As far as the Marvel universe is concerned, I think there are few characters as mad as The Punisher. Sure, we’re led to believe that Frank Castle was pushed over the edge when his daughter, son, and wife were slain in a mob hit gone wrong, but the truth is, Frank Castle is a killer and always has been. He just happens to be on our “side”, which lends him an air of acceptability when we read about his exploits. The man, however, is an utter sociopath. He cares for nothing but the kill.
He first appeared in Gerry Conway’s The Amazing Spider-Man #129 (1974), where he was pitted against our esteemed editor’s favourite web-slinger. Spidey, of course, didn’t want the man to kill the criminals; he felt they should be brought to justice through proper channels. Castle, on the other hand, was having none of it. You commit a crime, you die. His vision is singular and unrelenting: criminals must die.
While I have a number of favourite Punisher stories, there are two that bring his madness to the forefront: The Punisher: Born and The Punisher: The End. Yes, both are written by Garth Ennis, and it’s no secret to many of my friends that I am a colossal fan of this man’s writing, but if any writer ever got Frank Castle, it’s him.
The Punisher: Born describes how Castle came to be The Punisher, and it wasn’t on a fateful day in Central Park involving squabbling mob families – it was in the heart of the Vietnam war. Here he developed his twisted moral code and his desire to murder. Blood, guns, explosions, and death – they fed into his addiction. Castle was bred for war, for destruction. He never wants it to end, and he tells Death as much in the bloodbath of Valley Forge (it’s important to note, however, that Death never actually manifests itself or declares who it is – it’s implicit). He’s offered a choice, one that will affect him for the rest of his life, and he takes it, drowning himself in unbelievable amounts of blood (this series, by the way, particularly the adult MAX line, is not for the faint hearted – we’re talking about a man who brutally murders the worst people in our society).
Now fast forward decades. Castle is an old man, imprisoned (yes, despite a lot of sympathy from the public and the police, he is a killer, after all), and what hits? The apocalypse. It’s The Punisher meets Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and it’s about as vicious. All I’m going to say about this exceptional and harrowing Punisher story is that Castle is again given a choice, and he goes pretty much the way we’d expect – the murderous route.
Sure, you might agree with him (and trust me, there are Punisher stories out there where you wish the man was real – I know I have), but there’s a key point to The Punisher: he is bat-shit crazy. His victims happen to be those we loathe, and he seems to have a twisted sense of morality that justifies his own homicidal tendencies, but never forget that this is a man that would rather see a head explode in a spray of bone and blood. He isn’t your friend; he isn’t anyone’s friend; he exists for war, violence, and brutality. Yes, he’s got a singular dimension, but it’s harrowing and fascinating, and I think we keep reading about him because of that sick sense in all of us that draws us to the horrific.
He certainly scares the hell out of me.