How I Came to Love the Punisher

Growing up reading comics I was into a lot of characters but the Punisher was never one of them. Created in 1974 by writer Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr., Ross Andru and supposedly named by Stan Lee.

He first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #129 in which he mistook Spidey for a bad guy and messed a bunch of stuff up and eventually booked it to avoid all the heat. He had a seemingly endless arsenal of weapons and wore a sweet skull shirt.

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

His grim and murderous attitude towards criminals hadn't been done that much before in comics so he won fans over with his crazy, no holds barred war on crime.

More and more he popped up in Marvel books teaming up with Spidey and Captain America and was given a mini-series of his own in the late '80s. Eventually as his popularity grew in the early '90s he was featured in an ongoing series.

Being born in 1987 I really had no exposure to the Punisher early on, as my brother and dad never seemed to pay much attention to him. I saw him in comics and ads and stickers and don't get me wrong, he looked cool but I was never enamored with him.

As I got older and put more thought into the ideas of character motives and their place in the universe I always found The Punisher a weird sort of situation. How could a guy so violent and crazy and relentless live in the same world as Spider-Man, and The Avengers? It just didn't make much sense to me so as I got older he became to me almost a gimmick and not a character I thought I'd ever like, let alone love.

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Years passed and I'm not entirely sure how it happened, but I came across a copy of The Punisher: Welcome Back Frank by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillion and things started to make sense. It was funny, grotesque and brutal. The violence was over the top but somehow it's the kind of violence you just have to laugh at. I don't want to call it satire. It was almost as if Ennis and Dillion saw how crazy the character was and decided to have fun with it and not try to be so serious. Somehow though, among all the ridiculousness, they still showed a real character who actually believed in what he did, no matter how messed up or horrible of a person he had become.

Then came Punisher Max.

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Punisher: Born is the essentially what it sounds like. Everyone thinks that the Punisher became who he was once his family was killed in front of him. Born puts Frank Castle in the horrors of Vietnam and like every man who made it through, he came back different. Castle had serious post traumatic stress and Vietnam was when he realized that he actually enjoyed killing people. It was tragic, moving and ultimately very sad -- emotions I never thought I would have felt reading a Punisher comic. Vietnam created the Punisher.

I read the entire run of Punisher Max cover to cover and loved every panel and page. Ennis handled Castle not just as the hero; he clearly painted him as a severely disturbed psychopath but somehow you still rooted for the guy.

Later came Rick Remender, who brought his influences of punk music into his writing. It was a perfect match because Punisher was punk rock, he didn't care about who he had to kill to get the job done. While everyone went soft, years later Frank was still fighting the same fight.

Somewhere down the line Remender killed Punisher and brought him back as Frankencastle and it was fantastic. The premise itself many scoffed at, but it was super fun and still managed to pique my interests. It was straight up comic book fun and great while it lasted.

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Eventually Jason Aaron took over writing Punisher Max along with Steve Dillion who worked with Ennis on a long run of Punisher comics. It was still the Punisher I quickly grew to love, but more brutal and tortured. It still had the trace elements of humor, but Aaron managed to make the book his own which I think was no small feat after following such a prolific run as Ennis's.

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

I feel like The Punisher works best within his own universe which is why the Marvel Max universe is perfect. Frank Castle doesn't really belong anywhere, but it's nice having him in a world where he's free to blow up guys with ponytails and feed people to barracudas with pretty much no repercussions.

The Punisher is awesome and if you don't like him I hope he shows up and punches you in the neck.

All these books I've talked about are available at your local comic shop.