In 1974, Marvel introduced what was meant to be a minor one-issue character. The Punisher was an assassin, albeit one who only killed bad guys. Hired to go after Spider-Man, he realized he was used and left. But fans loved the look of the character in his black suit and huge skull shirt and wanted more. Soon, the Punisher made more appearances and his origins were revealed: Frank Castle, a Marine veteran whose family was killed by mobsters. He thus was out for revenge but unlike so many other heroes, he had no issues killing crooks. In the 1980s, the character exploded in popularity with his harsh methods and in the ‘90s, had three different series and numerous guest star appearances. It’s continued since as he’s even hit the big screen, although with little success. However, Netflix has gotten into it with him starring in a new series to great acclaim.
Like any Marvel character, the Punisher has had his ups and downs. He’s been a hero, a villain and in between a lot. He’s endured the craziness of the 1990s and stuff that is frankly totally nuts. He’s also taken more punishment than any non-powered character can endure but kept coming back for more. The man is frankly unstoppable, no jail has been able to hold him and even death itself can’t keep him down. With the show a hit, fans are looking over the character and it’s surprising how many things he’s been able to do over the years. Here are 15 things you didn’t know the Punisher was capable of and pointing to his amazing history.
15. Rescue Eminem
For decades, comics have played with the idea of super-heroes meeting real celebrities. Superman fought Muhammad Ali, Spider-Man saved Barack Obama and Batman met Jerry Lewis. But this still ranks as one of the flat-out nuttiest ever. Following a concert in Detroit, hip-hop star/author/Oscar winner Eminem is leaving when the Punisher shows up and guns down his entourage. Eminem is soon on the run with the Punisher following and runs into the rare recurring Punisher foe Barracuda. He takes the rapper to safety with the Punisher following, leading to numerous gunfights as Eminem trash-talks everyone. He even pistol-whips the Punisher while singing one of his songs.
It turns out Punisher was actually trying to save Eminem from Barracuda, who was hired to kill the rapper by a group of parents angry their kids loved his music. Barracuda isn’t killing him right off; instead, he dumps him onto an iceberg and plans to buy merchandise which he can sell online for a fortune after the body is found. It all ends with Eminem floating on an iceberg as the Punisher leaves. Completely and utterly insane yet notable for how the Punisher finds the rap world crazier than his usual one.
14. Become Black
The 1990s were filled with often nutty stories and the Punisher wasn’t immune to them. In an extended storyline, the Punisher is set up by the Kingpin, arrested and put in jail. After being badly injured in a fight, Castle escapes and makes his way to a doctor who promises she can heal him and give him a makeover so he’s not recognized. Castle expects some plastic surgery tweaks but instead, the woman turns his skin black. It’s a wild bit with Castle as shocked as readers and the doctor points out the pigmentation is only temporary. This leads to Castle experiencing life as an African-American man, complete with getting pulled over by some racist cops who beat him down. Luckily, Luke Cage happens by and quickly stops this. The two briefly work together to take down a drug gang and the Punisher’s skin gets back to its usual color. Most fans prefer to forget it yet still has to rank as one of the Punisher’s crazier periods.
13. Take Out The Entire Marvel Universe
Before his epic run of the Punisher, Garth Ennis got his first shot at him in this 1998 one-shot. It takes place on an alternate Marvel Earth, one where Frank Castle is a New York cop. A massive super-hero battles takes place in Central Park and Frank’s family is killed in the crossfire. Outraged, he guns down some heroes and is arrested. He’s freed by a cabal of people who have also lost loved ones and want some payback. With their resources, the Punisher is soon taking down heroes and villains alike. He waits for the Hulk to turn into Bruce Banner to shoot him; tricks the various X-Men and enemies to the moon to nuke them all; smashes Doctor Doom into iron scrap; and turns on his handlers when they make it clear they want to kill innocents who might be new heroes. His only ally is Matt Murdock, a lawyer who wants to help Castle. Eventually, it comes down to Punisher and Daredevil and the one not walking away isn’t the one you expect. A wild turn that shows how deadly the Punisher can be.
12. Come Back From The Dead
In 1998, Marvel announced a reboot of the Punisher that got fans excited. Then they read it. The plot was the Punisher killing himself (an odd move for a guy who never gave up) but angels giving him a second chance. Thus, he was returned to Earth as a hunter with glowing eyes, an odd symbol on his head and the ability to command ectoplasmic guns to take out demons. In other words, the Punisher, the last guy who should be involved in supernatural stuff, was now a figure out of a low-rent Syfy movie. It was not taken well, a total step backwards that fans hated. Thus, in Garth Ennis’ acclaimed 2000 reboot, the Punisher was alive and well. Ennis brushed it off with a narration of the Punisher explaining he got tired of following orders and rebelled. After letting him see his family at peace, the angels sent him back to Earth, thinking it was punishment. They didn’t realize that being on the planet killing crooks was Frank’s idea of paradise. The whole thing has never been mentioned since and fans are happy to ignore this period in his life.
11. Stand Up To The Penance Stare
Ghost Rider has been through so many shifts and changes over the years, it’s way too complex to talk about. The 1990s had a rougher version of the character, a supernatural hunter taking on enemies in brutal ways but stopping just short of pure murder. He and the Punisher clashed but also teamed up a few times as the Rider understood someone out for vengeance. Among his many powers, Ghost Rider has the Penance Stare which causes an enemy to experience all the pain they’ve bestowed on people while also regret of their own pain. It’s a horrible move, sometimes a fate worse than death and has rendered the most ruthless of criminals a weeping mess. In one conflict, Ghost Rider finally has enough of the Punisher’s actions and wraps him up in his chains. He gives the Stare, expecting the Punisher to be overwhelmed by his litany of murders. Instead, the Punisher gives a rare smirk. The Stare doesn’t work on him as “I regret nothing.” That shows the darkness within Castle even the Rider can’t beat.
10. Fight Vampires
True, the Punisher works better as just a regular crime fighting regular crime. But the idea of him taking on bigger threats is unique. A mini-series had him as the lone man fighting zombies across the Marvel Universe and he’s been thrown into other battles as well. In a What If? issue, Dracula manages to turn the X-Men into vampires. Wolverine asserts control, killing Dracula and taking over himself. Soon, the X-Vampires have turned other mutants and then attack New York, controlling the city. Doctor Strange is killed but is sent back in ghostly form to find someone who can recite a spell to destroy the vampires. He finds the Punisher hunting them down, noting how “if there was one man lacking super powers who would be the last to fall,” it would be Frank Castle. Armed with Strange’s cloak and mystical Eye, the Punisher is taking it to various vampires with some unique weapons before a showdown with Wolverine. It’s a wild bit but it works and shows that no matter the battle, the Punisher is ready for war.
9. Wear Iron Man Armor
On the one hand, you might expect Frank Castle to be a good candidate for an armored suit. He takes it crooks already, just adding in armor fits for a soldier. Marvel has played with it a few times, mostly in their What If? series. One issue takes place where a dark version of Steve Rogers becomes President and instills a harsh order with Castle becoming a black-clad Iron Man. When it turns out “Rogers” is the Red Skull in disguise, Castle joins with the real Cap and others to form the Avengers. Likewise, a few other What Ifs imagined Castle recruited by Tony Stark to become Iron Man, which inevitably leads to him painting a skull on the front of the armor. It’s even come in the more recent Punisher issues as Castle is sent to stop an evil cabal and steals an old Iron Man armor to take them on. In each case, it’s a cool sight as Castle prefers being down to Earth but not above using the best technology and thus be deadlier than ever.
8. Command Venom
Venom is one of Spider-Man’s most popular foes, so much so that he was even a bit of a hero for a time. The idea was that an alien symbiote who tried to bond itself with Spider-Man. When Peter Parker defeated it in a church, the alien hid for a time before possessing Eddie Brock, a reporter who had a hate for Spider-Man himself and became Venom. In an issue of What If?, instead of Brock, Frank Castle enters the church and the alien is drawn to his darkness. At first, Frank is confused but accepts it, thinking this is some government bio-suit. He figures out the truth but is able to rise up and control the alien. Soon the Punisher is using the suit to create weapons, taking out the Kingpin and other crooks and beating down Spider-Man in a fight. It takes Spider-Man, Daredevil and Moon Knight to face him down but in the end, they realize it’s better the alien be under Castle’s control than on the loose. Venom is already deadly but a Venom-Punisher combo is something to truly fear.
7. Star In A Video Game That Makes GTA Look Tame
The Punisher has been a good fit for video games with his shooting style and no need for powers. A popular arcade game had him against a variety of enemies from street thugs to cyborgs and loved for its fun animation. He’s had a few home console games that lean toward first-person shooter territory. But 2005’s The Punisher game was a huge success thanks to its third-person action and some frankly wild sequences. Thomas Jane voiced the character and many feel it was better than his big-screen outing. The game had wild violence as Castle takes on the mob and several scenes made Grand Theft Auto look like a kids’ game. Each level has bits where the Punisher can interrogate a crook by hanging him over a ledge, pushing him toward a saw or such and break them into talking. After they do, you can either let them go or kill them. The deaths are brutal as you can smash guys into compacters, eaten by a snake or more. They’re so graphic that the screen has to go black and white for them to lower the gore. It’s astounding but helped make the game a hit and as brutal as the character is.
6. Get Beaten By Batman
The Punisher and Batman may seem a lot alike: Loners fighting crime and utilizing fear. Where they differ is that Batman refuses to kill while the Punisher has no issues leaving bodies behind. That came up majorly in a pair of 1994 DC/Marvel crossovers. The first took place during the period where Bruce Wayne had his back broken and Azrael was a brutal armored Batman. He and Punisher clashed but as this Batman was willing to bend the rules, he tolerated the Punisher. In the second special, Bruce had come back and not happy, even willing to defend the Joker from getting a bullet from the Punisher, leading to a short fight.
Another case was in JLA/Avengers when the Justice League lands on the Marvel Earth. Batman tells them to just keep a low profile, scout the territory and not make waves. He’s with Plastic Man when he sees the Punisher raiding a crack house, guns blazing. When the JLA reunites, Plastic Man snaps on how Batman “spent twenty minutes beating down some Kevlar-clad loon to save a bunch of drug dealers!” While Punisher may be tough, he’s out of his league with the Dark Knight.
5. Be Frankenstein
Franken-Castle. You have to admit, it’s a fun name and somehow, it’s pulled off nicely. In 2009, Marvel was doing Dark Reign, an event where Norman Osborn (aka the Green Goblin) becomes the chief law enforcement officer of America. When the Punisher makes waves, Osborn sends Wolverine’s twisted son Daken after him. Daken literally slices Frank into small pieces and leaves him for dead. Somehow, Frank survives and is found by Morbius the Living Vampire. He takes him to a commune of monsters who stitch Frank into a super-powered form like that classic monster. This gives him enhanced strength, ability to bounce back from attacks and can carry cannons the size of a battleship’s. For a bit, the Punisher goes around smashing up monsters with these guys to pay them back for their help which leads to the epic panel of him commanding an actual dragon for an attack. It eventually ended with Frank getting back his old body and back to his roots but still a fun ride of the Punisher taking on literal monsters.
4. Still Be So Young For A Vietnam Vet
Like many comic book companies, Marvel has issues with time shifting. The basic rule is that whatever year it is, it’s been about 12 or so years since the Fantastic Four took off and started the whole modern Marvel Universe. Some characters are tied like Captain America to World War II but others have shifted. Originally, Tony Stark became Iron Man during the Vietnam War but now some unnamed conflict. With the Punisher, writers still push how Castle is a veteran of Vietnam himself. It comes up in modern stuff with his talk of war in the jungle and more than a few writers have the scene of Castle at the Vietnam Memorial remembering it all. This is obviously tricky given it means Castle would now be in his 60s yet carrying on like someone younger. Fan theories abound like Castle getting the same age-slowing serum as WWII vet Nick Fury and how some various “rebirths” have given him a new lease on life. Still, it’s an odd turn that Castle is the oldest serving Vietnam vet around.
3. Visit Riverdale
It’s still one of the nuttiest crossovers in comic book history. When it was announced, fans assumed it was some sort of elaborate joke. The Punisher, a man who instills darkness and brutal violence, visiting the world of Archie Andrews. But it happened all right as this special has the Punisher tracking a crook down into Riverdale. The tricky thing is that the crook just happens to be a dead ringer for Archie Andrews. Thus, the Punisher is soon hunting down Archie who reacts as well as anyone would facing some guy in a black suit and trench coat and loaded for bear. The sight of him wandering around Riverdale, taking in Jughead and the gang is just priceless and makes this special notable. However, there’s a surprising heart as the Punisher reflects on how innocent this town is, no real crime and appreciates it. Indeed, he decides it’s better he leave than bring his brand of violence to ruin this place. One can only imagine how the Punisher would fit into the current Riverdale TV show but this still ranks as a unique team-up.
2. Be An Inspiration
Frank Castle would never claim he’s meant to inspire others. During an encounter, Night Thrasher, the young leader of the New Warriors talked of how much he respected the Punisher who retorted “pretty warped sense of values, kid.” One storyline of Garth Ennis’ run had a trio of men taking it like the Punisher did with the Elite taking out those who bothered his pristine life and a murderous priest giving bloody absolution. They thought the Punisher could be their leader but instead, he called them a trio of nuts and killed them himself. But he has inspired more than a few other copycats and even a woman who followed in his footsteps. Perhaps the wildest was Punisher 2099, part of a Marvel line-up taking place in a corporate-controlled future where people have to pay for police to help them. When his family is killed, cop Jake Gallows finds a journal of Frank’s with the last line being “I charge you to carry on this work.” He thus creates his own costume to fight crime the same way. One can only wonder how Castle feels of being inspiring long after his death.
1. Be A Team Player
The Punisher’s entire act is being a loner. It’s been made clear most Marvel heroes despise working with him because of how willing he is to kill. But war makes strange bedfellows and more than once, the Punisher has surprisingly been able to work with others. Spider-Man, Daredevil, Moon Knight and even Captain America have teamed with him on missions. He and Nick Fury actually get along well as two men who know how ruthless you have to be to survive. Perhaps most notably was the Punisher recruited into a new version of the Thunderbolts. Originally a team of super-villains posing as heroes, this iteration had them as a black-ops team overseen by General Thunderbolt Ross aka The Red Hulk. The Punisher fit in well with the bunch which included Venom, Elektra, Ghost Rider and others, enjoying his brutal measures. He even had a fling with Elektra although it ended badly. For a guy most distrust, Castle can be an effective team player in the right circumstances.