WARNING: The following contains spoilers for What If Peter Parker Became the Punisher? #1 by Carl Potts, Juanan Ramirez and Christopher Stevens, on sale now.
Marvel Comics' one-shot What If? series is typically a great place for writers to explore crazy, non-canon ideas using the established characters and locations of the publisher's expansive fictional universe. Throughout the years, the series has offered glimpses into the strange, sad and bizarre alternate lives of the heroes and villains we love. Some of those stories even ended up predicting massively popular arcs decades down the road, as was the case with 1978's What If Jane Foster Had Found the Hammer of Thor? Simply put, there are no limits in a What If?, only stranger and stranger ideas waiting to be hatched.
Perhaps that's why What If Peter Parker Became the Punisher? is so off-putting. By all accounts, the issue has the potential to be a raucous good time or a deep dive into the mangled psyche of Marvel's most beloved street-level hero breaking bad. Strangely, it accomplishes neither, instead opting to go the route of rewriting Peter's greatest failure as one of unnerving triumph -- but the ends don't justify the means, not by a long shot. In the process, the issue fails to capture both the essence of a Peter Parker unhinged and the crushing loneliness of the Punisher.
The failure in question is the death of Gwen Stacy, one of the most defining moments in Peter Parker's career, second only to him failing to stop the thief who would later go on to kill his uncle when he had the chance. Gwen's death can be traced back to two issues in 1973 -- The Amazing Spider-Man #121 and #122. While alternate-reality versions of the character have been added to Earth-616 canon in the years since, the moment when Spider-Man's own webbing snapped Gwen's spine was a crucial turning point for the character that stuck with him for years to come. What If Peter Parker Became the Punisher? posits that Spider-Man could have avoided this problem if he had only had a gun.
The issue starts off innocently enough, with an irradiated spider bearing the Punisher emblem hopping onto Peter's arm and biting him. Apparently, this spider has different properties than the one that turned canonical Peter Parker into Spider-Man, because this one fuels Peter with not only amazing spider powers, but also a proclivity for murder.
From the familiar outset, the one-shot follows most of the same beats you would expect. Peter becomes an amateur wrestler and eventually appears on various talk shows, reaping the spoils of his newfound powers. He even fashions an all-black Spider Suit (equipped with a dangerous-looking utility belt). Peter inevitably lets that one thief slip by, though, and in an instant Uncle Ben is toast. Peter tracks the thief-turned-killer to a warehouse. That's where things get interesting.