Alternate Cover: The best (and worst) of the Punisher

As The Punisher prepares for yet another cinematic comeback,. James traces his comicbook high and lowlights...

2008 has already been a big year for comicbook fans in terms of Hollywood translation of their icons. With fantastic versions of Iron Man and Batman behind us, as well as a decent Hulk film and, er, Ghost Rider, it’s easy to forget that there’s still a couple more comics films due out before we start celebrating 2009. One of these involves the translation of one of comics’ most popular and enduring characters, a genuine classic held in reverence by virtually every creator in the industry. No, not Frank Miller’s adaptation of The Spirit – I’m speaking, far more importantly, of “Punisher: War Zone”.

Now, most people are aware of the Punisher in some form or another, whether from the films with Dolph Lundgren, his guest appearances in the 90s Spider-Man cartoon, or from the critically acclaimed NES computer game. However, very few people outside the mainstream have taken the time to read the Punisher’s comics, so if you’re interested in catching up on the character ahead of “Punisher: War Zone” here are a few classic issues that’ll help you get in touch with who he really is. A grim, realistic vigilante with a hatred for all criminals.

Presenting, the top 3 Punisher stories:

The Punisher: Purgatory #1-4 (1998)

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Following the cancellation of the Punisher’s previous series some years earlier, future Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada brought together writers Christopher Golden and Tim Sniegoski with legendary artist Bernie Wrightson to present a character-redefining take on the vigilante. Frank “The Punisher” Castle finds himself brought back to life following his suicide, now in the employ of heaven. With traditional guns replaced with ecto-plasmic magic uzis, the Punisher must track down the demons responsible for the gang shooting that killed his family, and adapt to his new life. Sadly, this revolutionary take on the character lasted for only two miniseries, a total of 8 issues, before Garth Ennis returned the character to his criminal-slaying roots.

The Punisher v2 #60-62 (1992)

When Frank is caught and sent to jail, he’s set upon by criminals looking to get their revenge on him. When Jigsaw (the villain in the forthcoming movie) slices up his face good in retaliation for what the Punisher did to him. Frank escapes and luckily, a sympathetic ex-plastic surgeon-turned-junkie-prostitute can help him out and repairs his face using melanin treatment, guaranteed to leave no scarring – with the unfortunate side-effect that it turns his skin a deep brown! As a result, Frank spends some time with prominent Black super-hero Luke “Sweet Christmas!” Cage and the two engage in a heated debate about the ethics of shooting inner-city drug dealers in the face. Frank’s face eventually returns to normal as the pigmentation fades naturally, ending one of his most memorable storylines to date.

Punisher War Journal v2 #14 (2008)

In part 2 of this classic 2-parter from the Punisher’s most recent writer, Matt Fraction, the Punisher comes face to face with the son of Kraven! Usually a Spider-Man villain, in this story, Kraven Jr. is hunting down super-powered animals for his Zoo and snags the Rhino as a potential inmate. Drawn to the fracas while waiting in line for hotdogs, Castle is also on the Rhino’s trail after he’s deemed responsible for the death of a security guard during a bank raid, and naturally, violence ensues. The issue is made noteable for the death of Aragorn, the winged horse used by super-heroes Valkyrie and the Black Knight, as the equine wonder is killed, cooked and fed to the rest of the zoo.

So, if it’s Punisher action you’re after, you can’t go wrong with these stories. After all, there’s a lot of Punisher material out there, so make sure you read only the best!

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Bonus! 3 Punisher stories to avoid!

The Punisher: Welcome Back Frank

12 issues of the Punisher fighting the mob? Yawn! The fact that it was used as the basis for the 2004 Punisher film should tell you all you need to know!

The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe

A ridiculous tale that shows Frank murdering every super-powered character in the Marvel universe – as if he could ever beat Wolverine?

Punisher: The End

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In a post-apocalyptic future, Frank Castle tracks down the last criminals remaining on Earth in a bid to rid the world of villainy before his own life ends. The Punisher taken to logical extremes. Do we really want to see that?

James writes Alternate Cover every Monday at Den Of Geek. His previous column can be found here.