The Punisher’s Strangest Villains Ever
With this week’s “Punisher Max” #5, Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon wrap up their first incredible story arc with the conclusion of a brutal fight to the death between the Punisher and The Mennonite, an ex-killer who retired to the life of a simple farmer but came back to kill Frank Castle using only the tools his religion allows.
The end result is a pretty amazing fight, but as you can tell from the image above,it’s not the craziest battle the Punisher’s ever been involved in, and neither–believe it or not–is his current struggle with Hellsgaard, “a walking Iron Maiden Song” in the pages of Rick Remender and Tony Moore’s “FrankenCastle” story. That’s why today, ComicsAlliance’s devoted Punisherologist Chris Sims takes a look at some of the Punisher’s strangest villains!
Given that the Punisher’s entire deal is that he straight-up kills dudes, the creators were put in a pretty unique position for super-hero comics when they tried to come up with a recurring villain, as “recurring” tends to be a little difficult when someone shoots you in the face. Their solution: Jigsaw, who ruled the ’90s as the closest thing Big Frank had to an arch-nemesis. Once a handsome Mafioso, Jigsaw got his scars when the Punisher repeatedly threw him through a plate glass window, and subsequently starred in at least four stories that followed the exact same plot: Jigsaw gets his face fixed, does some crime, and then the Punisher comes back and jacks his face up yet again using whatever’s handy, including a cactus. At least twice, the story has also involved the Punisher getting his own face messed up and then fixed, including that time that it was fixed by turning Frank into a black guy for a few issues. And the fact that the other time was even crazier ought to give you an idea of how limited Jigsaw’s repertoire can be.
The next time that someone tries to tell you that the Punisher’s always been about gritty, brutal, street-level crime stories, remind them of 1990’s “Jigsaw Puzzle,” a story by long-time “Punisher” writer Mike Baron and Bill Reinhold that starts with the Punisher tracking down Jigsaw and a crooked faith healer and ends with the Punisher in South America fighting the actual Devil. The best thing about the entire story? Well, aside from the fact that even Satan himself can’t stop Frank from killing bad guys, the Punisher totally refuses to believe what’s going on. Even after seeing the Author of All Lies resurrecting Jigsaw from the dead, healing his face, and eventually healing Frank’sface after Jigsaw cuts him up, Frank writes Lucifer off as probably just being some mutant.
Aside from the stories where the Punisher fought the Devil or became a different race, one of the trademarks of Mike Baron’s five-year run on the title was the presence of stories that were based at least partially in reality, as filtered through the Marvel Universe. There were stories where the Punisher took on meth-dealing biker gangs, violence in schools, and even one where he fought (and killed the hell out of) a thinly veiled analogue for the infamous Charles Manson. As such, I can only assume that Lupe, as seen in “Punisher” #52, is completely based on fact. How else do you explain a hefty au pair and baby-thief who trained as a rudo luchadore in Mexico and tries to lock Frank down and make him tap out to the Guadalajara Armbar?
How exactly Chet Scully, a gun nut who ran a two-week “Ninja Training Camp” in Kansas, got on Frank Castle’s radar, we may never know, but I think he’s great anyway. I mean, he’s a guy from the middle of nowhere who is so into ninjas that he named his dog Tanto. Basically, he’s every guy who posts about how badass he is on an Internet message board, and who doesn’twant to see the Punisher go after those dudes?
Despite the promise of the cover, the Punisher actually never ends up squaring off with Fyodor Tesla, a coked-up bodybuilder-turned-method-actor who plays the title role in “Retaliator,” a low-budget action flick loosely based on his own adventures. Instead, Fyodor’s killed by the real villain of the piece, a director making snuff films on the sly, leaving us to wonder what would happen if Tom Jane, Ray Stevenson and Dolph Lundgren got in a three-way cage match to settle things once and for all.
During his landmark, character-defining 8-year run on the title, Garth Ennis shied away from using established Punisher characters, breaking cleanly from just about everything that had happened in the book up to that point and creating his own adversaries for Big Frank to take out. And when it came time to set up a recurring villain, brother, did he ever: The Russian.
Almost completely indestructible, the Russian only goes down during his first fight with the Punisher in “Welcome Back Frank” — one of the most brutal throwdowns Steve Dillon has ever drawn, and that’s saying something — when the Punisher suffocates him for half an hour and then decapitates him, and that still doesn’t finish him off. It’s not ’til he returns — with certain modifications, as seen above — that Frank’s able to finally take him out for good, and that requires literally nuking him with an atomic bomb.
Forget Jigsaw: You want to create a villain for an unstoppable killing machine? That’s how it’s done.
So the question, then, is how exactly do you top the Russian? Well, if you’re Garth Ennis, you introduce Barracuda, who takes the brutality of the Marvel MAX “Punisher” series and ramps it up to the next level. Like the Russian, he survives his first encounter with Frank (this time it’s fingers that get cut off rather than a head), but unlike his predecessor, his return isn’t marked by more laughs, instead leading to what are without question the most hardcore fights in the entire series. The laughs are in there, though: Between his appearances in “Punisher,” Barracuda was popular enough to enjoy his own Ennis-scripted solo mini-series which guest starred (among other suitably wacky hijinx) a mobster analogue of Christopher Walken, complete with the actor’s bizarre speech patterns. So basically, Barracuda is awesome. But he’s not the Punisher’s best villain.
As a small-time drug lord, Red Fever isn’t all that distinctive by himself. No, it’s his uncanny resemblance to America’s Typical Teenager that makes him so great, as his escape to the sleepy town of Riverdale is the moment that leads to what is hands down the single greatest crossover in the history of Comic Books:…”the Punisher Meets Archie.” And that’s real.