On November 17th, the punishment begins! That’s the day that fans of the guy with the skull on his chest are waiting for. All 13 Episodes of Marvel’s The Punisher will be available for your binge watching pleasure. The Punisher was a fan favourite in Daredevil Season 2 and Jon Bernthal looks more than ready to take center stage. Over the next few weeks, leading up to the show’s release, I’ll be bringing you all the knowledge on Frank Castle that’s fit to print. You’ll hear about his greatest comic adventures and even his latter day movie sins. So kick back and get ready to learn all about the greatest vigilante in the Marvel U.
This week, we take a look at some of the greatest Punisher stories ever told. For those new to Marvel who’re looking for some cool stories starring the baddest vigilante on the planet, the stories listed below are a great place to start and perfectly showcase the character in all his bad-ass glory. What follows are 6 of the best Punisher stories in his varied history. Some are classic tales. Others, hidden gems.
Take a look, true believers, you just might learn something.
Circle of Blood (Punisher Vol. 1, #1-5)
Creative Team: Steven Grant (writer) Mike Zeck and Mike Vosburg (artists)
This was the premiere Punisher limited series in which a citizens’ organization called the Trust springs Punisher from prison so that he can fight his war on crime with an army of brainwashed criminals that they’ve dubbed the “Punishment Squad”. But Frank has plans of his own. He tells Bugle Reporter Ben Urich that he’s killed the Kingpin. This false information starts a gang war that ends up getting ugly. Innocents become endangered. Punisher has to stop the war he started and take down the Punishment Squad which are doing more harm than good.
Before this mini series, Punisher was largely an antagonist popping up in issues of Spider-man and Daredevil. This was the series that made it okay to root for the vigilante. It was one of the first Marvel comics to feature adult themes. Steven Grant does a great job of fleshing out the Punisher and giving him a bit more emotional grounding. Also, he makes great use of of the “War Journal” narration. Mike Zeck delivers on the pencils and stands out as one of the quintissential Punisher artists to this day. It was a spectacular miniseries for its time and was the main catalyst behind Frank getting a monthly book.
Punisher War Zone (Punisher War Zone Vol. 1, #1-6)
Creative Team: Chuck Dixon (writer) John Romita Jr. (artist)
Frank Castle uses a little brains with his brawn as he goes undercover as Johnny Tower and infiltrates the Carbone family. Shortly after winning the affections of Don Carbone’s rebellious daughter, Rosalie, Frank takes care of business the only way he knows how. A scene from this story involving Punisher tricking a hood by making him think he’s using a blowtorch on him (when it is actually just a popsicle) was used in the 2004 Punisher film staring Thomas Jane. It works a lot better in this story, let me tell you.
This is the story that always stands out as the best representation of how Punisher operates. Frank Castle is not just a bruiser. He’s a man with a plan. He wants a maximum body count when it comes to killing criminals. If he can take out a whole crime family, all the better. It’s also one of the few 90s comics that still holds up. And who can forget that artwork by J.R. Jr.?
Welcome Back Frank (Punisher Vol. 5, #1-12)
Creative Team: Garth Ennis (writer) Steve Dillon (artist)
The year 2000 marked one of the greatest comic comeback stories of all time. It had been 4 years since The Punisher had an ongoing series. There were a couple of attempts to revive the character in between this time, all of which had been flops. So Marvel Knights gave the property to Garth Ennis to see what he could do to revitalize the franchise. And he did. How did he do it? By taking Punisher back to basics.
Frank Castle is on the hunt for the Gnucci family. One by one, he takes out the major operators and lets nothing get in his way, including Daredevil. Eventually there is only one person left to kill, Ma Gnucci, the matriach of this crime family. Ma Gnucci will be punished. The artwork for this masterpiece was provided by Ennis’ collaborator on Preacher, the late Steve Dillon. Steve will always be remembered for his work on this character.
Mother Russia (Punisher (Max) Vol. 7, #13-18)
Creative Team: Garth Ennis (writer) Doug Braithwaite (Artist)
When popularity began to die down for Garth Ennis’ take on the Punisher at Marvel Knights, the choice was made to officially make the book a Mature Reader title. Under the Max imprint, Punisher was once again killing criminals, this time with no heroes to get in his way as the tales took place outside of Marvel continuity. But there were a few carry overs, Nick Fury being one of them.
In Mother Russia, Nick sends Frank Castle to Russia to rescue a little girl who’s bloodstream contains an antidote to a powerful chemical weapon from terrorists. A chemical weapon that the U.S. government would like to get their hands on. The window to rescue her is short so they need to act fast. To ensure the mission is completed, Frank is accompanied by a special forces soldier with orders to make sure the weapon does not fall into “the wrong hands.” Not a lot more I can tell you here without spoiling it but this is probably the most human we ever get to see Frank Castle. He’s gruff and tough when conducting the mission but is tender and caring with the child. It’s a heartwarming story full of explosions and grisly death.
PunisherMax (PunisherMax #1 – 22)
Creative Team: Jason Aaron (writer) Steve Dillon (artist)
Taking advantage of the series being outside the Marvel 616 continuity, Jason Aaron tells a complete story with a definitive end. This series marks the Max debut of two famous Punisher rivals: The Kingpin and Bullseye. The story begins with Wilson Fisk’s rise to power and The Punisher’s unintentional hand in it.
What’s really amazing is the pure psychotic portrayal of Bullseye who transcends the simple assassin role and is more a man obsessed with getting into the mind of Frank Castle. Add to this a cameo appearance from Elektra and the introduction of an assassin known as the The Mennonite, and you’ve got quite the memorable tale. You owe it to yourself to read Jason Aaron’s opus of death and destruction. It’s got the bite of Ennis’ Punisher with the smarts and wits that Aaron is known for.
The Punisher (Punisher Vol. 9/Punisher War Zone Vol. 3)
Creative Team: Greg Rucka (writer) Marco Checchetto and Carmine di Giandomenico (artists)
This Punisher series is special because it surprised a lot of fans by taking the focus away from Frank Castle’s perspective and told the story from the outside looking in. This was the first Punisher series to have a strong supporting cast. The development of Sargeant Rachel Cole-Alves, a marine who lost her husband when a mob hit squad gunned him down on their wedding day, is amazing as she takes a similar path to Frank Castle but is unable to have the same control and focus in her mission.
She stands as living proof that Castle is one of a kind. Police Detectives Clemons and Bolt were also a great addition to the story as Rucka did a great job of weaving them into the Punisher’s history. Frank must stay steps ahead of The Exchange, a criminal organization that’s looking to take Punisher off the playing field. Castle is shown as a force of nature in this series and is even portrayed as a credible threat to the Avengers. Sometimes one man is all you need to make a difference.
So that was The Greatest Punisher Stories ever told. Check ’em out at your local comic shop if you need something to tide you over until the Netflix series drops. Next week we’ll be taking a look at a few single issue gems in Punisher’s history.
Marvel’s The Punisher debuts on Netflix on Friday, November 18th.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!