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Monday, March 21, 2016

Panel Vision - 8 Dumbest/Weirdest Punisher Moments

Edited by Robert Beach 

By now you’ve probably joined the rest of the Internet in enjoying the latest season of Marvel and Netflix’s shockingly quality Daredevil show. The fact that Marvel could produce a grim and gritty superhero show out of such a fractured and failed property like Daredevil and have it actually turn out good is pretty impressive. This season Marvel has doubled down on the darkness by integrating the Punisher into its dark and sleazy Netflix corner of the Marvel universe.  

Punisher’s always been a landmark character for Marvel, a violent vigilante who actually kills people in a world of colorful children’s heroes; however, the fact that Frank Castle, man with a gun and PTSD, has to co-exist with the craziness of magic, aliens, and monsters means there’ve been a lot of weird and just plain-old stupid moments in the Punisher canon. Today, we honor them. 

We’re going to start things off easy here with one of the stupidest changes, but easiest and quickest to explain: Punisher becomes a black guy. To be clear, I don’t mean that a black man took up the mantel of Punisher; that would’ve made sense. No, I mean Frank Castle was surgically altered to become a black guy. It’s one of the dopiest moments to ever rise out of an allegedly serious comic book made all the more surreal by how much it just came and went in its own time. 

Most superhero shake-ups of this magnitude are accompanied by serious fanfare, like the time Superman became electric blue with energy powers. Frank Castle being surgically changed into a black dude lasted all of 2 issues before never being mentioned again. He did briefly team-up with Luke Cage during his time as a fellow brother, which was pretty hilarious. By in large, this weird slice of comics lore has been mercifully consigned to the dustbin of history. 

Here’s one I’ve already discussed previously: Frankencastle. Now this is the kind of character shake-up that’s more expected within the realm of Punisher projects: a big, stupid continuity shake-up that was accompanied with no small amount of fanfare. Not only did Punisher become a Frankenstein, he also ended up the new leader of Marvel’s intermittent horror character team: the legion of monsters. Despite the inherent goofiness of this premise, the Frankencastle stories are actually really damn enjoyable.  

One of the weird dichotomies of Punisher’s character is his overt seriousness and extreme myopia tend to make him a perfect comedy straight man when forced into whacky scenarios or even just every day situations. Having him grumpily stomp around alongside werewolves and vampires insisting on his own seriousness in the face of all this ridiculousness is a recipe for stand out comedy. It’s a lot like any time Punisher is forced to interact with normal people. Then he tries to gauge what counts as “courteous” when literally all he knows is murder and pain. 

You wouldn’t think it was possible to make the Punisher costume look ungodly moronic, but they found a way. A little back-story: after Marvel’s Civil War event comic, Captain America ended up dead. In the wake of Cap’s death, a lot of other heroes were rattled and altered owing to the traumatic nature of such a loss. For Frank Castle, the idea had always been that Frank looked up to Captain America, even citing Cap as the reason he enlisted in the military in the first place. 

It’s always been one of the more interesting wrinkles of Frank’s character. He’s every bit the embodiment of the American warrior spirit as Cap only filtered through a more cynical and honest lens. Having him don a "Punisherized" version of the Captain America costume, because that’s how he was grieving, turns out that was a really dumb idea. 

That’s right: Punisher was once an angel wielding mystic submachine guns. Why? Sometimes common sense just doesn’t prevail. That’s just the world we live in. Actually, the reason Marvel decided to throw “gritty crime killer Frank Castle” into the angelic supernatural bin is probably owed to the success of rival brutal, urban vigilantes like Spawn and the Crow. See, while Punisher was huge in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, his star started to fall as the ‘90s dragged on. Castle got competition from supernatural urban murder heroes like Blade or Ghost Rider.  

So reworking Punisher into a supernatural agent in an attempt to ride that cresting wave made just enough sense for the Marvel marketing department (who were currently running the company right into the ground) to green light this incredibly stupid concept.  This is another one of those weird Punisher moments we all simply agreed not to talk about now that it’s over. Though it did leave one incredibly weird and lasting change to the mythos. 

Yep, Punisher’s family was killed by demons. It’s a weird and incredibly moronic concept that’s right up there with the cavalcade of Thomas and Martha Wayne re-workings wherein their deaths were linked to some greater nonsense. In this case, the idea is some demon got thrown into a human body. The only way to escape was for someone to brutally murder him (or something, bare in mind this idea is really dumb and doesn’t run on consistent logic.)  

So in order to create an avatar of righteous murder to kill a whole ton of souls for him, the demon contrived for Frank Castle’s family to get killed to inspire him on his crusade against crime. The demon even implanted the skull image in Frank’s brain as a way to brand him with the demonic emblem. I don’t think this idea has ever popped up since this mini-series, even though this wasn’t the last time Frank Castle and mysticism crossed over.

Okay, this one is a bit of a cheat, but it’s my list, so I’m showcasing it. During Marvel’s massive event comic last year Secret Wars, we got to see the alternate universe versions of a ton of Marvel heroes and villains. It was basically a chance for the Marvel writers to run hog wild on creating new characters as well as revisiting old worlds and concepts like Marvel Noir, Future Imperfect, Age of Apocalypse, and more. 

One stand out of this line was a brief story that featured a bizarre Punisher/Dr. Strange mash-up who was traveling through the patchwork wilderness of Battleworld opposing the forces of Dr. Doom, who happened to be God at that moment in time.  Even though Dr. Punishment only existed for one appearance, he’s still one of the coolest ideas ever showcased and by far the best vision of a Punisher/supernatural mash-up Marvel has ever thrown together. 

Oh, yeah, now we’re getting into the really dumb stuff. In case you’re wondering why Punisher and Eminem clashed, it’s actually not that unique within the Marvel universe. Originally, the pitch of the Marvel universe was that it existed within elements of the real world, so the characters would occasionally interact with real celebrities like John Belushi, David Lettermen, and even Obama.  

As for why Marvel decided Eminem and Punisher needed to team-up, if I may site a previous statement, sometimes common sense just doesn’t prevail. The best thing about this crossover is Eminem totally hands Frank Castle his ass in this comic, which is pretty damn hilarious. Although, Frank does get his revenge in the end when he strands Eminem in the arctic, where I can only assume he froze to death. Rap God indeed. 


That’s right: Punisher once punched a polar bear right in the face.  In all of Frank Castle’s ridiculous history, this moment is honestly pretty tame. It’s still an absolute favorite for me. One of the weird things about superhero comics is that because so much of them were intended for children, there was a tendency to throw superheroes against random animals. That’s why Batman has fought sharks so often they could be counted as a member of his rogues gallery. 

As such, fighting a bear would be a relatively tame and normal situation if Frank Castle was literally any other hero. But having the Punisher (Mr. murdered family, military training), death wish Frank Castle himself just up and sucker punching a polar bear right out of nowhere is absolutely glorious. It’s like if Dirty Harry fought gorillas in his 3rd movie or some nonsense. In a weird way, it’s actually really humanizing for Frank Castle. Here he is just trying to murder gangland thugs, and the zaniness of the Marvel universe just keeps getting in the way. 

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