The Punisher, a psychotic vigilante with a hardened military background, is one of Marvel’s darkest and most tortured characters. So what better place is there for him to show up than in their sensationally gritty new Netflix universe? The comic world’s most trigger-happy ‘hero’ will take his first MCU bow in the upcoming second season of Daredevil, and if all the stars align just as they should, he may well end up stealing the show. So who is this mysterious, murderous figure?
The character first appeared in an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man in the early 1970s, and has since grown across a number of his own series to become one of Marvel’s cult properties. His origins have been flipped around a few times over the years, but the essence of it comes down to one man, Frank Castle – a master of heavy weaponry and hand-to-hand combat – who wages a one-man war on New York’s criminal underworld after his entire family are wiped out in a mob hit.
Not exactly the most cheery of starts, but The Punisher isn’t that kind of guy; he makes Christian Bale’s Batman look like Adam West. Castle really means business, and no rulebook holds him back. He will literally do anything, from kidnapping to violent torture and even murder, just to get his own way. Over the years this has marked him as something of a question mark in Marvel’s heroic catalogue.
As a result, his relationship with the Marvel universe has always been somewhat shaky. Despite showing up in a number of comic series across the 1980s, The Punisher disappeared for a little while in the following decade, appearing briefly in short-run miniseries like Purgatory, where he – I shit you not – was recast as something of a guardian angel.
However, the real Punisher that fans seem to know and love came into being with Garth Ennis’s hard-nosed Punisher MAX series in the mid 2000’s, which shone a brighter light on his twisted morals, and opened up his methods as somewhat questionable, even in his own eyes. Since then, we’ve had similar iterations of the trench-coat wearing psychopath in both film (2004’s excellent The Punisher and 2008’s much more extreme, but inferior Punisher: War Zone) and even video-games.
The most triumphant of these efforts was no doubt Volition Inc.’s third-person shooter The Punisher, which made its debut on PS2 and Xbox in 2005. Not only was Ennis’s gritty version of the character fully-realised, in a seriously violent game that urged players to interrogate enemies for information as well as kill them in spectacular fashion, but also the Marvel world was explored more fully for one of the first times. Iron Man even shows up for one mission set in Stark Towers, several years before the MCU ever existed.
The latest incarnation of The Punisher will be taken on by The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal, and if early footage is anything to go by, he seems like an ample fit for Frank Castle’s tortured and violent soul. Rumour has it that if things go well for the character here, he’ll get his own Netflix spin-off too. I guess we can hope.
Season 2 of Marvel’s Daredevil will be available to stream on Netflix from March 18th.