Well for those of you unfamiliar with Frank Castle (the character’s civilian name), the Punisher is a popular antihero created by Marvel Comics and first published in 1974, debuting as an antagonist in The Amazing Spider-Man #129. After the gang-related death of Frank’s wife and two children, he takes to the streets armed to the teeth and begins a one-man war on crime, mercilessly killing every criminal in his path.
The Punisher’s extreme methods have always been one of the major reasons for his popularity, as a hero who indiscriminately ends the lives of each of his foes often warrants darker and more mature storytelling than most of Marvel’s titles, with series like Marvel Knights: The Punisher and Punisher: MAX (both written, for the most part, by Garth Ennis) creating gritty and uncompromising versions of Frank Castle within adult-orientated comic books.
When coming into contact with other Marvel characters, the Punisher is often shunned and labeled a lunatic, as characters such as Captain America and Spider-Man will never justify a city-wide killing spree, with many heroes coming to blows with Frank while trying to put an end to his eternal mission. This was depicted in the second series of Netflix’s Daredevil, with the eponymous hero engaging in multiple fights and discussions of morality with Jon Bernthal’s Punisher; the savage and unrelenting killer providing a fresh and welcome alternative to the rest of Marvel’s screen-depicted character roster.
The warm reception of Daredevil‘s version of the Punisher from both fans and critics is due, possibly, in part to the not-so-successful past attempts to adapt Frank’s story to the screen with Dolph Lundgren, Thomas Jane and Ray Stevenson missing the mark in 1989, 2004 and 2008 respectively.
In spite of unsuccessful film adaptations, the Punisher remains one of Marvel’s most popular antiheroes, so how has this angry individual retained his reputation? With the character’s many successful series and striking visual appearance aside, the reason that Frank Castle is essential in the 21st century is that he appeals to us all; subtly relating to that side of us which has thought about bringing pain and justice to the criminals who pray on the innocent and hopes for a dark end to the people who would do our loved ones harm.
In a world filled with films and comics about brightly coloured superheroes fighting aliens and saving the world, the Punisher stalks the streets at night, shooting thieves, drowning rapists and decapitating murderers: we need Frank Castle, not because he brings out the dark and twisted side within us, but because he stains his soul so we don’t have to – and after all, that skull costume is cool as hell, right?