple him with an altruistic hero that would stop him every time he had the compulsion to end a life. These two also came together for a miniseries called "Doctor Strange / The Punisher: Magic Bullets," which dropped in late 2016.
Jimmy Pierce was a member of the Black Cullens crime family in New York. As much as he tried to avoid the family business growing up, he eventually gets pulled in. He first appears in “Punisher” #86 (1994), written by Steven Grant.
When it was reported that Frank Castle had been killed (also in “Punisher” #86), the Cullens forced Jimmy to assume The Punisher mantle to do their dirty work. He wore an identical suit to Pun’s but he took it a step further by also donning a skull mask. On the other hand, he was a much less violent Punisher, who tried to negotiate whenever possible. Having been a Green Beret in the US army, he definitely had the skills to take over the role. During this time, a number of other people were also inspired by Frank (or saw an opportunity) and became Punishers. These im-Pun-sonators include: Outlaw, Payback, Yuppunisher and Lady Punisher.
10 LYNN MICHAELS
Female characters taking over for a historically male legacy hero is nothing new. While many have objected to the Jane Foster version of Thor and Riri Williams replacing Iron Man, there have been gender swaps of Ghost Rider, Doc Ock and even The Punisher.
Lynn was an NYPD police officer who was fed up with her corrupt and inept department. She first allies with the Punisher to take down a serial rapist that had long alluded the cops in “The Punisher: War Zone” #7 (1992). Later, Michaels also becomes a vigilante and she dresses like The Punisher to “be extreme” and provoke the government agency known as V.I.G.I.L. She believes Frank had been killed by the organization, and feels the need to avenge him and continue his work. While she wasn’t directly involved in the “Civil War” (2006) event, she was listed as an anti-Registration sympathizer in “Civil War: Battle Damage Report” (2007).
Nigel Higgins is an Englishman who was inspired by The Punisher's crusade. He was introduced by the regular writing duo Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) in “Punisher” #64 (1992). He takes the title Outlaw and becomes the UK's Punisher, as well as being Frank and Microchip's European ally. When he hears Frank had been killed, Higgins (is it possible to read that name and not think, Magnum P.I.?) travels to the U.S. to find out what happened for himself. This takes place during the 11-part “Suicide Run” (1993) crossover, which included “Punisher,” “Punisher: War Zone” and “Punisher War Journal.”
Higgins fell into obscurity for decades and only popped back up again recently in “Contest of Champions” #10 (2016). He had laid down his bullet-proof vest emblazoned with the skull symbol and started living an ordinary life under the name Neil Hibbs. However, he was chosen by the Elder of the Universe known as Grandmaster to take part in his most recent Contest of Champions.
8 PUNISHER 2099
It seemed when the “2099” line first launched in the mid-‘90s that it may actually be the future of Earth-616. However, since then, events in current continuity have made that future impossible and it has been denominated Earth-928. In this timeline, a police officer named Jake Gallows loses his wife and son… but only due to him neglecting them in favor of his job. However, when his mother, brother and sister-in-law are slain by gangsters, he steals Punisher’s War Journal from the police archives and takes up his mission. This Punisher has a device that hides his face behind a pixelate skull whenever he is caught on film.
The interesting thing about Punisher 2099 is that there is nearly as many different versions of this character as there is the classic Pun. There are five differing variations of Jake, various female Punisher 2099s, and even one named Cassandra Nachos, who is the daughter of Punisher and Elektra.
7 THE PUNISHERS
In the alternate future (3018 AD) of the original Guardians of the Galaxy, designated Earth-691, all the planets in our Solar System have been colonized. After the united beings of the Solar System defeat the Brotherhood of the Badoon in a 7 year-long war, Earth experiences a time of peace and unity. However, within a short time, old prejudices start to rear their ugly head yet again. This led to the Guardians leaving Earth to travel the stars.
When they return 4 years later, the Earth seems to have experienced another World War. The Guardians note that Sydney, Tokyo, Beijing and Manhattan have all been ravaged. Turns out a worldwide turf war between street armies had erupted with a group called The Punishers emerging as the victors. Apparently, they had learned about The Punisher from Vance Astro’s docu-chips about 20th Century superheroes. The Punishers include members Ned, Nissi, Feddy, Joey, Private Statter, Lt. Dunn, Belle, The General and many more. Their major rival gang were the Guardians' allies, The Comandeers.
6 IRON PUNISHER
Marvel’s “What If” line has given us some great alternate realities where Frank Castle becomes a hero or villain other than The Punisher. The series has seen him take over as Captain America, become an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and even combine with the Venom symbiote.
In “What If” #28 and #29 (1991), we get a two-part story that documents what would have happened had Steve Rogers saved Dr. Erskine, the creator of the Super Soldier Serum. America makes a battalion of Super Soldiers and sends them to Germany to end World War II. Though they manage to do so, their boat is torpedoed on the way home and only Steve survives. Once back in the States, S.H.I.E.L.D. is established and Cap commissions a new army of Super Soldiers to be the organization’s frontline. Frank Castle is one of these enhanced soldiers and is the captain of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Hunter Squadron. Upon losing a battle to Namor, he is outfitted with a “solar-charged, transistorized metal mesh armor” designed by Tony Stark for the rematch. The big twist in this tale is that President Rogers is actually the Red Skull and Steve had been frozen in ice like on Earth-616.
5 PUNISHER EXO-SUIT
We thought this was a great version of Frank to include right now because he wore his first mech suit to combat the Reavers. If the name isn’t immediately familiar, they are the group of anti-mutant Aussie cyborgs that are the baddies in the upcoming “Logan” feature film.
In the Mike Baron-written “The Punisher” #33 (1990), Microchip hacks The Reaver’s computer systems and grabs the schematics for what he calls “the wildest set of bio-mechanical weapons components (he’s) ever seen.” The Reavers trace the hack and Donald Peirce sends Bonebreaker, Reese and Prettyboy to eliminate the perpetrators. Even given time to prepare, Frank and Micro narrowly escape. They then hook up with Microchip’s cousin, who just happens to be a black market arms dealer with an experimental exo-skeleton lying around. Microchip augments this prototype with the Reaver tech, which puts Frank on a level playing field, and you can guess what happens next. He also suits up in Exo-Armors in “The Punisher” #56 (1993) and in “Thunderbolts” #31 (2014).
4 5 RONIN
Stories that reimagine classic Marvel characters in completely different settings are almost always good fun. This is definitely true of the “5 Ronin” (2011) miniseries, where Peter Milligan (“Madman”) wrote a tale set in feudal Japan that intertwines the fates of, you guessed it, five masterless samurai. A corrupt Daimyo had wronged this world’s Wolverine, The Hulk, Psylocke, Deadpool and The Punisher, and they were all out for revenge.
In the issue that focuses on The Punisher’s story, we find out that after fighting a war in Korea for three years, he had come home to nothing. His home is long gone and his family with it. He learns of how the Daimyo’s men came for his land once he had left for war and how his wife and son had died honorably by committing seppuku. As is Punisher’s way in most any comic, he leaves a trail of bodies (we counted 15 at least) on his way to vengeance. However, it is the Daimyo’s former righthand man, Watari (Deadpool), that manages to actually bring him down.
3 CAP PUNISHER
After Steve Rogers was assassinated on the courthouse steps on his way to trial after the events of “Civil War” (2006), various well-known characters vied for the shield. Tony Stark offered Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye) the role and we obviously know Winter Soldier eventually became the new Captain America. However, what we’re concerned with is Matt Fraction’s “Punisher: War Journal” (2007-2009), where Frank takes up the mantle to combat Hate Monger, who has started wearing a Nazi version of Cap’s uniform to rile people up.
This was a great follow-up to Cap and Punisher’s interaction in “Civil War” where Steve kicks Frank’s ass for killing two supervillains who were trying to join the anti-registration side. Well, to be fair, it was a one-sided fight because Frank respects Cap too much to fight back. It's clear Punisher feels he deserves punishment this time and that Rogers is the only one worthy to dole it out.
2 PUNISHER KILLS THE MARVEL UNIVERSE
In the “Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe” one-shot written by Garth Ennis first printed in 1995 we are introduced to Frank Castle of Earth-95126. In this alternate timeline, we get a different spin on Pun’s origin story, which completely changes who he is out to punish.
When his wife and children are caught in the crossfire of the Avengers and X-Men fending off a Brood/Skrull strike force, he does not hesitate to shoot those he holds responsible. He kills Cyclops, Jubilee and Hawkeye before being stopped by Wolverine. He is then sentenced to life in prison… but instead of being taken to Rykers, Frank ends up at the home of a man with severe facial scarring named Kesselring. He tells Castle that he was disfigured when caught in a fight between Doctor Doom and the Fantastic Four, and he has gathered other individuals that have been badly hurt in similar scenarios. He goes on to explain that he got him released so he could be their instrument of retribution. Frank becomes The Punisher and goes on a superhero killing spree, the likes of which had never been seen in Marvel comics.
1 PUNISHER MAX
Not all of Marvel’s titles on their adult themed MAX imprint exist in the same world, but a handful of them do make up Earth-200111. Starting with “Fury” in 2001, Garth Ennis built a dark and vicious parallel of Earth-616 that has no superheroes. Then, with “The Punisher” in 2004, he rejuvenated Frank Castle in a reality ideal for his grim mission.
To say the title was successful for ol' Pun would be an understatement, as it ran for 5 years and 65 issues, and spawned various follow-up series and one-shots. We consider this the definitive version of The Punisher because without all the capes and tights to complicate things, he is free to administer his special brand of justice. Interestingly, Castle’s Vietnam War past from this continuity, which is full of grisly events they would never show in a regular Marvel comic, was adopted as his official past in the 616 Universe.
What is your favorite version of The Punisher? Fire away in the comments!