Of all of Marvel’s “street-level” heroes, the Punisher is perhaps the most grounded; he’s serious, gritty. The last rod most people would use to describe the gun-totting vigilante Frank Castle as being is “weird,” right? Garth Ennis’ tenure on 2004 The Punisher MAX is arguably the definitive Punisher run, and that’s by far the most realistic depiction of the character, taking place in a world where super-powered beings don’t exist. But can The Punisher work if he’s weird?
The biggest argument against a non-weird Punisher would be the 1998 limited series by writers Christopher Golden and Thomas Sniegoski, and artist Bernie Wrightson. In that title, a dead Frank Castle (he commits suicide off-panel before this run begins) is resurrected as an angel of vengeance and now hunts down rogue demons using weapons he pulls from a magical coat. The series also retconned his origin, revealing that the man responsible for killing his family was actually a demon. It’s a supernatural twist that just didn’t gel with the character. It was too silly – Syfy Original Movies silly. The concept was thrown out by Ennis and Steve Dillon in their 2000 The Punisher run, and the less said about it the better.
With that in mind, is it possible to tell a story with the Punisher that involves him being brought back from the dead to fight monsters? Believe it or not, yes.
The 2009 Punisher series, written by Rick Remender with art by Jerome Opeña, Tan Eng Huat and Tony Moore, was launched as a part of Marvel’s year-long “Dark Reign” branding event. The first issue opens with Frank trying to assassinate Norman Osborn, then head of H.A.M.M.E.R., the agency formed to replace S.H.I.E.L.D. The Sentry foils the plot, and then proceeds to chase down Frank, who’s only able to escape because he’s momentarily able to distract the superheor with a bomb hoax.
The primary antagonist for the first half of Remender & Co.’s run is The Hood, the supernatural crime lord who’s part of Osborn’s secret society, the Cabal. Using forbidden magic, The Hood strengthens his criminal empire by resurrecting deceased supervillains, and in the process brings back the Punisher’s old partner Microchip. However, his plan to take down the Punisher (unsurprisingly) doesn’t work.
What makes that run stand out is the humor, and how unafraid it is to embrace the inherent B-grade cheesiness of the character. It’s a strong blend of serious and goofy, with the Punisher dropping one-liners that’d make Die Hard’s John McClane proud. It’s also the run in which Frank infiltrates The Hood’s compound by shrinking himself with Pym Particles and hiding on a pizza, all while decked out with pieces of stolen superhero and supervillain tech: Ant-Man’s helmet, Hawkeye’s bow, a replica of Captain America’s shield, one of Iron Man’s repulsor gloves (all painted to look like his iconic skull, naturally). It reads like the inverse to the stoic, humorless Punisher who appears in Ennis’ MAX series.
Sick of Castle’s meddling, Osborn sends Daken to finally put an end to the antihero. Despite putting up a good fight, Castle is no match for Wolverine’s offspring, who cuts him to pieces him and dumps his remains in an alleyway.
And that’s where things begin to get really weird.
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