Even though The Punisher is now the star of his own Netflix series, let’s not forget that Frank Castle has been building bodycounts for over forty years. He’s starred in many fantastic storylines and has become one of the more iconic heroes in Marvel history.
He’s had several movies, a handful of video games (including one of the best arcade brawlers ever), cartoon appearances, and more. He’s taken up the mantle of Captain America, been a black man, became an angel, became a Frankenstein, befriended Archie Andrews, and even killed Gwar.
Okay, they were called “Warg,” but same thing.
The thing every Punisher writer – especially Garth Ennis – always has to push is how unflappable and badass Frank is. He’s the coolest guy ever and punks out everyone in his way. When he does lose, he at least goes down with his dignity, whether it’s via losing a knock-down-drag-out fight with Daredevil or simply refusing to fight back against Captain America. His pride has almost as much plot armor as he does.
Still, there are some times where Frank Castle gets clowned and looks like a fool. Moments that he’d choose not to remember. Here are 15 of those moments…
TAKING BAD ADVICE
Amazing Spider-Man #129 (1974)
Gerry Conway and Ross Andru
Frank’s first appearance is a wonderful debut. He’s tricked into going after Spider-Man, thinking him to be a criminal. They fight a couple times, things get relatively smoothed out, and they go their separate ways with Frank focusing on THE WAR.
It’s just…man. Nobody’s perfect and we’re all susceptible to misinformation, but look at that guy. Look at the Jackal. Imagine that guy trying to convince you that Spider-Man is a bad guy who needs to be murdered. Imagine taking his word at face value without questioning how you’re getting your intel from St. Patrick’s Day Gollum.
You dropped the ball, Frank.
SUDDEN HULK FIGHT
Incredible Hulk #395 (1992)
Peter David and Dale Keown
In at least two alternate realities, Frank’s been able to actually kill the Hulk. One time he snuck up on him while he was asleep in Banner form and the other time he shot him through the eye with an arrow tipped with one of Wolverine’s claws. In terms of main continuity, Frank’s first meeting with the gamma giant didn’t go so well.
Hulk, in his Banner-minded phase, returned to his old alter-ego of Mr. Fixit, the Las Vegas bodyguard. The Punisher was in town, after the same threat, but heard rumors of the legendary Mr. Fixit and figured he was probably worth shooting down. Frank isn’t about wasted motion.
When they finally clashed, Frank opened fire and was a bit surprised that Fixit’s “body armor” could withstand his bullets. He kept upping the ante on his weaponry until flinging a grenade at him. One of Hulk’s buddies knocked it back and it certainly would have blown Frank to kingdom come had the Hulk not snatched it out of the air and stared him down.
Too bad we can’t see things from Hulk’s point of view. I’m sure Frank’s expression was priceless.
Anyway, Hulk then proceeded to knock him out with a flick of a finger.
STAY OUT OF GOTHAM
Punisher/Batman: Deadly Knights (1994)
Chuck Dixon and John Romita Jr.
The Punisher has crossed paths with Batman a handful of times during Marvel/DC crossovers. In the ’90s, they had two team-up stories. One was actually about Frank working with the Jean-Paul Valley version of Batman and later coming to blows with him. Frank got the best of EXXXTREME Batman and found himself admitting – almost as if realizing it was an editorial mandate – that he did it via cheating.
The follow-up story had Bruce Wayne back as Batman as the two of them went up against the alliance of the Joker and Jigsaw. While Batman took down Jigsaw, Frank cornered Joker with intent to put a bullet in his brain. Batman stopped him and let the Joker run off into the distance. He was letting the worst criminal free, but he wasn’t letting him die.
Frank, understandably, dropped his gun and punched Batman in the face.
Batman responded by claiming that, “I let you have that one because you probably think I deserved it.” As childish as that sounded, Batman backed up the claim by easily catching the next punch, throwing the Punisher into a pile of boxes, and telling him to get out of his city or else he’d be going to Arkham.
Frank sulked off, claiming that Batman and the Joker deserve each other.
Wolverine #186 (2003)
Frank Tieri and Terry Dodson
Ugh. Just because I’m writing this list doesn’t mean that I think every entry is actually good or well done. For instance, this one.
Garth Ennis, who is a fantastic writer much of the time, has a tendency to write stories about how a military-trained antihero badass is able to humiliate and outright destroy any and all tights-wearing superhero pretty boys. It happened a LOT with the Punisher and Wolverine tended to be a regular target. This included a team-up in Punisher’s book that ended with a fight where Punisher shot Wolverine in the balls, blew his face clean off with a shotgun, ran him over with a steamroller, and then left him there. Ennis just savaged him there.
But turnabout’s fair play and at the time, Frank Tieri was writing Wolverine’s comic. He decided to respond to Ennis by having Wolverine get his win back. Now, bringing in Tieri to counter Ennis is like bringing William Hung to a rap battle and it already started off a bit petty with the bullshit claim in the recap that Wolverine tends to beat up the Punisher more often than not. Uh huh.
The entire issue was dedicated to a fight between Castle and Logan in an empty mall and it’s actually a fun and great-looking battle. The two humorously beat the crap out of each other and tossed insults until Wolverine won out by tossing Frank through a window.
Then, with Frank motionless on the cracked sidewalk, Wolverine proceeded to discover – much to Frank’s sudden embarrassment – that some magazines of dudes in speedos had fallen out of the Punisher’s bag. Despite Frank’s desperate claim that they were just suspects (a reference to Murder by Death) Wolverine made fun of him and left him to be taken in by the authorities.
Seriously, Tieri’s best comeback to the excessive steamroller beatdown was, “Yeah, but…but the Punisher’s totally gay! So there!”
JLA/Avengers #1 (2003)
Kurt Busiek and George Perez
JLA/Avengers was the final Marvel/DC crossover before the two companies turned their backs on each other for good. The comic treated it as the first meeting between worlds, so when the Justice League looked through the Marvel universe, it was a bit eye-opening for them. Green Lantern and Aquaman saw the horrors of Dr. Doom’s rule in Latveria. Martian Manhunter and Wonder Woman saw the ruins of Genosha. Superman saw the aftermath of a Hulk rampage.
In each instance, Batman told them to stay the course and NOT interfere.
Then he and Plastic Man saw the Punisher gun down drug dealers in New York City. Batman decided to go against his own advice. According to Plastic Man on the next page, Batman spent twenty minutes beating the crap out of the Punisher, just to save the lives of those criminals.
I’LL BE DAMNED. VAMPIRES.
Marvel Team-Up #8 (2005)
Robert Kirkman and Jeff Johnson
The first meeting between the Punisher and Blade was sort of adorable in terms of how in-over-his-head Frank was. The two watched a mob deal go down below. Blade, an admirer of the Punisher, tried to explain that one of the parties was made of vampires. Blade explained that he too is a half-breed vampire and is essentially to vampires what the Punisher is to criminals. While Blade was pretty jazzed to be on a rooftop with Frank, Frank was a bit too close-minded.
Vampires? Don’t be ridiculous. Blade was probably just a violent nutjob, no better than the mobsters below. Frank even shot him in the back to very little effect. Blade shrugged it off and Frank figured it was merely Kevlar. Blade spent minutes trying to explain who he was to Frank’s unbelieving ears.
Then the vampires started feasting on the human mobsters. Blade’s targets took out Frank’s targets. All the while, Frank just glared wide-eyed and shocked at the carnage. He finally broke the silence to ask Blade if he wanted help. Blade simply smiled and jumped off the rooftop.
“No. I got this.”
BLEEDING HEART PUNISHER
Mark Millar and Jim Mahfood
There have been a handful of joke What If stories done based on turning the Punisher concept on its head. One time he was a stern figure who made the Blob go to sleep without dinner while Dr. Doom had to sit in the corner and think about what he did. One time his family survived instead and became a family of gun-toting sociopaths.
In Wha…Huh? Mark Millar got to do a two-page story where Frank ranted in his narration about the rich owning the poor, sweat shops, and how hurtful such labels as “criminals” are to people who live without privilege. All while watching an old lady get stomped on by two armed gang members. Frank tried to see eye-to-eye with them, but then suffered from a literal bleeding heart as they opened fire on him.
Frank died, feeling bad that these poor youths would have murder on their souls for the rest of their lives.
Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness #2 (2007)
John Layman and Fabiano Neves
Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness had Ash Williams tossed into the ill-fated Marvel side-universe while shit went down. Zombie Sentry infected the Avengers and the Zombie Avengers went on to devour anyone in sight while spreading the virus. Amongst the early madness, Ash came across the Punisher, who seemed kind of dismissive about the whole apocalypse going on.
Proving himself a bit too close-minded from his lack of humanity, Frank proceeded to gun down a collection of mafia-based villains even after Kingpin explained that they needed to work together to survive the zombie outbreak. He even chose to ignore the plight of Thunderball, who despite being a villain, was shown to be a buddy of Ash’s.
With a wave of zombified heroes and villains coming at him, Frank told Ash to stand to the side and toss him a loaded gun when commanded. Ash figured he had enough of Captain Kill-Happy and ran off to do his own thing.
Frank didn’t notice this until running out of ammo. He was swarmed and infected immediately.
SHE’S A LITTLE RUNAWAY
Runaways #26 (2007)
Joss Whedon and Michael Ryan
Joss Whedon openly hates the Punisher and here we get to see that play out in a comic.
The Runaways went to New York to meet with the Kingpin under the guise of a criminal syndicate. The underaged team was cornered by the Punisher, who had no qualms with shooting teenagers, admitting it wouldn’t be the first time. As he argued with Chase and pointed a gun at him, Molly – a mutant tween with super strength – surprised Frank with a punch to the gut.
While Frank underestimated the Runaways, Molly overestimated Frank and figured he had powers himself. Instead, he stood there, paralyzed in pain with only his military willpower keeping him standing as he declared to himself that a soldier doesn’t fall. All the while, Molly pleaded for the others to forgive her, though they each had their own opinion on whether or not to be proud of her actions.
Several issues later, as the arc finished up, Frank was shown to STILL be struggling to remain on his feet.
Eminem/The Punisher (2009)
Fred Van Lente and Salvador Larocca
For some reason I may never understand, there was a Punisher/Eminem team-up comic that involved them taking on Barracuda. On his way to take down Barracuda (who Eminem grew up with), Frank shot up Eminem’s entire entourage. Soon after, Eminem beat Frank down with a pistol and unloaded it into Frank’s chest.
Turned out Barracuda was hired by the Parents Music Council to assassinate Eminem. Through a little indirect teamwork, Frank and Eminem were able to defeat Barracuda and seemingly kill him with a chainsaw. Then Frank abandoned Eminem on top of a sheet of ice over a frozen lake and offered to go kill the Parents Music Council for hiring Barracuda.
Yeah, you may have stood tall at the end, but you still got punked out by the Real Slim Shady. That’s on your permanent record, man.
Punisher Annual #1 (2009)
Rick Remender and Jason Pearson
Early on in Rick Remender’s Punisher run, the Hood resurrected a bunch of dead supervillains and gave them an ultimatum: either they killed the Punisher within 30 days or his magic would wear off and they would go back to being dead. Two of those villains included Letha and Lascivious, a pair of female wrestlers/villains who were killed by Scourge back in the day. Letha was granted the power to make people aggressive and Lascivious could make people fall in love.
Their powers failed to work on Frank due to his emotional emptiness. Luckily, when Spider-Man entered the fray, Letha was able to set him off and make him want to murder Frank. Punisher vs. Spider-Man wasn’t a new concept, nor was mind-controlled hero vs. hero. In the end, it didn’t work out and it returned to the old trope of Spider-Man going, “I’m not going to let you kill them!” while Frank rolled his eyes.
That’s when Lascivious figured to make Spider-Man fall in love with Frank and never let him go. While Frank was very, very uncomfortable with what was going on, the two wrestler ladies escaped and remained as free as their ass cheeks.
While Frank certainly had a bad time, he got it better than Spider-Man. Without getting into it, Spider-Man may have had sex with a Doc Ock tentacle in broad daylight.
Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe #4 (2012)
Cullen Bunn and Dalibor Talajic
There was a miniseries called Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe which…that’s actually pretty self-explanatory. An alternate universe version of Deadpool became aware of his fictional status, went violently insane, and decided to take out every hero and villain over four issues. It wasn’t very good.
Deadpool killing the Punisher was the cover image for the final issue and it made sense. Frank already starred in Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe back in the ’90s. It was like a passing of the torch.
As the fourth issue began, various villains were shown mindlessly committing a mass suicide. Punisher took advantage of the madness by sniping Deadpool through a window and rushing to the scene before he could regenerate. Instead, Frank found the dead body of the Puppet Master dressed up like Deadpool.
Deadpool appeared behind Frank with one of the Puppet Master’s voodoo dolls with a tiny skull insignia on the chest. Helpless to stop himself, Frank was compelled to put his own pistol to his head and pull the trigger.
Afterwards, Deadpool bragged about being better at “killing the Marvel Universe” by using a Puppet Master doll of Galactus to cause some damage on a cosmic scale.
AND MORE DEADPOOL
Uncanny X-Force #29 (2012)
Rick Remender and Julian Totino Tedesco
Uncanny X-Force was about a team that would go around killing threats to mutantkind before they could act first. Deadpool was somehow the conscience of the group. In one adventure, they ended up decades into the future, where the world was run by X-Force in a Minority Report sense. If anyone was even thinking about committing a violent crime, X-Force would hunt them down.
One member of the future team was an elderly Frank Castle. At one point he warned Deadpool (present version) about an incident that would start a huge war. Rather than come up with any other kind of way out of it, Frank told him to kill Daken, kill the kid version of Apocalypse, and kill the never-before-mentioned son of Archangel. Deadpool groaned at this advice and proceeded to make fun of all this kid-killing.
Then it got personal.
“Look, for what it’s worth, I always hated you. You are a boring, two-dimensional, self-serious relic from the ‘70s. Oh, and Chuck Bronson called – he wants everything he ever did back.”
Frank angrily pulled a gun on him and Deadpool was able to stop him by pointing out the kind of havoc that would cause through history.
Thunderbolts #22 (2014)
Charles Soule and Carlo Barberi
I easily could’ve made this list into just “dumb Punisher stories” because “Punisher was in a dumb story” means he theoretically should be embarrassed. But it doesn’t really work like that because usually characters don’t admit that they’re in a bad story and if they do, it’s after the fact. It’s not like in Grounded, Superman was all, “Man, this is the stupidest shit ever. I miss fighting Zod.”
Even though the brief status quo in the ’90s where Frank Castle was reborn as an angel who went around shooting demons was indeed silly, at the time, Frank acted completely on-board with it because the guy writing it at the time thought it was super cool. Granted, once it was passed on to the next writer, Garth Ennis quickly buried the entire concept while going back to “mortal who shoots mortal criminals” storyline.
Years later, Frank joined the Thunderbolts. In one story, Frank fought the unstoppable goddess Mercy and got beaten by her so badly that his body was mangled beyond medical hope. The rest of the team returned from an adventure in Hell (which involved screwing over Mephisto in a legal agreement) and realized that there was nothing they could do to help him.
Said Hell adventure involved Deadpool sneaking into Heaven to steal an angel feather to go with his new pimp hat. Don’t ask. The feather reached out and healed Frank completely.
None could understand it. Deadpool pointed out that it was like the angel feather recognized Frank and wanted to be with him. Almost like there was some kind of history between Frank and angels.
Frank simply grumbled, “I don’t want to talk about it.”
DON’T MOCK THE SHOCKER
Superior Foes of Spider-Man #17 (2014)
Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber
Superior Foes built up the Shocker as a big loser in the villain community and…well, he pretty much is. His name is Shocker. You can’t live that down no matter how cool your costume looks.
In the final issue of the series, the various mob factions in New York were converging for a big battle for supremacy. Like a moth to light, the Punisher made his way there (and may have stopped for a cronut after hearing good things from his Uber driver) to wipe out the whole lot of them.
Instead, the Shocker arrived, in a Shocker version of the Spider-Mobile, while yelling, “DON’T MOCK THE SHOCKER!” If you’re wondering, that was a direct reference to the bizarre, kid-friendly Spidey Super Stories comic from the ’70s.
Shocker then used his gauntlets to blast the Punisher off into the distance before bringing unity to the NYC underworld.
There isn’t a single part of that scenario that didn’t hurt Frank.
Like everyone, Frank Castle isn’t perfect. No matter how badass and serious he’s supposed to be, he can’t be the best of the best in every single situation. Even the ultimate soldier has to stumble now and then. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes you get disrespected. But you keep on with your mission and hold your head high because at the end of the day, you still have dignity to your name.
Yes. Exactly. This guy knows what’s up.
Gavin Jasper has his fingers crossed for Franken-Castle in Daredevil season 3. Follow him on Twitter!