For most of his career, the Punisher has hunted non-powered criminals and terrorists. That choice of targets and his proclivity for killing his prey long kept him on the periphery of the Marvel Universe, but the character recently became embroiled in a series of events that led him to set his sights on bigger game: supervillains and high-tech terrorists. It all began with his involvement in last year's Secret Empire event, and has only escalated since then. In the current volume of The Punisher, writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Szymon Kudranski have pitted their protagonist against the forces of Hydra, the heroes that want him off the streets and an army of supervillains.
Upping the profile of the Punisher's targets has transformed him from street-level vigilante to one of the most fearsome antiheroes in the Marvel Universe. That is a fantastic change, because if the Punisher is going to exist in the Marvel Universe he needs to be at the center of it, thus maximizing the character's potential and making the Marvel Universe an even more fascinating place.
What's great about the Marvel Universe is it's a place where the fantastic and the realistic collide. It's the world outside your window where flawed heroes battle both diabolical villains and their own personal demons. It's also a place of underdogs, where crime-fighters frequently become embroiled in situations that are seemingly out of their league. If you take all of that into account, the Punisher is the perfect Marvel Universe character.
He's deeply flawed, but his flaws make him nuanced and compelling. If the Punisher is done right, you're not supposed to like him all the time. A perfect example of that? Frank Castle getting duped into joining evil Steve Rogers' faction of Hydra in Secret Empire. It was a controversial choice, but one that didn't feel far-fetched. Plus, it gave Frank something to atone for (in his own unique way), and that's always an interesting character arc.
What makes him a character you can usually root for, though, is the fact that he is perhaps the Marvel Universe's biggest underdog. He has no superpowers, but he's out there going toe-to-toe with supervillains and terrorists. All he has to rely on are the weapons in his arsenal, his years of military training and his cunning. In this way, the Punisher has much the same appeal as Batman.
That's because, like Batman, Castle uses his guile and combat prowess to overcome great obstacles, making him the greatest and most successful guerrilla fighter in the Marvel Universe. In the collected edition of Brian Michael Bendis and Gabriele Dell'Otto's Secret War series, there's a report from Nick Fury in which the master spy suggests that Frank Castle could disrupt the infrastructure of a nation like Latveria all on his own.
There's plenty of other in canon examples, too. In the last volume of Punisher, Frank Castle repeatedly avoided being captured by a group of heroes who had banded together to take him down. Their ranks included such powerful characters as Hercules, Captain Marvel and Iron Man. Another great example of Castle holding his own against an all-star team of Marvel heroes came in 2012's Punisher: War Zone, where writer Greg Rucka and artist Carmine Di Giandomenico told a tale of how the Punisher outfought, outwitted and manipulated an Avengers squad composed of Spider-Man, Black Widow, Captain America, Thor, Spider-Man and Iron Man. The event ends with Frank's capture by the team, but it's a hell of a fun read because the creators show off a number of believable ways Frank evades the Avengers. The Punisher's discussion with Thor in Issue #3 is particularly enjoyable.