Frank Castle AKA the Punisher is one of the most iconic symbols of vengeance in the history of Marvel Comics. First created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru in 1974, he was a revolutionary character in Marvel history as his propensity for violence was something unheard of before, and his willingness to kill made him worlds apart from other heroes, which led to his huge popularity as his debut satisfied the public’s thirst for a bloodthirsty hero that has no limits when it comes to dealing with crime.
“The Punisher was originally conceived as a secondary, one-issue, throw-away character,” says Conway. “But readers really responded to him. He was sort of like an anti-villain, as opposed to an anti-hero.” The Punisher has appeared in countless comic books, crossovers, video games, films and television. He has mass appeal due to his extreme ways, but he remains a very mysterious, complicated character, especially since he has been portrayed so many times in the 40-plus years that he has been around. With Netflix ready to unload their new Punisher series later this year, we thought we’d go through 15 little known facts about every rendition of Marvel’s most popular anti-hero.
15. THOMAS JANE WAS COMPLETELY DEVOTED
Despite the not-so-great reviews, The Punisher had one thing going for it: Thomas Jane. He initially turned down the role because he wasn’t interested in playing a superhero, but once he heard that the Punisher actually had no powers, he was convinced. Jane took the role very seriously. He did 90% of his own stunts, which were in no way enhanced by CGI. The film also has a low budget and relatively restricted shooting schedule which was only 50 days.
Jane also trained intensely for the role, which required him to do total body, heavy-lifting workouts four days a week, twice a day for the six months leading up to the shoot as well as two hours of martial-arts and weapons training. The results were astounding: he lost 11% body fat and went from a 178-pound average Joe to a 200-pound anti-hero.
14. HE’S BASICALLY MACK BOLAN: THE EXECUTIONER
Author Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan: Executioner series follows Mack Bolan, whose character might sound familiar. For one thing, he’s a Vietnam War veteran. He also has a vendetta against the mafia because they killed his family, he keeps a “war journal” and he owns a “war wagon” equipped with an armory, living quarters and a command center. Basically, it’s everything needed to wage his one-man war against the mob. Wait… What?
That’s sounds a lot like the Punisher. Only Pendleton wrote his first novel featuring Mack Bolan entitled War Against the Mafia, 6 years before the Punisher made his first appearance. Luckily, Pendleton doesn’t seem too sour about the whole thing. In an interview with Advance Comics, he said: “I elected many years ago to just let it pass, feeling that there is room for both of us in this industry.”
13. DOLPH LUNDGREN WAS THE PUNISHER
Ok, this one is for the newer fans. Before Jon Bernthal, Ray Stevenson or Thomas Jane took on the role, Ivan Drago from Rocky IV played him in 1989. You might also know Dolph Lundgren from his role as Gunner Jensen in Sylvester Stallone’s action series The Expendables. The Punisher was a critical and commercial disaster.
The film was criticized for its pathetic action sequences, its poor acting and its infidelity to the source material. The film was so far removed from its source material, that some argued that it completely missed what made the character so compelling in the comics. The Punisher never even dons his iconic skull symbol in the film, which would make most completely forget that they are even watching a Punisher movie, unless it’s to see a naked Frank Castle meditating in the sewers. Yeah, that happens.
12. HE WAS ORIGINALLY A SPIDER-MAN VILLAIN
The Punisher’s first comic book appearance takes place in The Amazing Spider-Man #129, written by Gerry Conway and illustrated by John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru. In the story, the Punisher is hired by the Jackal to assassinate Spider-Man, and he accepts because he wrongfully believes that Spider-Man murdered his gun-supplier, the Mechanic.
When it is revealed that the Jackal actually killed the Mechanic, the Punisher leaves Spider-Man and says he will kill the Jackal for tricking him and attempting to frame him for murder. The Amazing Spider-Man #129 is now considered a collector’s item worth a lot of money if you can get your hands on it. Although the Punisher made multiple appearances in other comics, he only obtained his own solo series in 1986, a full 12 years after his very first appearance.
11. STAN LEE NAMED HIM
Stan Lee is probably the most creative mind in comic book history. He is credited with having come up with a slew of iconic comic book superheroes, and at 94 years old, he is still working today. When Gerry Conway first conceived of the character, he initially wanted to name him “The Assassin”. However, Stan Lee, Marvel Cinematic Universe cameo extraordinaire, was editor-in-chief at Marvel and he didn’t particularly like that name.
Conway had explained that the character would start out as a villain but would later become a hero and Lee believed the name would be a little too evil-sounding for a character that would one day become good. Lee suggested the name “Punisher”, a name he repurposed from a throwaway character: one of Galactus’ robots. The name stuck and the rest, as they say, was history.
10. SCARED CIVILIANS
Remember how we said that The Punisher (2004) used only practical effects? Well that also applied to all the bloodbaths and explosions throughout the movie, including the explosion in front of the Bank of America building. With a budget of $15 million, they couldn’t exactly splurge on a lot of CGI explosions.
So most of the time, they used squibs or guns with blanks, which can rattle your eardrums and terrify anyone not properly prepared for it to go off. Unfortunately when they shot the bank scene, it was not properly publicized to the public and many people thought it was some sort of attack. According to IMDB, a lot of frightened civilians called 911 thinking a terrorist attack was taking place. Luckily for everyone, it was just the movie.
9. FIGHTING ISIS
Many Iraqi fighters have printed the Punisher’s elongated skull logo on their clothing and vehicles in their battle against ISIS. Daniele Raineri, an Italian journalist, has taken many pictures of the logo, which is prominently featured on a lot of the members of the Iraqi security forces and Shi’ite militia’s clothing.
Aymenn al-Tamimi, who is a researcher at the Philadelphia Middle East Forum, believes that the Iraqi fighters don’t really make the connection between the Punisher logo and its American origin, as the dichotomy is entirely lost on them. They probably just believe it’s a really cool symbol to wear that would scare their ISIS enemies, and we can’t blame them. The Punisher’s skull has taken its place among Marvel’s most popular logos, and staring at it should scare any evildoer straight.
8. DIRTY LAUNDRY
Thomas Jane was set to reprise his role as the Punisher in Punisher: War Zone, but left the project over creative differences. That didn’t stop him from portraying Frank Castle once again in the short film Dirty Laundry. Jane stated that he made the short because “I wanted to make a fan film for a character I’ve always loved and believed in — a love letter to Frank Castle and his fans.”
The film portrays Frank later in his career, after the events of 2004’s The Punisher, where he has now achieved his vengeance against those who wronged his family and has begun to wage his war on crime. There is not a dull moment in Frank’s life, as the simple act of doing laundry ends in a murdering spree for him.
7. RACIAL INSENSITIVITY
Writer Mike Baron, Hugh Hayne and Jimmy Palmiotti’s 1991 Punisher story called “The Final Days” ended with Frank finding himself in prison, face-to-face with one of his greatest foes: Jigsaw. Jigsaw brutally disfigures Frank who then escapes from prison. Frank tracks down a doctor-turned-drug addict to get rid of his scarring and remodel his face so that his enemies can no longer recognize him. So his druggy doctor (somehow) turns him black.
Black Punisher then gets brutally beaten by the cops for driving like a madman because he is pumped full of drugs from the surgery. There is probably some kind of message about systemic racism hidden in there somewhere but we can’t find it, because Frank then teams up with Luke Cage, since he’s also black and it seemed like the perfect pairing. Nice going, Marvel.
6. THE EMINEM/PUNISHER TEAM-UP
Eminem/Punisher #1 is probably one of the most strange team-ups in the history of Marvel Comics. If that doesn’t sound ridiculous enough for you, then just wait till you read about the plot: The Punisher kills all of Eminem’s entourage after a show in Detroit for some reason. Barracuda, who is a huge Slim Shady fan, shows up and after a lot of shooting and backstabbing, Eminem and the Punisher awaken to find out they’re tied up on Barracuda’s boat somewhere in the arctic.
As it turns out, the Punisher was trying to save Eminem all along, as Barracuda was hired to kill Em by the Parents Music Council. Having trouble following? That’s because this convoluted plot makes absolutely no sense. It still makes for an interesting fact, though.
5. HE KILLED EVERYONE IN THE MARVEL UNIVERSE
In the 1995 one-shot comic book Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by Doug Braithwaite, the Punisher does precisely that: he kills absolutely every hero and villain in the Marvel Universe. The story alters the origin of the Punisher, where his wife and children are killed during a gang war.
Instead, they are killed during an altercation between different heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe including the Avengers and the X-men. Frank Castle proceeds to killing everyone involved in the incident before finally killing himself. It’s a really silly premise, but it makes for a fun read for fans who want to see their favorite anti-hero prove that he really is a one-man army that can take down anyone in his path, whether they’re humans or superheroes.
4. CAPTAIN PUNISHER
The Punisher has a lot of respect for Captain America. In fact, he considers him a hero. This is particularly interesting given the fact that the Punisher usually isn’t a very big fan of superheroes, as they tend to lack the will to kill when necessary. During the Civil War mini-series, The Punisher sided with Captain America’s team, but he committed a grave error in the Cap’s eyes: he killed two criminals.
In a fit of rage, Cap pummels Castle to a bloody pulp and demands that he fights back, but the Punisher refuses. “Not against you,” he says. He simply has too much respect for the WWII vet to fight him. After the Cap’s death at the end of the series, the Punisher actually wore a Captain America costume to commemorate Steve for a few issues, only his suit prominently featured his iconic skull.
3. ARCHIE MET THE PUNISHER
Believe it or not, this crossover somehow makes a lot more sense than the Eminem/Punisher team-up. The story follows the Punisher who has tracked down an infamous drug dealer named Red in Riverdale. Unfortunately for Archie, Red looks almost exactly like him. Of course, a mix-up ensues and the Punisher holds Archie at gunpoint before realizing his mistake.
It’s a totally relatable problem when you think about it, as these sorts of mix-ups constantly end with a grown man with a skull shirt aiming a gun at someone. Anyways, they then team up and hunt down the real Red who has taken Veronica hostage. What’s particularly interesting about this one-shot is that they enlisted the help of two artists: Stan Goldberg, who drew the Archie characters and John Buscema, who drew the Punisher ones.
2. HIS REAL NAME
If you need any more reason to believe that the Punisher is a practically a terminator in terms of his murderous track record, the answer lies in his name. Although we know him now as Frank Castle, he was born Francis Castiglione. Maybe you already know that fact, but did you know why he changed his name?
He changed it because he wanted to re-enlist in the army so that he could do a third tour of duty in Vietnam. That’s right, two tours weren’t enough for him. He went to the trouble of changing his name so that he can appease his thirst for blood once again (or, you know, to serve his country), although that probably didn’t help since he has spent his entire post-army life killing people.
1. FREDDIE PRINZE JR. COULD HAVE BEEN JIGSAW
Punisher: War Zone was a commercial disaster. With a budget of $35 million, it only made $10.1 million at the box office. Ouch. The movie amounted to a 100-minute gorefest where each goon received a more gruesome death than the last. The main villain of the film, portrayed by Dominic West, was the grotesque-looking Jigsaw, whose face is so disfigured by a confrontation with the Punisher that the stitches resemble a jigsaw puzzle.
During an interview on the How Did This Get Made? podcast, director Lexi Alexander revealed that an unnamed studio executive suggested she audition someone else for the role of Jigsaw: Freddie Prinze Jr. He actually had a really fantastic audition, but the same studio executive admitted afterwards that he can’t be cast in the role, although it is never revealed why. It certainly would have made for an interesting casting choice.
Any other Punisher facts that we missed? Let us know in the comments section right now!
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