WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Marvel’s The Punisher, now steaming on Netflix.
On Marvel’s The Punisher, Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle returns to confront the ghosts of his past and the men behind the murders of his wife and two children. All the while he must keep one step ahead of the determined Homeland Security investigator who knows he’s still alive. However, there’s another important piece to that puzzle: Billy Russo, who on the Netflix drama is Castle’s best friend from their time serving together in Afghanistan. Marvel Comics readers will know him better as The Punisher’s longtime nemesis Jigsaw.
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Before his face was disfigured in the comic books and he assumed the nickname Jigsaw, Russo was a hit man better known as The Beaut. The Punisher pays tribute to the character’s fabled good looks in the casting of Ben Barnes, but join us as we look at how the character has been reinvented for the TV series.
From the Mob to the Marines
In Marvel comics, Russo was an assassin, and a brutal one at that. He regularly performed work for the Costa crime family, who were inadvertently responsible for the death of Frank Castle’s wife and children. Russo was ordered to kill anyone possessing knowledge with the murder of Castle’s family, which brought him into conflict with Castle himself. During the fight with The Punisher, Russo was pushed through a glass pane, leaving his face horribly disfigured. Afterward, he changed his nickname from The Beaut to Jigsaw, and became Castle’s archenemy.
The Netflix series alters that relationship drastically by placing Russo and Castle together in the military, where they served for eight years. Such an extreme change gives the two a shared history and a strong bond, making the revelation that Russo played a role in the conspiracy behind the so-called Massacre at Central Park all the more devastating. He’s not some anonymous mobster of CIA operative; he’s, in Castle’s words, “family.”
Frank’s Best Friend
Billy Russo and Frank Castle were enemies from the start in the comics, and there was never a possibility of them being anything else. The creators of the television series have the luxury of effectively starting from scratch, even if the knowledge of Russo’s comic book history will have a segment of the audience scrutinizing his every move in early episodes, searching for any signs of betrayal.
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On The Punisher, Russo was abandoned by his drug-addict mother and grew up in group homes before carving out a life for himself in the military. While serving in Afghanistan, he joined Castle and others in Operation Cerberus, an elite team working under the direction of a CIA agent to apprehend, interrogate and assassinate “high-value targets.”
Businessman and Philanthropist
Russo returned from Afghanistan to found a successful private military company called Anvil, which offers services that range from providing mercenaries (or “private security contractors,” if you prefer) to training Homeland Security agents, which is how he crosses paths with Agent Madani (Amber Rose Revah) in her quest for the presumed-dead Frank Castle.
He’s not all business, though, as he also quietly funds a counseling program for veterans run by his and Castle’s old friend Curtis Hoyle (Jason R. Moore), who lost a leg in Afghanistan, and offers employment to those who find it difficult to transition back into civilian life. While that all may appear selfless, there’s definitely more to Russo than meets the eye.
The Punisher’s Sworn Enemy
When Russo is introduced on Marvel’s The Punisher, he appears to be little more than a Marine who used his skills and contacts to establish a profitable business, and help fellow veterans in the process. When he learns that his old friend Castle is still alive, he offers to set him up with a new identity and smuggle him out of the country.
However, that turns out to be little more than a ruse, as Russo is revealed to be allied with William Rawlins (Paul Schulze), the CIA veteran who oversaw Cerberus, an illegal operation funded by smuggling heroin from Afghanistan to the United States in the bodies of dead soldiers. Thoroughly entwined with Rawlins, Russo has almost as much to lose as he does if their activities in Kandahar are exposed by Castle. That places him on a collision course with his one-time best friend that ends with Russo, like his comic book counterpart, being horribly disfigured in a fight with The Punisher. Jigsaw isn’t mentioned by name, but by the end of the season, Russo is placed on that path.
Debuting Friday, Nov. 17, on Netflix, The Punisher stars Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle, Ben Barnes as Billy Russo, Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Micro, Amber Rose Revah as Dinah Madani, Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, Daniel Webber as Lewis Walcott, Shohreh Aghdashloo as Farah Madani, and Paul Schulze as Rawlins.
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