WARNING: This article contains spoilers for The Punisher #224 by Matthew Rosenberg and Stefano Landini, in stores now.
It might seem like a long time ago, but it's only been a year since the face of the Marvel Universe was turned on its head in the aftermath of the Secret Empire event. As readers might recall, the Nick Spencer-penned story saw Steve Rogers, who had been altered into a Hydra sleeper agent by a sentient Cosmic Cube, declare war on his fellow superheroes as the Supreme Leader of Hydra. His goals were to create a better, safer world through intimidation and fear, a world made in the image of Hydra's beliefs.
Secret Empire was chock-filled with controversial moments, many of which have left repercussions still felt to this day, from the death of Black Widow to Deadpool's murder of S.H.I.E.L.D agent Phil Coulson. And yet, all of these moments pale in comparison to what is perhaps the most divisive moment of last summer's event series.
The nazi-version of Steve Rogers became a villain, fighting against the heroes that once fought by his side -- but not every hero (or anti-hero) stood against him. In fact, some of them actually joined Cap, though none caused a reaction among fans quite like Frank Castle, who ditched his skull logo in favor of the red octopus symbol of Hydra.
The Punisher has more or less gone unpunished for his actions as a nazi-enforcer this past year, that all changes in this week's The Punisher #224, which sees some of the Marvel Universe's biggest heroes declare war on Frank Castle.
Frank Castle has been keeping pretty busy. Now wearing the War Machine armor, The Punisher took his one-man-war on criminals and villains international, getting mixed up in the affairs of a foreign country, killing pretty much everyone that stood in his way in brutal yet admittedly imaginative ways. Now, in issue #224, Frank finally returns to his old playground, New York City, complete with his shiny new armor. While Frank doesn't waste time kicking down doors and busting (read: reduce to bloody pulp) heads, it doesn't take long for Captain Marvel to arrive on the scene and attempt to put a stop to his reign of terror on crime.
At first, it appears as if Carol Danvers is attacking Frank on the grounds of him wearing the armor of her deceased boyfriend, James "Rhodey" Rhodes. But before long, we realize it's only a part of it. As the two trade blows, Captain Marvel brings up Hydra's reign... and Castle's role as one of their enforcers. "You think we'd all forget?" she asks him.
And it doesn't stop with Captain Marvel. Daredevil is next to run into Castle, and he tells him the exact same thing. "You backed the bad guys. That's not something we can just move past."
What the heroes of the Marvel Universe can't get over is the fact that Castle wasn't tricked or coerced into working for Hydra. The Punisher willingly chose to work for the evil organization, as explained by Secret Empire writer Nick Spencer. And even though it's been more than a year, it's time for Castle to get what's coming to him. It's time for The Punisher to finally pay the consequences for his actions.
The issue shows us that this is a confrontation that is only just beginning. Captain Marvel has rallied the troops -- which includes the likes of Spider-Man, the Thing, Luke Cage, Falcon, Beast and more -- to stop Castle and, perhaps more importantly, make him pay for what he did under the Hydra emblem.