Punisher: 5 Super Secrets

Skeletons in His Gun Cabinet

Punisher: “Those who do evil to others – the killers, the rapists, psychos, sadists – you will come to know me well. Frank Castle is dead. Call me… The Punisher.”

The Punisher (2004)

The Punisher is the most straightforward anti-hero. His family was killed in the crossfire of a mob war, so Frank Castle dedicated his life to killing all criminals. It’s an understandable and sympathetic backstory that gives us a morally gray protagonist. But that hasn’t stopped Marvel writers from trying to jazz up The Punisher.

There are as many secrets as corpses left in his wake. What are some of the biggest? Lock and load, it’s time to find out.

#5 Purgatory

Punisher: [narrating] “I caught a glimpse of Heaven once. The Angels showed me. The idea was I’d kill for them. Clean up their mistakes on Earth. Eventually redeem myself. Tried it. Didn’t like it. Told them where to stick it. 

The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank

Marvel was struggling through a bankruptcy in 1998. Marvel outsourced four of their series to an independent group called Event Comics, hoping that new blood could revitalize old characters. This became known as the Marvel Knights imprint. Daredevil, Black Panther, and the Inhumans thrived under Marvel Knights, but the same could not be said of The Punisher: Purgatory.

An amnesiac Punisher wanders through a city, trying to remember what happened to him. All he can remember is pointing a gun at his own head. While fighting a gang, he notices his eyes are glowing red and that he has been pulling guns from thin air. Even stranger, the dead gangsters turn into demons. All the clues eventually lead him to a mysterious man named Gadriel.

Gadriel reveals that he is an angel who resurrected The Punisher after he was tricked into killing himself. He gave Frank angelic powers to help fight a demon lord named Olivier. Along the way, readers learn that Gadriel was Frank Castle’s guardian angel who was too distracted by earthly pleasures to save Frank’s family.

The duo eventually find Olivier, who takes the form of the mobster behind Punisher’s backstory. Olivier reveals that he created The Punisher to kill sinners, sending them to Hell to join his army and aid him in conquering the world. The Punisher manages to kill Olivier, and Gadriel sacrifices himself to seal a portal to Hell. Castle then leaves, planning to redeem himself so he can reunite with his family in Heaven.

Fans hated this interpretation, often calling it a knockoff of Ghost Rider or Spawn. Marvel immediately made The Punisher a normal vigilante and has tried to forget Purgatory ever happened. It’s a shame because Purgatory could have been interesting in the right hands.

#4 War is Hell

Goodwin: This war has bred a saying, oft-repeated: “Payback is a motherf*cker”. At Valley Forge we have another. “If you think payback’s bad… you haven’t met Frank Castle.” 

The Punisher: Born

We know that The Punisher’s war on crime began with his family’s deaths. The Punisher: Born was a 2003 miniseries that shed new light on Frank Castle’s war.

Taking place during the closing days of the Vietnam War, Born follows a soldier named Goodwin as he deals with a corrupt military, war crimes, and decreasing morale caused by the impending end of the war. In the middle of everything is Frank Castle, the squad’s most feared soldier.

Castle has fallen in love with the carnage and struggles to keep his unit’s firebase open as long as possible so he can keep killing. Throughout the fighting, he keeps hearing a voice offering power and an eternal war. Castle ignores the voice, but begins killing members of his squad for crimes like drug dealing or raping a P.O.W.

The Vietcong attacks the squad on its last day in-country. This time Castle accepts the voice’s offer. Readers next see him standing alone and bloodied, the sole survivor of the battle. He’s shipped home and reunites with his family. As he embraces them, the voice reminds Castle of their deal. He will have his eternal war, but a debt is due.

The voice’s identity remains a secret, but there are two prevailing interpretations. The first is that the voice is Castle’s psychosis, and his acceptance is him making a final psychotic break. The other is that the voice is a supernatural entity, giving Castle an endless war at the cost of his family. You can choose the explanation you like best.

#3 Punisher Kills The Marvel Universe

Spider-Man: [mortally wounded] “S-stop! W-who…
Frank Castle:The Punisher.”
Spider-Man:Punish? What for? Why us? Why me?
Punisher: [Bang] “‘Cause someone had to be first.

Punisher Kills The Marvel Universe

The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe is a non-canon oneshot released in 1995. It was written by Garth Ennis and may have been a dry run for his famous series, The Boys, which is now a hit Amazon show.

This story starts when Frank Castle’s family is killed in the crossfire of a superhero fight. An enraged Frank is arrested after he shoots some of the heroes. He is broken out of jail by a group of wealthy people who have been maimed in superhero fights. They want Frank to kill every superhuman, hero or villain. He accepts and becomes The Punisher.

His genocide starts when he kill Spider-Man and Venom. He topples the Kingpin’s empire and assassinates Doctor Doom. He uses their resources to kill more people, from sabotaging a teleporter the Avengers are going through to flooding a supervillain prison called The Vault. Punisher even manages to lure all the Mutants to the moon and nuke them.

Daredevil is the last hero standing and fights Punisher to the death. Punisher wins when Daredevil hesitates. Daredevil unmasks, revealing himself as Punisher’s old friend Matt Murdock, showing that a person is behind every mask. He dies while lamenting that Punisher has killed all of them. The story ends with Frank musing that there is one supervillain left as he puts a gun to his head.

#2 The Punisher meets Archie

[The Punisher is holding Archie at gunpoint]
Both: [thinking] “What have I done to deserve this?!” 

Archie Meets The Punisher

Yes, this is real. Archie Meets The Punisher was released in 1994 to a bewildered audience. This nonsensical combination was conceived when Archie editor Victor Gorelick decided to have Archie meet a popular superhero to boost sales. After considering Spider-Man or Jimmy Olsen, The Punisher was suggested as a joke. Well, joke’s on us now.

The Punisher is recruited by the CIA to track down a drug dealer called Red Fever, who had escaped from jail after making a deal to reveal the names of other criminals. Punisher is ordered to take him alive. Red Fever was last seen entering the town of Riverdale, so that’s where Frank is going.

Unbeknownst to The Punisher, Red Fever looks exactly like local teen Archie Andrews. Archie almost gets shot before Punisher figures out the resemblance. He then has to protect Archie from gangsters who make the same mistake.

The Punisher finally tracks down Red Fever when he takes Archie’s girlfriend Betty hostage. He prepares to kill the crook, but stops at the last moment because he doesn’t want to tarnish Riverdale’s innocence and idealism. The Punisher reluctantly leaves town to resume his war on crime by shooting murderers, pimps, and rapists.

Archie Meets The Punisher is a strange crossover that ultimately works. It’s by far the strangest Archie story, but there is one Punisher story that is stupider.

#1 Punisher Goes Black, Somehow Goes Back

Frank Castle:Sometimes my reflexes betray me. I had no patience for bigots when I was white. Now that I’m black, I don’t like it any better.” 

Punisher #60

The Punisher’s greatest secret is a story arc where he was turned into a black man for no reason. No, not through retcons, because that would make sense. The actual explanation is dumber.

The Punisher was badly injured in a fight with a gang and his face was cut by the villain Jigsaw. Punisher’s ally Microchip sent him to a discreet plastic surgeon who could fix the damage. Unbeknownst to them, she was high while performing the operation and used a Melanin injection as part of the procedure.

The process turned him into a black man. He drove to a safehouse, but was stopped by racist cops. The pullover became a fight that Luke Cage happened to come across. Luke helped Punisher fight off the cops and asked for his help taking down drug dealers. A grateful Punisher agreed.

This crossover was expected to be a pilot for a new Luke Cage series. Punisher has almost no role except sidekick and bad cop to Luke’s superhero. The writers don’t use his transformation for a moral, a message, or anything useful or remotely entertaining. And then the melanin fades! Marvel has done their best to forget that they made this stupid story.

Didya Get All That?

No gun can get rid of these secrets.

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