When “Marvel’s The Punisher” drops at Netflix Nov. 17, rest assured that what’s on screen will be the best of the many versions of Frank Castle that have appeared in the comics.
Frank (né Francis Castiglione) at his core is a fairly generic character. As a result, he has been presented in strange ways.
Ignored today is a short period in Frank’s publishing history when he seemed to embrace the “broken windows” theory with — as usual — a vengeance. Or as Frank put it in this 1983 story: “Crime, if left unpunished, breeds further crime. A man’s crime of battery against his wife today … makes him capable of committing a crime against others tomorrow. I can’t allow that escalation.” As good as his word, Frank shoots a wife-beater. And a cabdriver who runs a red light. And a litterer. Two issues later, a judge declares Frank insane. By Frank’s next appearance this story line had dropped down the memory hole.
In a 1980 story, Spider-Man discovers Frank using rubber bullets against mobsters. It’s likely that this story was simply a case of Marvel getting cold feet about a “hero” who is a merciless killer. Frank was back to using real ammo soon enough. Even so, the Punisher has since used rubber bullets for plausible, in-story reasons on other occasions — specifically when the character is forced into team-ups with “nobody dies on my watch” superheroes such as Spider-Man or Daredevil.
Angel of death
In 1998, Frank had been dead for a while, but was resurrected. He was returned to life by an angel — the guardian angel of Frank’s family, who had failed at his job and was seeking redemption. Gadriel, as he was called, gave Frank heavenly weaponry that he could summon from inside his trenchcoat, plus glowing red eyes, resistance to all injury, an Aramaic symbol on his forehead and a new mission. This version lasted eight issues.
In 2009, Frank had been killed by Logan’s son Daken, who used his Wolverine-like claws to dismember and decapitate him. Luckily, though, his dead parts were reassembled and brought back to life by Morbius, the Living Vampire, who was hiding with the Legion of Monsters in the sewers under New York City. Frank was given hydraulic limbs and gigantic guns to defend the Monster Metropolis from monster-hunting samurai and Nazi zombies led by a mummified skeleton named Hellsgaard, who sought revenge on all monsters because his family was killed by werewolves. This updated version of Frank was dubbed “Franken-Castle,” which became the name of the book. Two months after the last issue, Frank was back to his old self in a new series.
Back to basics
Netflix chose the most enduring and popular version of Frank. That’s the one best exemplified by the 12 issues written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Steve Dillon in 2000-01, returning the vigilante to his pulpy, noir roots. It’s collected in a trade paperback titled “Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank.”