The new season of Daredevil starts today on Netflix and it will bring two major Marvel characters into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. One will be covered this week and the other shall be covered in a fortnight. Today we'll be looking at Frank Castle a.k.a The Punisher. The Punisher is unique among Marvel characters in how he fights to save the innocent but does so with brutal force. Unlike Daredevil the Punisher is out to kill his opponents. How did the Punisher come about though?
The Punisher first appeared in 1974 in The Amazing Spider-Man #129. Created by John Romita Sr. and Gerry Conway he actually appeared as an antagonist for Spider-Man to go against. Unlike the likes of Dr Octopus or the Green Goblin the Punisher came to blows with Spider-Man over Spider-Man supposedly killing Norman Osborn. Norman Osborn was the Green Goblin and had died by impaling himself on his own glider while battling Spider-Man (something later replicated in the film Spider-Man). Convinced by a mob boss named the Jackal the Punisher decided to kill Spider-Man for apparently murdering an innocent person (Osborn's identity as the Green Goblin was a secret). After he found out that Spider-Man was innocent he turned on the Jackal. Following his debut the anti-hero became an instant success and frequently appeared alongside multiple other Marvel characters including Daredevil and Captain America.
Frank Castle was born into a family descended of Sicilian immigrants. He was expected to become a Catholic priest but he opted out as he could not forgive people who had done evil. Instead he joined the Marine Corps and served in Vietnam. During his tenure in the Vietnam War he would win the Purple Star as well as learn the techniques that he would later use as a vigilante. A curious side note is how the Punisher's backstory has not been updated. Marvel utilizes a sliding timescale in order to keep their characters at around the same age. Iron Man for example originally made his suit during the Vietnam War but this has been updated to him getting his suit during the Gulf War and later during the War on Terror. Frank Castle is one of the few characters to not have this done to them (Captain America and Magneto are some other notable exceptions). After his time in Vietnam he joined the police, married and became a father to two children. However, everything went wrong when his family went to visit Central Park. A mob family called the Costas performed a mob execution and deciding they didn't want any witnesses shot Castle's family (depending on the author Frank was either shot and survived or arrived late to meet his family). Despite evidence from Frank the executors managed to get away with the murders. Enraged Frank became a vigilante called the Punisher with the direct aim to make sure nothing like this would happen again.
Other Appearances and Own Series
Over the years following his initial appearance Frank Castle as the Punisher would appear in various comics. In 1976 with The Amazing Spider-Man #161 he would reappear and would even get his own archenemy. A hit-man named Billy Russo was hired to kill Castle by the Costa family. He failed and the Punisher threw him through a window panel which tore his face to shreds. A botched surgery left his face horrifically scarred and this inspired Russo to become a mob leader and try to frame the Punisher. This failed thanks to Spider-Man and a member of the X-Men named Nightcrawler but he would become one of the Punisher's reoccurring opponents: Jigsaw.
In 1986 the Punisher would finally gain his own series which would be far darker than the regular Marvel print. Although Jigsaw would be a regular villain he would be one of the few due to the fact that Frank Castle would often kill his opponents. He even got a 'sidekick' in the form of Mircrochip: a computer programmer who helped the Punisher get weapons and track his foes. During the 1980s and 1990s Castle would get two other series: War Journal (it would run from 1988-1995) and War Zone (running 1992-1995) as well as two black and white magazines. During this period he would take on hundreds of criminals from around the world including Yakuza, Russian and Italian mafia, cartels, rapists, human traffickers, the Aryan Brotherhood and corrupt cops.
Punisher MAX and Gnucci War
By the late 1990s the steam in the Punisher comics would start to run out. However, in 2000 there was a storyline which would be so popular that it became implemented into a video game. Wanting to strike fear once again into the hearts of New York's criminal underworld he decided to go after the Gnucci crime family. Ma Gnucci ran the family with her three sons so the Punisher decided to wear them down in the war. Castle managed to kill her sons while Gnucci retaliated by having the police (who were in her pocket) hunt down Castle. Virtually unarmed he led Gnucci and her 'army' to the Central Park Zoo where he killed them off one by one until only Gnucci was left. He then threw her into the polar bear enclosure and the bears proceeded to maul her! She survived (even having a bodyguard shoot her cousin when asked 'how she is') and had a hitman named the Russian kill Castle for $10 million. The Russian failed and Castle returned to finish what he started.
A few years later Punisher MAX was formed by Marvel to create more gritty and darker variants of their characters. One of the series (Alias) would be made canon but virtually all of the other stories were not canon. Garth Ennis (an author known for more violent and darker comics) became the main writer for the series and created a world full of crime. Another thing to note is how superpowers do not exist in the series. However, the impact this series has had is phenomenal, so much so that parts of the story has been referenced in the mainstream comics. Just before the Civil War event in Civil War Files (where Iron Man discussed various heroes) it says: It’s almost like he inhabits two worlds, one where heroes can capture him and one where they can’t, and he can slip from one to the other with ease. Speaking of Civil War...
The Civil War storyarc affected virtually every Marvel character and the Punisher is no exception (feel free to check out my Comics Explained on Civil War: http://historyandgeekstuff.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/comics-explained-marvel-civil-war.html). The Punisher did not get involved in the Civil War until the pro-registration forces started recruiting supervillains, such as Venom, to fight for them. This brought him into the war as he was disgusted at how the pro-registration forces were using the villains. He initially even killed one in Civil War: Punisher #1, when the said villain tried to recruit him (the villain was Stilt-Man who I am pretty sure Marvel remembered was a character that existed, felt ashamed for making him and then tried to make up for it by killing him off). When Spider-Man tried to switch sides he was ambushed and started to be beaten to death by two pro-registration villains, Jack O'Lantern and Jester, until the Punisher arrived and killed them. He then took Spider-Man to Captain America's hideout (he had been secretly watching the anti-registration heroes) and managed to join their side. The Punisher even managed to steal the plans for the prison that the pro-registration forces were building to house the anti-registration forces. However, he was expelled when he shot two villains.
Thanks for reading. Next week will be a World History post but the week after I'll do another Comics Explained for the second newly introduced character: Elektra!