So the Punisher will appear in Daredevil Season 2. This is fairly awesome news, especially for those who are fans of Garth Ennis’s long run with the character, starting in 2000 and ending in 2008. He basically redefined the character. But Frank Castle has been a number of different character types over the years.
The Punisher first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #129, “The Punisher Strikes Twice!” written by Gerry Conway. He was a murderous vigilante who lived to kill criminals...and was hired by the Jackal to kill Spider-Man.
In his first appearance, it’s quite clear that even though the Punisher says he only kills criminals, he’s still the villain: the Jackal hires him (something that later versions of Castle would never allow) and he only turns on the Jackal when presented with evidence that he is setting the Punisher up for murder and Spider-Man is innocent.
The Punisher appears again in issue #134-135, where he believes Spider-Man again to be a criminal and tries to kill him, letting the actual criminals get away in the process. This was basically Frank Castle’s modus operandi in his first few appearances.
By the time Frank got his own mini-series in 1985 (which managed to spin off three series — The Punisher, The Punisher War Journal and The Punisher War Zone), he had graduated from villain to anti-hero. He no longer went after Spider-Man or Daredevil — now, he went after mobsters, hitmen, drug cartels, Yakuza, and more. (In fact, even though the Punisher’s origin was told back in 1975, his real name wasn’t revealed until this mini-series).
This version of the Punisher was quite clearly based on the popularity of the Death Wish series with Charles Bronson (the first mini-series came the same year as Death Wish 3).
It was during this period that Frank was assisted in his war on crime by David Linus “Microchip” Lieberman, who built many of his weapons and his war van.
By 1995, however, readers were tired of him and all three of his books were cancelled at the same time.
And here’s where things go off the rails. In an effort to revitalize the character, Christopher Golden wrote The Punisher: Purgatory, where Frank Castle (after committing suicide) is resurrected by angels and giving a holy mission to kill supernatural creatures and demons.
This Punisher had the Mark of Cain on his forehead and a pair of magic machine guns.
Christopher Golden wrote one more miniseries with Avenging Spirit Punisher, costarring Wolverine, but nobody liked it. In fact, most hated this version of Castle.
So, when Garth Ennis began his epic run in 2000, with a story titled “Welcome Back, Frank,” the Punisher was back to being a mortal vigilante. And how did he explain his being mortal again?
I caught a glimpse of heaven once. The Angels showed me. The idea was I’d kill for them. Clean up their mistakes on Earth. Eventually redeem myself.
Tried it. Didn’t like it. Told them where to stick it.
So they brought me up to heaven, to see what I’d be missing. A wife. A son. A daughter. I hadn’t seen them since they bled out in my arms. Then I was cast down.
Back to a world of killers. Rapists. Psychos. Perverts. A brand new evil every minute, spewed out as fast as men can think them up. A world where pitching a criminal dwarf off a skyscraper to tell his fellow scum you’re back is a sane and rational act. The angels thought it would be hell for me.
But they were wrong.
Welcome Back, Frank. Says New York City.
Being an avenging spirit wasn’t the last time Frank was touched by the supernatural. After Garth Ennis finally finished his long run on The Punisher MAX, other writers took over. When the Dark Reign crossover happened, Rick Remender wrote a one-shot where Norman Osborn, tired of being targeted by the Punisher, decides to go and kill him. And he does. The issue ends with Daken decapitating Frank’s body and then setting it on fire.
And that’s how we get FrankenCastle. Morbius the Living Vampire resurrected Frank as a Frankensteinian monster, so Frank joined the Legion of Monsters (with Man-Thing, Werewolf by Night, and N’Kantu the Living Mummy) to protect Monster Metropolis.
Thankfully, at the end of this series, Frank was transformed back into a normal human and he went back to his normal human vigilante ways.
The character that Frank Castle always come back around to is an anti-hero. Someone whose motivates are pure, but methods are dirty. Someone who fights against those even worse than he is. And so, I leave you with this scene from one of the very best Punisher stories, “The Slavers,” where we slowly see the soul of Frank Castle: