This article consists of nothing but major spoilers for The Punisher. You’ve been warned.
Everyone has been waiting for The Punisher, ever since it was first revealed that Frank Castle would take on Matt Murdock on Daredevil. The perfect casting of Jon Bernthal only helped up the anticipation level. The series doesn’t disappoint on the action and drama front, although it seems to be lighter on Marvel references per minute than any of its predecessors. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though.
So here’s how this works. With the full disclosure that I’m not the most well-versed in Punisher mythology (but don’t worry, I’ve read my share of Chuck Dixon and Garth Ennis), I’m laying out everything I know, mostly in order, although I’m holding some points back so as not to spoil future episodes. But if you know something I don’t, or if I’m just flat out wrong, drop it in the comments or hit me up on Twitter, and I’ll update this as we go!
The Punisher Episode 1: 3 AM
“Former Marine Frank Castle takes the law into his own hands while struggling to come to terms with his traumatic past.”
The opening of this episode, with Punisher tracking down the last remaining folks from his Daredevil Season 2 arc, feels very much like the prime of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s time as the creative team on The Punisher comic. Just in terms of how it’s almost (but not quite) played for laughs, the variety of ways in which Frank dispatches his enemies, and the over-the-top craziness of making a kill shot from across the border and through a window while a dude gets a blow job. Add in some casual gay panic (with Frank choking the dude to death in the restroom stall while some guy gets annoyed thinking its sex) for extra Garth Ennis points.
So you would expect that this series would take most of its cues from the Ennnis-era of Frank Castle, right? After all, the whole Marvel Knights/Marvel MAX era of comics is the primary driver on all these Marvel Netflix shows, so of course the Punisher should follow suit. Hell, there were some hefty Ennis-inspired moments when he appeared on Daredevil Season 2. Ah, but that isn’t the case. Instead, the show takes a far more grounded, serious approach to the character, his world, and violence in general. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of it, but it’s almost never played for laughs.
On the other hand, there are elements and characters from lots of Ennis’ later, more serious (but equally violent) stories throughout the series, but we’ll get to those.
– We finally get Frank’s trademark Battle Van (capitalization intentional) on this show, and that should make ’90s Punisher comics fans very, very happy.
– The guy he takes out is Mickey O’Hare, who I don’t recognize necessarily, although maybe that’s an alias for one of the Cooley family from Daredevil Season 2? Feel free to correct me.
– Frank is operating under the name “Pete Castiglione” now. That name is no accident. In the comics, it was revealed that Frank Castle’s family came over here from Sicily, and that “Castle” is an Americanization of the real family name of Castiglione. While we’ve never had much indication that Jon Bernthal’s Frank is of Italian/Sicilian descent (other than the fact that he’s a tough, stubborn sonuvabitch who knows how to hold a grudge), I could buy it. Although in a later episode he mentions that his wife’s grandmother was Sicilian, although that’s kind of a coincidence.
– Frank’s whole “trying to keep to myself and not get angry under an assumed name and in a working class job” thing really reminds me of Bill Bixby’s David Banner on the late ’70s early ’80s Incredible Hulk TV series.
– Frank is reading Moby Dick in case the sledgehammer thing was too subtle for you.
– We do see the usual Marvel Universe biker gang, the Dogs of Hell show up in this episode, but you probably caught that already.
– While neither of these DHS agents are Marvel Comics characters, having a subplot with officials looking into Frank Castle reminds me more than a little bit of Dolph Lundgren’s vastly underrated Punisher movie from 1989.
– Young Louis Wilson, the veteran, doesn’t appear to be based on any existing Marvel Comics character, but…
– Curtis Hoyle most certainly is, and he first appeared in the first issue of Frank’s first ongoing regular series, The Punisher #1 by Mike Baron and Klaus Janson in 1987. The comic book version of Curtis isn’t the nice guy we meet here. Not by a stretch.
– While I stand by my appraisal that this series isn’t as Ennis-heavy as expected, the gangsters Frank slaughters that those nitwits were looking to rip off are associates of the Gnucci family. Who are the Gnuccis? Well, that also ties into the final words of this episode, “Welcome Back, Frank” all of which reference Ennis and Dillon’s first Punisher story. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s a blast.
As for the guy who says those words? Well, let’s save that for episode 2.
But while we’re on the Gnucci subject, the moment when Frank steps on that dickhead’s injured leg to extract information from him is straight out of Clint Eastwood’s original Dirty Harry movie, when Harry uses that technique to torture a serial killer into giving up the location of his victim. There’s another (even bigger) Dirty Harry reference coming in the next episode, too…
The Punisher Episode 2: Two Dead Men
“A mysterious phone call forces Frank’s hand. Meanwhile, Madani goes digginf for suspects and Curtis delivers a message.”
OK, so…the guy busting Frank’s balls is David “Microchip” Lieberman. A creation of the 1980s, nobody would think “Micro” is a cool nickname nowadays, although I’m sure you remember that little moment from the very end of Daredevil Season 2, right?
“Micro” was introduced in The Punisher #4 by Mike Baron and Klaus Janson, and he stuck with Frank for many, many years. He’s less cool than Ebon Moss-Bachrach’s portrayal of him. He wasn’t married, although he did have a son (named Louis, not Zack), so for the most part, the character has been completely reinvented for the screen, as is his initial relationship with Frank. Which I love, by the way.
– Billy Russo is introduced in this episode, and it’s a little bit of a spoiler for me to talk too much about him at this point. Just out of consideration for folks who are reading these as they watch, I’m gonna hold off a little longer.
– This episode does one of my favorite things, and it’s a subtle homage to the first (and most excellent, perfect movie in its own right) Dirty Harry movie. The way Frank gives Micro the runaround to make sure he isn’t being followed is what Scorpio does to Harry Callahan in that movie. Scorpio isn’t the good guy…and the fact that Frank is mirroring essentially a serial killer’s actions here is no accident, I’m sure.
The Punisher Episode 3: Kandahar
“Frank skips the subtlety while interrogating Micro. Brutal memories of top-secret missions shed light on Frank’s past.”
– Among other things, this episode gives us our clearest look at Frank Castle’s time in Afghanistan. In the comics, the best depiction of this is The Punisher: Born by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, which is set during the Vietnam War and is downright disturbing. While Born is more over-the-top and sinister than what we see here, this episode effectively establishes the same thing the comic does: Frank Castle has always been very, very, very good at killing, and he may actually enjoy it.
I don’t think Operation Cerberus is a specific reference to anything in Frank’s backstory, but if anyone knows any better, please leave it in the comments or hit me up on Twitter!
The haunting song playing during Frank’s murderous psychotic break is “Wish it Was True” by White Buffalo.
– Let’s have a quick welcome back for Clancy Brown’s Col. Schoonover, last seen dying in Daredevil Season 2. Schoonover showed up in some early Punisher: War Journal comics.
– William Rawlins and his injured eye are indeed from the comics, though. Created by Garth Ennis and Doug Braithwaite in 2005. In the comics he wasn’t connected to Frank Castle’s military career, though, but that’s a minor issue. He was generally a corrupt asshole, just like we see here.
– There’s a lot more intrigue and interesting stuff going on in Micro’s “origin story” in this episode than his relatively basic comic book story, which dealt with him hacking into the Kingpin’s computers.
– Billy’s crack about Ann-Margret is a Full Metal Jacket quote, which has really been gnawing at me, but Shawn Thompson caught it! I guess thic an be read as a sly way to tie in to Frank’s original background as a Vietnam veteran.
– Curtis refers to Billy Russo as a “man of wealth and taste,” which is, of course, a reference to The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” lyrics.
– Speaking of Billy, Frank refers to him as “the Beaut” during the flashbacks, which was one of his nicknames from the comics. (See? I’m just teasing this stuff out to avoid spoilers.)
The Punisher Episode 4: Resupply
“Madani and Sam plan a delicate operation, Curtis tries to connect with Lewis, and Frank encourages Micro to get his hands dirty.”
– Always nice to see Turk Barrett make an appearance. Rob Morgan has made this character so much fun that he’s almost sympathetic. I’m almost rooting for him.
– I never would have caught this without help, but one of the guys Frank puts away in that garage ends up resting on a pinball machine in a way that looks an awful lot like a Diamond Select deluxe action figure/statue from a while back.
Seriously, check it out…
– There’s really not a lot in the way of Marvel stuff in this episode (or some of the later episodes in general), but this one has a wonderful homage to the car chase in Steve McQueen’s Bullitt, making this the 2nd perfect ’70s action movie homage on the series that I’m aware of. You…you have seen Bullitt, right? If you haven’t, do so immediately. If you have, watch it again!
I’m not great with cars, so I can’t tell if Dinah is driving a ’68 Mustang GT (the badassmobile from Bullitt). Although some of you are telling me that is indeed what she’s driving, so, I’ll take your word for it. Anyway, go watch Bullitt.
The Punisher Episode 5: Gunner
“Frank and Micro go looking for answers from a reluctant witness. Madani and Sam learn of a looming investigation. Rawlins sees a ghost.”
– As far as I can tell, there’s no Marvel stuff in this episode, although that first person action scene is pretty amazing. If I’m wrong, hit me up on Twitter or drop it in the comments!
The Punisher Episode 6: The Judas Goat
“With Frank in bad shape, Micro calls on Curtis for help. Madani and Russo continue to mix business with pleasure. Lewis stands up for his rights.”
– Again, there’s not much in the way of easter eggs here, although the surgery scene reminds me of when Claire Temple had to operate on Luke Cage with Jessica Jones looking on in disgust.
– Remember what I said in episode 1 about the Castle family name? This is the episode where we learn that Maria Castle’s grandmother was Sicilian, which makes me wonder if grandma pushed her mother to marry a nice Italian boy, as well.
– OK, so now I can tell you that Billy Russo is indeed a villain from the comics, right? He wasn’t a vet, though, he was a mob hitman. A handsome one, too.
He’s actually been around almost as long as Frank Castle, first appearing long before Punisher could support his own ongoing series. Hell, he first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #162 in 1976. I’m not gonna tell you any more just yet, though…
The Punisher Episode 7: Crosshairs
“Lewis struggles with the ramifications of his actions. Frank and Micro pursue another face from the past. Madani and Sam go bug hunting.”
– The Ali/Foreman fight that poor Lewis’ dad is trying to use to motivate him took place in 1974, the same year Frank Castle made his first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #129
– I feel really bad for Lewis at the start of the episode, too.
For real? Is there really nothing Marvel-related in this episode? I’m not complaining, I’ll take story over fan service, and this episode has plenty of good story.
The Punisher Episode 8: Cold Steel
“Russo opens up to Madani about his past, Sarah shares her concerns about her son with Frank, and a decoy operation takes a turn.”
– That opening focusing on Billy’s beauty routine, as well as Dinah’s comment about how there are now battle scars “on that pretty face” would sure seem to be foreshadowing something, eh?
The Punisher Episode 9: Front Toward Enemy
“Following a deadly explosion, Karen lands in a bomber’s crosshairs — and Frank isn’t happy about it. Meanwhile, Curtis makes a grisly discovery.”
– OK, so if I remember my Punisher history right, Senator Stan Ori appeared in the same comic story I mentioned all the way at the top…the one that revealed that Frank Castle’s name was actually Castiglione. That’s the only similarity we have here, as that guy was in the pocket of the mafia, but hey, there we go. The story, by the way, is called “The Sicilian Saga” and it ran in Punisher: War Journal #25-27 in 1991. For some reason, it hasn’t been collected, and it’s not on ComiXology, but this nice Italian boy remembers it.
– I don’t think Ricky Langtry is from the comics, but man, I really want one of these talk radio firebrands to be J. Jonah Jameson. What an amazing way that would be to introduce him into the MCU!
– Frank responds to the news that he’s suspected of killing 37 people by saying, “37 that they know about.” The Zodiac Killer once claimed he killed 37 people (he is only confirmed to have killed 6, but there’s a chance he wasn’t lying or that the number was higher).
– The fight between young Lewis Wilson and Curtis might be the most harrowing fight scene in this entire series. It’s brutal.
The Punisher Episode 10: Virtue of the Vicious
An attack on a high-profile politician is examined (and reexamined) through different perspectives. Madani faces a painful truth.
– This episode’s whole Rashomon thing is tiresome, and when people complain that all these Marvel Netflix shows should only be nine or ten episodes, let this be exhibit A in favor of exactly that.
The Punisher Episode 11: Danger Close
As danger knocks on Sarah’s door, Frank takes his quest for vengeance to the next level with some help from an unexpected ally.
– OK, in a completely roundabout way, this episode, whether intentionally or uninentionally, actually has a reference to the 1989 Dolph Lundgren Punisher movie (which is the second best screen interpretation of the character after this show, do not @ me, it is the truth).
See, everyone remembers that chief among that movie’s flaws was the fact that Frank Castle never wears the iconic skull (although he does have some cool little skull knives). However, in the original script, the intention was for him to spraypaint a skull onto a bulletproof vest before that final action scene. And in the comic adaptation of the movie, he does exactly that, although it never happened on screen. I have more details on the stuff you never saw in that movie right here.
Anyway, seeing Jon Bernthal spraypainting a skull onto some tactical armor totally made me point at the screen and yell “for Dolph!” OK, maybe I didn’t do that, but you get the idea. And I have been reminded now that Thomas Jane’s version of Frank also spray-painted the skull onto a bulletproof vest in the 2004 movie. I try not to think about that flick too much, although Jane was a great Frank.
– This is followed up by the first bit of truly Ennis-esque violence we’ve had since that opening episode. This is vintage, brutal, Punisher punishment dished out here. Using the severed head of an enemy to scare the rest of your enemies if a maneuver that I feel could have come straight out of any of the Ennis/Dillon comics, too.
– On a less comic book related note, the dark, claustrophobic violence of this scene reminds me a little of the climactic gun battle in Jim Mickle’s Cold in July. If you haven’t seen that movie, please do so. If you don’t like it, I will ummm…I will apologize. But I promise you will like it. It’s amazing. In fact, someone should put Jim Mickle in charge of one of these Marvel shows!
The Punisher Episode 12: Home
“Frank makes a damning confession. A shootout leaves Sarah wondering what to believe. Rawlins goes in for the kill, once and for all.”
– I kind of jumped at the use of Paul Weller’s “You Do Something to Me” during Frank’s wedding flashback. Was this the official Castle wedding song? If so, Frank has much more distinguished musical taste than I would have expected, especially since Paul Weller never quite “made it” in America the way some of his peers did…which is a crime, I might add. Anyway, it’s on his Stanley Road album, which is excellent start to finish. Check it out.
– I really thought maybe we were gonna end up with a “Frank Castle gets an eyepatch” situation, which would echo the Greg Rucka comics. We’ve already had Frank with a beard, so let’s do the eyepatch, right? It doesn’t happen.
The Punisher Episode 13: Memento Mori
“As the authorities close in, an exhausted but unbroken Frank vows to put an end to the war that has consumed his life.”
– OK, we can finally talk about Billy Russo!
He’s the Marvel Comics villain, Jigsaw. Like his TV counterpart, the comic book version of Billy Russo was a handsome fella, until Frank Castle threw him through a window. And then threw him through another one. And then another. Kind of like how Frank decides that rather than killing Billy, utterly ruining his face with broken glass is worse than death for a vain prick.
Jigsaw, of course, is the Punisher’s greatest enemy in the comics, and he is…ummmm…no longer handsome. I think we know who the villain of The Punisher Season 2 will be, right?
In the comics, Billy had nothing to do with any conspiracy that ended in the death of the Castle family, but our old pal Col. Schoonover sure did.
I’m sure I missed quite a bit since my Punisher knowledge isn’t as strong as some of my other superhero knowledge, so feel free to drop ’em in the comments or hit me up on Twitter!