The Punisher: Things You Never Knew
Since his first appearance in issue one hundred and twenty-nine of The Amazing Spider-Man back in 1974, the Punisher has gone on to become arguably one of Marvel’s most recognizable anti-heroes. The former marine and Vietnam War veteran known as Frank Castle dedicated his life to eradicating crime after his family was killed in a mob hit, with the sole purpose of his existence being to punish the guilty. And unlike many of Marvel’s other costumed vigilantes, Castle stands out because he actually kills his enemies instead of sending them to jail so they can break free and continue to harm the innocent.
While he has committed countless murders over the decades, Castle has also found himself in a number of incredibly questionable and bizarre situations throughout the many stories he has appeared in. This list details fifteen of the strangest things ever to have happened to the Punisher, and even hardcore fans will be left speechless by some of the antics described below.
1. He became a literal angel of death
(The Punisher: Purgatory issues one to four, written by Christopher Golden and Thomas E. Sniegoski, illustrated by Bernie Wrightson)
Published from late 1998 to early 1999, a controversial four-part miniseries called The Punisher: Purgatory saw Frank Castle becoming a literal angel of death after he committed suicide, as he was resurrected by the forces of Heaven and blessed with divine powers so that he would send the forces of darkness back to Hell. Clearly released at a time when the character’s popularity was starting to wane, the series was intended to renew interest in the Punisher by presenting Frank Castle in a completely new and fresh scenario as opposed to the endless stories of him fighting mobsters, which Marvel felt fans had grown tired of. Needless to say, the experiment did not work, and Purgatory is often viewed as one of the weakest Punisher comics to date.
Thankfully, legendary writer Garth Ennis completely rejuvenated Frank Castle with his seminal 2000 Marvel Knights Punisher series, which completely renewed the character’s popularity and has even been cited as one of Marvel’s greatest comics of all time. Interestingly, the first issue of Ennis’ Marvel Knights Punisher comic features Castle describing through his opening narration how he told the angels to shove it after the events of Purgatory, and Ennis even described in his prologue for the Marvel Knights Punisher Omnibus how he wanted to quickly dismiss the events of Purgatory in the opening issue, as though the miniseries was nothing more than a dream. So while Purgatory is not Frank Castle’s finest outing, it still deserves credit for at least trying to offer fans a completely new and unexpected take on their favourite murderous vigilante.
2. He blew up the Bar with No Name
(Punisher War Journal volume two, issue four, written by Matt Fraction, illustrated by Mike Deodato Jr.)
The Bar with No Name is a seedy bar located in the depths of New York City, where supervillains often hang out to reminisce about how Spider-Man stopped them from robbing banks or how the Avengers foiled their plans for world domination. Because it serves as a gathering place for some of Marvel’s most despicable villains, it did not take long for Frank Castle to set his sights on the Bar with No Name, which quickly put an end to Happy Hour. After murdering the villain known as Stilt-Man, Castle proceeded to disguise himself as a bartender so that he could infiltrate the bar during the villain’s wake, before poisoning the drinks and planting explosives, and blowing the building sky high. The unrepentant Castle viewed his heinous act as a firework celebration, while the villains who survived the explosion needed to have their stomachs pumped and be treated for severe burns.
3. He Killed The Russian by smothering him with an obese neighbour
(Punisher 2000 Marvel Knights series issue ten, written by Garth Ennis, illustrated by Steve Dillion)
Frank Castle is clearly not afraid to fight dirty, as evidenced by how he killed a hulking mercenary known as the Russian by pushing his obese neighbour over his face and smothering him to death. While the Russian had been sent by the Gnucci crime family to assassinate Castle in his apartment, Castle eventually gained the upper hand by throwing a boiling pizza into the massive brute’s face. He then used the temporary distraction to suffocate the assassin by shoving to the floor and pinning him underneath Nathaniel Bumpo, an obese neighbour who lived in the next apartment. When Bumpo asked if he could move, Castle flatly told him to wait another twenty minutes, in order to ensure that the Russian was well and truly dead.
After smothering him, Castle proceeded to decapitate the Russian before continuing his war against the Gnucci’s, which did not end well for the once powerful family of gangsters. And while the Russian was later resurrected as an adamantium-augmented cyborg, he was finally killed for good when the Punisher chained him to the bomb which destroyed Grand Nixon Island (see the next entry on this list), his original death was still one of the most hilarious moments ever to have been published in a Punisher comic. It certainly was not Frank Castle’s most elegant kill, but the sight of him using his obese neighbour to smother a ruthless assassin to death perfectly encapsulates the tongue-in-cheek tone which so many Punisher stories are known for.
4. Nuking an island of criminals
(Punisher 2001 Marvel Knights series issue five, written by Garth Ennis, illustrated by Steve Dillion)
Despite already having a body count well into four figures, the Punisher practically doubles his number of kills in a single day when he dropped a nuclear missile on Grand Nixon Island. The nuke was originally intended to be launched on York City by the villainous General Kreigkopf, although Castle managed to infiltrate the general’s secret Pacific island hideout before boarding the plane hosting the missile and launching it on the island below instead. And because Grand Nixon Island was largely inhabited by amoral mercenaries and other criminals who were trying to hide from society, Castle clearly viewed blowing it off the face of the Earth as a major victory.
5. He showed mercy to Rhino
(Punisher: War Journal issue fifteen, written by Matt Fraction, illustrated by Scott Wegener)
Despite his reputation as a stone-cold killer, the Punisher has occasionally been known to show mercy in some rare instances. One such example was he spared the life of the Rhino after the villain carelessly caused the death of a security guard during a bank robbery. After cornering the villain on a ship, Castle was preparing to end his foe, before the Rhino began to mindlessly blubber about how the security guard’s death was a mistake, before asking Castle if he has never made a mistake throughout his own life. This causes Frank to remember how he killed an innocent woman while being mind-controlled in a past issue, and he then reluctantly tells Rhino to swim overboard and to swim until daylight, The comic ends with the musclebound villain sending money and a letter of apology to the widow of the woman whose wife he killed. This was one of the only instances where the Punisher has ever been known to show forgiveness, making it a truly unique moment in the wide plethora of Punisher stories.
6. He changed his skin colour
(The Punisher 1987 series, issues fifty-three to fifty-nine, written by Mike Baron, illustrated by Hugh Haynes)
One of the most downright bizarre things to have ever happened to the Punisher occurred in a story arc called The Final Days, in which he was transformed into a black man after having surgery to repair his scarred face, which had been damaged in a prison riot. After helping Luke Cage take down a major drug operation in Chicago, the surgery somehow wears off on its own and Frank returns to his normal appearance, and this clearly made no sense whatsoever.
Overall, this was an incredibly odd story which did not offer much in the way of logic, and the way Frank’s face returns to normal by itself clearly suggests that the writer could not actually be bothered to come up with a more plausible conclusion. Either way, it is certainly always fun to see the Punisher teaming up with Luke Cage, and their conflicting ideologies about whether or not to use lethal force were entertaining. This storyline ultimately offered a decent team-up between the two popular vigilantes, if you can look past the gaping holes in logic which were also present.
7. He sent his own family back to Hell
(Punisher 2009 series, issue ten, written by Rick Remender, illustrated by Tan Eng Huat)
Arguably the most shocking moment to have ever occurred in a Punisher comic came when Castle killed his own family, who had been supernaturally resurrected by the magic-wielding crime lord known as the Hood in a sadistic attempt to physiologically torture his vigilante foe. Instead of the tear-filled reunion most of us would probably look forward to having with our loved ones with they were returned to life, Castle instead orders the villain called Firebrand the incinerate the resurrected Maria, Lisa, and Frank Jr., before he placed a fatal bullet into the back of Firebrand’s head.
His family had already been long-dead by this point, and Castle clearly wanted it to stay that way. While he no doubt intended to undo the Hood’s evil act of resurrecting his family in an effort to drive him to insanity, it could also be argued that Castle immediately killed his newly-resurrected loved ones because he did not want them to learn about the monster he had become, as he used their original deaths as an excuse to murder literally thousands of human beings. Even though they were magically resurrected, Frank Castle’s family will always remain dead to him, and the fact that he actually sent them back to their graves will always be seen as one of the Punisher’s most tragic acts to date.
8. He publicly killed a one-hundred-year-old man
(The Punisher, Max series issue one, written by Garth Ennis, illustrated by Lewis Larosa)
Crime has no expiry date, so regardless of how much time has passed, the Punisher will always come for you if you find yourself on his hit list. Gangster Massimo Cesare learned this the hard way, when the Punisher crashed the wheelchair-bound mobster’s one hundredth birthday celebration at his mansion by presenting him with a gift he would never forget: a bullet to the forehead. Regardless of Cesare’s advanced age, Castle still showed him no mercy, because age was not a deciding factor when it came to the Punisher’s hit list.
This shocking moment occurred in the first issue of the ongoing Punisher series from Marvel’s adults-only Max imprint, with writer Garth Ennis once again penning the book after completing his run on the Marvel Knights Punisher series. The Max Punisher comics took place in an alternate reality which did not feature superheroes, aliens, or supernatural elements, and the freedom of the mature imprint allowed for much greater levels of graphic violence than regular Marvel publications would allow, in addition to letting characters frequently drop uncensored F-bombs. As the first kill committed by the Punisher in his eponymous Max publication, the murder of Massimo Cesare will no doubt let readers know that they were for endless amounts of brutality if they continued reading, and future issues certainly did not disappoint on this front.
9. He wrapped a slaver’s guts around a tree
(The Punisher, Max series issue twenty-four, written by Garth Ennis, illustrated by Leandro Fernández)
Frank Castle is clearly not a man who is afraid to engage in torture when he feels it will be necessary, as evidenced by his brutal method her used to interrogate slaver Cristu Bulat in issue twenty-four of the Punisher Max series. After visiting a library to research human anatomy in order to devise a strategy to question the merciless human trafficker, Castle then proceeded to capture and restrain Bulat before literally slicing open his chest and literally pulling out his guts and wrapping them around a nearby tree out in the woods. Needless to say, the critically injured Bulat quickly spilled his guts (no pun intended) about his trafficking ring to Castle before slowly dying from his injuries.
10. He brutally murdered the mobster who violated his family’s grave
(The Punisher, Max series issue twenty-four, written by Garth Ennis, illustrated by Leandro Fernández)
The vile mobster known as Nicky Cavella decided it would be a good idea to film a video of himself desecrating the grave of Castle’s family in an attempt to drive the Punisher into a violent rage, which Cavella hoped would somehow result in Castle becoming so engulfed by anger that he would become careless and present himself as an easy target to the literally thousands of criminals who wanted him dead. Needless to say, the plan did not work, and after mercilessly slaughtering most of Cavella’s associates, Castle eventually subdued Cavella himself before driving him way out to a secured forest located deep within the Poconos Mountains. The cowardly gangster begged and prayed for mercy, but Castle offered him none. Instead, the Punisher fired a single bullet low into Cavella’s stomach, explaining to him that it would take several agonising days for the wound to finally end his life. It was mentioned in a future issue that Cavella’s rotting corpse was later found by a hunter, and anybody with a modicum of common sense would learn the valuable lesson to never personally disrespect the family of Frank Castle.
11. He Became a grotesque Frankenstein-style monstrosity
(Punisher 2009 series, issues eleven to twenty-one, written by Rick Remender, issues eleven to sixteen illustrated by Tony Moore, issues seventeen to twenty-one illustrated by Dan Brereton)
Many have tried to kill the Punisher, but Daken, the son of Wolverine, finally succeeded by using his razor-sharp bone claws to cut Frank to pieces after a long and gruelling battle on a New York City rooftop. This was not the end of the Punisher, however, as the Legion of Monsters recovered his remains and using a mixture of dark magic and advanced science, resurrected him as a grotesque patchwork abomination, akin to Frankenstein’s Monster. Their reasons for doing so were so that he could protect them from the evil humans who were trying to hunt the world’s monsters to extinction. And while the resurrected Frank Castle (who was appropriately nicknamed Franken-Castle) initially refused as he would have preferred to stay dead, he eventually relented after witnessing an innocent young monster being ruthlessly killed by humans who viewed all monsters as abominations.
What followed were a very entertaining number of issues as the now superpowered ghoul who was once the Punisher and the Legion of Monsters waged war against those who wished to eradicate monsterkind. And while the Punisher was eventually returned to his normal human form with the help of a magical Bloodstone, fans will never forget the time he became the sworn protector of Marvel’s monster community.
12. He purchased expensive birthday gifts for his sidekick
(Punisher: In the Blood issue five, written by Rick Remender, illustrated by Francesco Mattina and Mick Bertiloronzi)
Frank Castle is not a particularly charitable man unless you count the abundance of bullets he generously pumps into those who harm the innocent. This is why it came as such a surprise to learn that he actually decided to spend some of his hard-earned cash (which he usually collects from the criminals he kills) into buying a set of collectible records for his sidekick, Henry, in the final issue of Rick Remender’s Punisher: In the Blood miniseries. The son of the notorious supervillain known as Jigsaw, Henry acted as Frank’s defacto ‘guy in the chair sidekick’ for a number of years after Frank was forced to kill his original partner, Microchip. And Frank was clearly not ungrateful for the services Henry offered, because after they parted ways, the ruthless killer sent a highly collectible set of vinyl records to his former sidekick as a birthday gift.
Henry originally believed his mother had sent the records, but when she denied any knowledge of them, the young computer hacker was shocked to learn that they were actually sent by the Punisher. So while he is certainly not a man you would like to get on the wrong side of, it turns out that Frank Castle really does have the capacity to care for other human beings. A similar moment occurred at the end of Garth Ennis’ Welcome Back Frank story arc, where Castle left the piles of cash he pillaged from the Gnucci crime family to the hapless neighbours in his apartment block, and needless to say, you would prefer to end up on Frank Castle’s gift list rather than on his hit list.
13. He raised baby Thanos (Cosmic Ghost Rider issues one to five, written by Donny Cates, illustrated by Dylan Burnett)
Yes, you read that right. An alternate reality version of Frank Castle was killed by Thanos, and upon arriving in Hell, he made a deal with the demon known as Mephisto to become a Spirit of Vengeance known as the Cosmic Ghost Rider so that he could exact his revenge upon the Mad Titan. Things did not go as planned, however, because after travelling back in time to kill the young Thanos, Frank instead decided to raise the infant as his own in order to prevent him from growing up to become the infamous supervillain responsible for laying waste to the universe. What followed was a bizarre and occasionally heartwarming series of adventures in which the demonic incarnation of the Punisher and the baby version of Thanos explored the furthest reaches of the galaxy, and came into conflict with various other heroes and villains along the way.
Fans are usually only shown brief glimpses of Frank Castle as a father before his family was murdered, so readers will no doubt be thankful for this unashamedly bizarre look at how the Punisher attempts to steer a young alien who would otherwise become a genocidal maniac down the right path. While he clearly views morality in very black and white terms, it turns out that even Frank Castle believes people can change, and if that is not a positive message of hope, we do not know what is.
14. He turned himself into a robot
(Marvel Zombies Resurrection issue two, written by Paul Kennedy Johnson, illustrated by Leonard Kirk)
A robotic version of the Punisher appeared in the second issue of Marvel Zombies Resurrection, where he revealed that he willingly allowed himself be assimilated by a legion of robot warriors known as the Ennows, who had ravaged the Earth in their war against a plague of superpowered zombies known as the Respawned. Not wanting to become a member of the living dead, Castle allowed himself to be subjected to the Transmode Virus, which transformed him into a fully robotic being so there was no chance that he could be zombified. His decision was met with disdain by many of the other heroes he came into contact with, particularly from Blade. Seeing as the Daywalker had struggled for decades to retain his humanity instead of giving in to his vampiric nature, he no doubt detested Castle for voluntarily surrendering his humanity and allowing himself to become a machine. And while they initially argued about Frank’s choice, the two heroes eventually helped to fight off the powerful zombie hoards who were still attempting to overthrow the planet, so regardless of whether he made the right call, it was clear that Frank’s strong determination to fight until the end remained intact.
16. He was nearly killed by a member of the Runways
(Runaways issue twenty-five, written by Joss Whedon, illustrated by Michael Ryan)
Of all the characters who have come close to defeating the Punisher in combat, you would probably be forgiven for doubting that a member of the teenage superhero team known as the Runaways almost sent Frank Castle to his grave. But that was exactly what happened in issue twenty-five of Runaways, in which an enraged Frank Castle tried to prevent an adolescent team of heroes from completing a mission for the Kingpin, only for the mutant Molly Hayes to deliver a superpowered punch into his chest. Frank struggled to remain standing after the blow, while Molly nonchalantly babbled about how she did not want to waste a healing spell to cure the internal bleeding he likely suffered as a result of the injury. This was arguably the Punisher’s most embarrassing defeat to date, and it goes without saying that he learned not to underestimate his opponents. This was also one of the only times the Punisher ever appeared in a comic written by Joss Whedon, which was probably a blessing in disguise.
16. He played cards with superheroes
(Spider-Man 2000 video game, developed by Neversoft, published by Activision)
The 2000 Spider-Man video game received great reviews when it was originally released on the PlayStation, and it was unquestionably one of the best Marvel video games to have ever been available at the time. The Punisher also appeared throughout the game, and he even tried to assassinate Spider-Man with a sniper rifle after the Wall-Crawler was wrongly blamed for stealing high-tech scientific equipment.
However, a truly surreal moment occurs at the end of the game, where the Punisher was seen playing cards with Spider-Man, Captain America, and Daredevil, while the Black Cat and the Human Torch danced to music in the same room. This was an incredibly strange sight to behold, because the Punisher never socialises with superheroes (or with anyone else, for that matter), and his status as a wanted mass murderer means the heroes he was playing cards with should immediately have taken him into custody instead of actually having a game with him. It could also be asked how Daredevil is even capable of playing cards, because of the fact that he is blind. Either way, this was a fun and light-hearted ending to a great video game, so fans should probably just enjoy it for what it was instead of thinking too much about it.