All He Needs Is Hate: A Tribute To The Punisher
On October 30th 1973, Marvel Comics published The Amazing Spider-Man #129, and introduced readers to Frank Castle, The Punisher. Although originally portrayed as an antagonist, The Punisher proved a breakout character for the publisher like few others, and helped launch the enduring popularity of anti-heroes in superhero comics.
Created by Gerry Conway and John Romita, The Punisher debuted as a threat to Spider-Man, hunting down the wallcrawler as a suspect in the murder of respected businessman Norman Osborn. Teaming up with The Jackal, Castle eventually realized he was being used by the supervillain and switched sides, before leaving the title as enigmatically as he entered.
After several guest appearances in other titles, The Punisher was given a solo miniseries that was enough of a hit for the character to get his first ongoing series, and as the '80s became the '90s, The Punisher was spun off into multiple more ongoings, minis, and one-shots. Along with Ghost Rider and Wolverine, Castle was one of the most popular characters for Marvel in the '90s --- but like most popular things in that decade, there was the chance to have too much of a good thing. The bubble eventually burst.
As Marvel attempted to reboot The Punisher for the coming 21st century, the odd decision was made to kill Castle and make him a sort of angel of vengeance. Thankfully, the concept was quickly abandoned for a much needed revitalization at the hands of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon in the infamous “Welcome Back, Frank” story.
Over the course of a decade, Ennis made his mark on the character both under the superhero friendly Marvel Knights imprint and the newly formed mature readers imprint Marvel MAX, which allowed The Punisher to exist in a world with the kind of brutal violence and themes that most Marvel Comics characters would never deal with.
When it comes to live-action adaptations, The Punisher is up there with the likes of The Hulk and Spider-Man in terms of the number of interpretations and portrayals. Dolph Lundgren played Castle in 1989’s The Punisher, while Thomas Jane donned the skull shirt for 2004’s film of the same name. Ray Stevenson took up the role for sequel, Punisher: War Zone, but perhaps the most popular portrayal has been Jon Bernthal’s nuanced take from Netflix’s Daredevil series.
As the 2000s became the 2010s, the character found himself trapped in the shadow of Ennis and Dillon, with both creators returning to the character multiple times, both together and separately. Rick Remender’s take on the character dumped him right into the Marvel Universe, to the point that he became a Frankenstein for a while, and Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto imagined The Punisher as a force of nature viewed from the eyes of those caught in his wake.
For a character that, in Gerry Conway’s own words, was conceived to be second-tier, The Punisher evolved into a nuanced and surprisingly adaptable character over more than forty years. There will always be new things to say with The Punisher, there will always be new stories to tell, and there will always be bad guys deserving of punishment.