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.
Last week, I highlighted the best stories from the various comic series starring everybody’s favourite vigilante. This week, we take a look at some of the lesser known stories of The Punisher. These are done-in-one hidden gems that pack a punch. What follows are 5 self contained tales that best represent the various facets of Frank Castle’s alter ego.
Death Below Zero (Punisher Vol. 2 #49)
Creative Team: Chuck Dixon (Writer) and Ron Wagner (Artist)
A fun winter tale where Punisher plays a deadly game of cat and mouse with some kidnappers in the woods of Pennsylvania. Frank’s in pursuit of the baddies and gets the drop on them quickly. But when the kidnap victim panics and takes off with Frank’s car, the vigilante is stranded in the Pennsylvania woods. He’s injured and he’s got a hold of the kidnappers’ ransom. Castle has to move fast if he wants to stay alive. So he uses the woods to his advantage, dividing and conquering the hunting party until they become the prey.
This issue came out during the height of the Punisher’s popularity. At that time, most of his adventures were multiple issues and involved some pretty flashes set pieces. This issue got Frank back to basics. Just a soldier using his terrain to take out the bad guys. It also was a nice switch up as Punisher was mostly fighting the mob and drug dealers at this time. A good old fashioned kidnapping was just what this comic needed.
Loose Ends (Punisher Vol. 2 #71)
Creative Team: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (Writers) and Doug Braithwaite (Artist)
After a long period of big story lines, including the convoluted “Final Days” and the overrated “Eurohit“, Loose Ends was a nice one off issue that reset the table for everybody’s favourite vigilante. Returning the U.S.A., Frank Castle notices that New York crime rates have soared while he’s been away. Criminals had gotten cocky without fear of the Punisher coming to their door. It was time to bring that fear back in a big way. Frank goes on a killing spree, taking out numerous hoods up and down the crime family food chain. But he doesn’t just kill them. He gets a bit flamboyant with his kills, leaving crime scenes like the one pictured above to send the message home. No crook is safe.
Punisher stories have always worked better when the set up is a simple one. Here, it’s just a matter of reminding people of your earned reputation. Frank sees a problem with how things have changed and is taking a proactive stance on “fixing” things. It’s the perfect example of how Punisher’s mind works. It also proves that a Punisher story works best when it’s uncomplicated.
Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe (One Shot)
Creative Team: Garth Ennis (Writer) and Doug Braithwaite (Artist)
This is the story where the Punisher kills EVERYBODY! In 1995, Marvel launched a collection of miniseries and one shots under the banner Alterniverse, an obvious attempt to copy DC Comics’ popular Elseworlds imprint. The Alterniverse Imprint was an utter failure. Nobody cared and most of the stories felt uninspired. That is, except for this lost gem.
Set in an alternate universe, Frank Castle’s family dies when caught in the crossfire of a super human battle in Central Park. Thus begins The Punisher’s war on superheroes and villains. Backed by a clandestine organization that has suffered from super hero negligence, Frank’s skill and strategy helps him use the super beings powers against them. An interesting subplot, Frank’s lawyer throughout the story is Matt Murdock (a.k.a. Daredevil). Matt tries to reason with Frank on several occasions to abandon this quest to kill all heroes. It leads to a climatic showdown between the two. A heartbreaking end to this story shows the soul that was lacking in most approaches to the Punisher during the mid-nineties. It was the first time Garth Ennis wrote the character but it would be far from the last.
Do Not Fall In New York City (Punisher Vol. 4 #6)
Creative Team: Garth Ennis (Writer) and Steve Dillon (Artist)
Garth Ennis wrote many a Punisher tale in the early 2000s. Most were balls to the wall crazy with colourful kills and high octane action. But one of the best stories from his earlier runs takes more of a somber tone. When Castle’s former sergeant from Vietnam ends up killing his own family in a crime of passion, Frank has to find him and take him down. The story is a cold one that looks at loyalty, murder and retribution. There’s also an underlying tale about the hardness of the Big Apple. Even though Manhattan is all cleaned up by this point, Frank sees the darkness of the former New York just under the surface.
Ennis has always been the perfect writer for The Punisher. While most of his stories focus on the creative skills Frank Castle possesses in the art of killing, there are a few that show a window into the man that was. Even though Frank believes that his soul died back in Central Park with his family, pieces of it find their way to the surface from time to time. This issue is the greatest example of that.
Roots (Marvel Nights: Double Shot #1)
Creative Team: Garth Ennis (Writer) and Joe Quesada (Artist)
Probably the most creative idea for a Punisher story ever. The entire comic is from the POV of inside a Mobster’s mouth. When Don Signore goes into get some dental work done, Frank Castle comes in for a check up of his own. He wants the don to give up the location of his drug shipments and is willing to remove a few teeth to get that info. One of the more horrific Punisher tales Ennis has told (let that sink in), it’s also the most creative.
The story’s only a few pages long but is another great example of how just one man can be scarier than any supernatural being out there. Joe Quesada’s art is also fantastic as he’s able to keep us engaged with essentially the same picture with slight variation for multiple pages. If you have a fear of of the dentist, this story won’t help that.
So that was 5 Hidden Gems worth reading. 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 some of the more bizarre “Team Ups” in the Punisher’s past. Be sure to come back for that one.
Marvel’s The Punisher debuts on Netflix on Friday, November 18th.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!