The Punisher has a long history of violence. Some of it justified within the context of the various comic book series he has graced while some of it is arguably downright exploitative. The line between what’s in good taste and what has been increasingly blurred over the years, but one thing is constant: The Punisher is a force to be reckoned with and his methods are nothing less than brutal. This brutality has been translated to live action before in the 2004 Thomas Jane film The Punisher and even more faithfully in the de facto reboot Punisher: War Zone (oh, and that Dolph Lundgren version from 1989).
But now that we have a live action Netflix series based on the character, things are different. Despite the fact that they portray adult content more openly than the big screen MCU, the shows have not risen to adapt the level of violence the comic is often afforded. Which sounds absolutely nuts when you consider some of the cringe-worthy violence Netflix has gotten away with. While we don’t think this version of The Punisher is watered down by any means, it just simply doesn’t have the nasty streak the comics have. Here are 15 brutal moments from the comics that prove it.
This one is as weird as it is brutal. Back in 2010, writer Rick Remender (Tokyo Ghost, Uncanny X-Force) and artist Tony Moore (The Walking Dead, Fear Agent), decided to take the current ongoing Punisher title in a unique direction. And that direction was to resurrect a recently dismembered Frank Castle as a creature resembling Frankenstein’s monster.
The punishment FrankenCastle endures during his six-issue storyline is absolutely insane. Zombie Frank is beaten, burned, shot, stabbed, mutilated, and so on, but keeps coming. Think Jason Voorhees, but with a much bigger ax to grind and an expanded vocabulary. The craziness of this story would never fly under the Netflix Marvel banner. The prelude to the series (gorily illustrated by John Romita Jr) in which Daken hacks Frank to pieces would never even get past the censors.
14 "UP IS DOWN, AND BLACK IS WHITE"
Not many criminals cross paths with Frank Castle and live to tell their tale. However, ever now and then, The Punisher leaves some loose ends that often try to test their luck. One such survivor is gangster Nicky Cavella, who make a return to The Punisher: Max in the story arc “Up is Down, and Black is White.”
Nicky, in his infinite wisdom, decides to take the fight to Frank by hitting where it hurts (the only place where it hurts for Frank) and digs up and desecrates the remains of The Punisher’s deceased family. And if that wasn't bad enough, Nicky broadcasts it on television for all of New York to see. It’s a tactic that works and draws Frank out, which is what Nicky thinks he wants up until realizes the wrath he has wrought.
13 STEAMROLLING SUPERHEROES
Frank Castle is a difficult guy to get along with. The list of people he considers “friends” is as short as his hit list is long. That’s not to say that certain other Marvel heroes don’t try to extend the olive branch. Some even go so far to try to rehabilitate Frank, which goes about as well as one would imagine (isn’t that right, Daredevil?).
But sometimes, even though they may be on the same side, Frank feels the need to get rid fellow heroes by unorthodox methods…like running them over with a steamroller. Now before you recoil in disgust, keep in mind the hero who got the business end of said steamroller was Wolverine. So one could posit that Frank was merely testing the Ol' Canucklehead’s durability.
12 VERA KONSTANTIN'S DEATH
During Garth Ennis’ tenure as The Punisher scribe, he created man unsavory characters to eat Frank Castle’s righteous lead. But very few have been as utterly despicable as the human traffickers in the story arc “The Slavers.” The matriarch of this horrible empire was Vera Konstantin, a Romanian woman who came up with disturbing means in which to “break the girls” who she and her associates were selling to the criminal underworld.
Needless to say, when she met her demise, not too many tears were shed. But as cathartic as an occasion it was to see Frank Castle slam her against pane of shatter-proof glass until it gives and fall out of a 30-story building, the sheer brutality and the emotional weight of the moment be too much for Netflix in its raw form.
11 HEAD-BUTT ASSIST
Frank Castle is not known for his subtly. Sometimes the bluntest way of taking care of business is the easiest and the most brutal for The Punisher. Frank knows that if you’re out of ammo and you have to quickly kill two bad guys, one can always rely on using the thick skull one of the aforementioned bad guys as a blunt instrument.
Despite how viscerally upsetting this moment would be for television, the logistics of it are dicey at best, but in the realm of comic books, if it’s drawn well, it’s plausible enough. Frank Castle head-butting a man with a head other than his own is simply too over-the-top for film. But as the old adage goes, two heads are better than one…unless they’re used to make zero heads and in that case, it’s not good. At all.
10 FUNERAL ATTACK
In the first arc of Punisher: Max, a story entitled “In the Beginning,” writer Garth Ennis and artist Lewis Larosa wasted no time establishing the levels of brutality the series was willing to reach to earn its “mature audiences” warning on the cover. This flex of Punisher muscle kicked off with Frank Castle crashing a Mafioso’s 100th birthday party with a hail of M-60 machine gunfire.
After slaying countless gangsters, Frank lets the dust settle, giving them a false sense of security which is quickly blown to smithereens (literally) when The Punisher does a drive by at the Mafioso’s funeral with an RPG launcher. It’s a great establishing moment for this version of Castle, one that shows how twisted he’s become in his crusade against crime.
9 MA GNUCCI MAKES SOME FUZZY FRIENDS
Punisher villains often come in two flavors: crazy and evil. But mafia matriarch Ma Gnucci happens to be perfect blend of both. After killing her sons to re-announce his presence to the world, The Punisher sets his sights on Gnunni when she tries to retaliate (even murderous, mobster mothers love their kids).
When Gnucci confronts Frank in the Brooklyn Zoo, she bites off more than can chew and winds up in a polar bear enclosure with a few of her henchmen. While the actual gory details occur off page, we see the aftermath of what’s left of Ma Gnucci and it ain’t pretty. Gnucci is left armless and legless and even crazier than she was before. The whole scene is played for laughs but the gruesome reality of it would be far too brutal for Netflix.
8 STRIKING A DEAL WITH DEATH
Very rarely does a Punisher comic delve into the supernatural. Most of Frank Castle’s stories are grounded in reality even when they do push the envelope of reason. That’s one of the reason’s Punisher: Born really stands out. The mini-series which tells the secret origin of The Punisher as seen through the eyes of a young Marine named Stevie Goodwin during the Vietnam Conflict.
While the Netflix series does tackle Frank’s time in the military (updating it to current conflicts in The Middle East), the finale chapter of Born is so emotionally punishing (pun intended) it would never show up in the show. During a final stand, Frank Castle is left alone to fight an onslaught of insurgents. While doing so he makes a deal with some unknown entity (Death, perhaps?) where if he lives, Frank will give something in return. That tradeoff is what gets his family killed.
Shock and awe can often be relegated to a single panel. You get several pages of buildup and then -- BAM! -- a huge splash panel of something horrific fills the page. But sometimes shock and awe is persistent, relentless even. Such is the case with mob enforcer Carmine Gazzera, better known as Pittsy.
Despite the silly nickname, Pittsy is one of the most formidable villains Frank Castle has ever faced. The guy is relentless and no matter how sever The Punisher attacks him, Pittsy just gets on coming. We have to admit that the Neflix series does capture the brutality of close quarter combat pretty well, it doesn’t hold a candle to the knockdown drag out fight between Pittsy and Frank. Their final battle goes on for pages and just when you think it’s about to end, another blood-soaked page proves otherwise.
6 GOODBYE MICRO
The character of Micro (or Microchip) goes back to the Mike Baron era of the Punisher comics that were being produced in the late '80s. Micro was the Intel guy, Frank’s source for dirt on the criminals he was hunting down. His inclusion in the Netflix series made perfect sense for the character of Frank Castle and helped update Micro for a new audience (also, it didn’t hurt that he was wonderfully portrayed by Ebon Moss-Bachrach).
But the Micro from the original run get sad farewell in Punisher: Max after betraying him. This take on the elderly hacker was a nod to the comics of yesteryear and his death at Frank’s hands was a challenging moment for both the reader and the character. Not just because of its bloody realization, but because of its emotional tension. Micro was the one guy Frank could rely on, but not anymore.
5 BARRACUDA'S DEMISE
One of the more fascinating villains The Punisher has ever tackled was Barracuda, the foul mouthed, smooth-talking assassin who has given Frank a run for his money on a couple occasions. One could surmise that Barracuda’s resilience is what made him so compelling (that and some sordid dental work). The character was such a hit with readers, he was even given his own mini-series.
Sadly, though, like many villains of Frank Castle, Barracuda eventually met his match near the end of Garth Ennis’ colossal run on The Punisher: Max in one of the most brutal fights the comic has ever portrayed (and that’s saying something). We hope that Barracuda shows up in the Netflix MCU, and based on the angle that show is taking, we think there’s a good chance he will, but there is no way the show will do the character’s demise justice.
4 SHOTGUN BLAST DOWNTOWN
How do we dance around this one without being too vulgar…well, do you remember how we told about Frank Castle running over Wolverine with a steamroller? Yeah, so before he did that, Frank also shot Logan’s face off, revealing a disturbing adamantium visage to gaze upon for the rest of the duration on panel, and them proceeded to shotgun blast his private parts.
Again, one could posit that Frank is testing Wolverine’s durability here, but that one-two combo of gun shots, punctuated with turning him into a mutant pancake seems a bit like overkill. But who are we to judge The Punisher’s methods? If you’re going to dispatch Wolverine in a way to make him think twice before going toe-to-toe with you, there’s really no better way to get that message across.
3 MA GNUCCI GOES UP IN FLAMES
You would think that after killing her children and turning her and her men into bear chow, Frank Castle would be done terrorizing Ma Gnucci and vice versa, but no. Ma sends the monstrous hitman The Russian after Frank, whom is finds himself getting decapitated by The Punisher and used a means of intimidation toward Gnucci.
The Punisher then burns down Ma’s mansion with her still inside it. In any other comic book this would have been the end of things, but with the creative team behind comics like Preacher, things go one step further. Having survived the initial fire, Ma wriggles her way out of the burning mansion and attacks Frank by literally biting at his ankles. The Punisher allows this happen for a moment before punting her back into the inferno like a Nerf football.
2 CRISTU BULAT'S DEATH
Sometimes a pair of sadistic scumbags go together like peanut butter and jelly. Such is the case with Cristu Bulat, the co-leader of a prostitution ring and love interest of Vera Konstantin (yeah, it is hard to believe that these two could feel anything remotely resembling love). While Vera gets a swift death at the hands of Frank Castle, Cristu isn’t so lucky.
The former Bosnian War mercenary goes from tough-guy criminal to screaming, helpless wimp when The Punisher drags Cristu out into the woods and removes some of his internal organs while he’s still breathing. The reader isn’t privy to exactly how long Frank keeps Cristu alive with his guts strung up in the trees above, but it is long enough from The Punisher to glean whatever information Cristu has holding and then some.
1 SHARK BAIT
Frank Castle has a certain knack for utilizing his surroundings to dispatch the undesirable criminals he often finds himself swarmed by (said swarming is almost always self-inflicted, by the way). The world is a weapon when The Punisher is in a bloodthirsty murder groove. It doesn't matter if it’s a metal gate or a fridge door or even mother nature, death finds a way.
One of the more unique and oddly simple ways Castle has displayed this talent involves a man with some severed limbs and a great white shark in Garth Ennis’ run on Punisher: Max. Where he could have simply let the man drown or bleed out, The Punisher dials t to eleven and chums the waters. What’s crazy is that this isn’t the first time it’s happened. Frank used a shark in Marvel Super Action #1. Seriously, look it up.
Which of these moments is the toughest to look at? Let us know in the comments!