Frank Castle, aka the Punisher, can be a difficult character for people to identify with, especially when compared to Marvel’s other heroes. A controversial character, Frank’s often viewed as a violent, gun-toting vigilante. But he’s so much more than that. The now-canceled Netflix series helped to flesh out the character, but it never got the chance to fully dive into what makes Frank Castle tick. That’s where comic writers like Garth Ennis and Jason Aaron come in. These writers, along with a team of talented artists, successfully bring readers inside the complex mind of The Punisher. Here are five of their stories that prove Frank Castle is more than he seems.
The Punisher: Born mini-series by Garth Ennis and artist Darick Robertson shows the seeds of the Punisher were there long before that day in the park when Frank’s family was tragically murdered. Set during Frank’s last tour of duty in Vietnam, the mini-series sees him struggle to keep himself from descending into the chaos of war. But the enemy’s constant attacks on Frank’s outpost leave him undermanned and low on supplies. These harsh conditions wear him down, earning us a front row seat to Frank’s transformation into the Punisher.
A surprise attack from the enemy leaves Frank as the sole survivor. He has no choice but to finally embrace his Punisher side to survive the onslaught. We witness this pivotal change in Frank as the line between him and the Punisher blurs. In his new state, Frank realizes that the only thing that makes sense to him is the chaos of battle. But wars don’t last forever, and with this one coming to an end, Frank’s now terrified of having to return to a peaceful life.
Punisher Max — Frank Story Arc
Building off the events of Born, the Frank story arc picks up with Frank returning home from Vietnam. Jason Aaron and legendary artist Steve Dillon use this arc to explore Frank’s time at home before that tragic day at the park. We see how hard it is for Frank to fit back into the world he left behind — he even struggles with his fatherly and husbandly duties.
This is a man who needs a fight, but not because he’s some bloodthirsty killer. It’s simply what he’s good at. But Frank struggles to accept the fact that he feels more like himself when the bullets are flying and bombs are exploding. When in combat, Frank is in his element, much like a swimmer in water or a pilot in a plane. A war continues to rage on inside of Frank, even though he’s left the battlefield behind. Whether he likes it or not, he’s searching for his next fight.
This mini-series from writer Garth Ennis and artist Goran Parlov takes a look at Frank’s first of his three tours in Vietnam. In this story, we see a younger, fresher, softer Frank Castle. Put in charge of a platoon despite his lack of actual combat experience, Frank uses his natural war instincts to earn the trust and loyalty of his men. He puts their safety and survival above all else, even above orders from his superiors.
The story gives us small glimpses of the man Frank will become. But it’s the mini-series’ focus on the little moments shared between Frank and his platoon that adds more depth to his character. We see him trade stories about home with his fellow soldiers and even wave goodbye to a wounded soldier on their way home. These moments humanize Frank and prove that he does care about people, something that doesn’t stop when he becomes the Punisher.
This one-shot story by Garth Ennis and artist John Severin gives us a rare glimpse into Frank Castle’s childhood. This story revolves around Frank reading the poem “The Tyger” by William Blake. Garth Ennis uses the poem as a way to dig deep into who Frank is and what he will become. The poem, which is about dark entities on Earth that must do bad things for the greater good, unsurprisingly resonates with Frank.
The poem captures what Frank Castle is at his core — a Tiger, not the monster many see him as. He doesn’t shy away from the darkness. Instead, he stares at it, fights it, so everyone else can stay safe in the light. As brutal as Frank can be, he does what he does for the greater good. He wants to protect people, and he is willing to sacrifice himself to do just that.
This second one-shot by Garth Ennis and artist Lewis Larosa highlights two critical details about Frank Castle: his often overlooked intelligence and how much that day in the park changed him forever. In this story, Frank executes a plan to get himself locked up in a maximum security prison. He then starts a riot so he can finally come face to face with the men who murdered his family. His plan works, and once he’s alone in a cell with the men, things get grisly, and emotional.
As Frank doles out punishment, he recounts the day he lost his family without missing a single detail — and it’s as heartbreaking as the graveyard scene from the second season of Daredevil. Frank Castle loves his family, he’s always loved them. His family was the only thing that kept him whole, and when they died, it broke him and fully transformed him into the Punisher.