Frank Castle. Vietnam veteran, ex-Special Forces. Waded through the horrors of every bloody, filthy sewer in Indochina and made it home. Wife, family (two kids – call them Sally and Bobby), house in the suburbs, peace-time back on the street. Went for a picnic in Central Park one day. Wife, family, Sally and Bobby were killed in the cross-fire of a bunch of mobsters having a gun-fight in Central Park. Frank was in a million fire-fights, knew how to survive. His wife, family, Sally and Bobby? They didn’t know and they got it right away. “Get low when the shootin’ starts”. They say that for a reason. That’s how you survive, when the shooting starts.
So there he is. He fought for nothing. The American Dream became his endless nightmare. All he wanted to do was go home to his wife, family, Sally and Bobby. He did and even that was taken away from him. At a picnic in Central Park.
He knew he had the means and the expertise to make somebody pay for this. He knew the cops and the bureaucracy wouldn’t do fuck all and that he’d have to get his hands dirty. Since he’d never in a million years be able to scrub all the blood off his hands, he decided instead to embrace it. I am good at killing people. And there are people who need to be killed. Ipso Fucking Facto, man. I don’t NEED to kill people but I don’t mind doing it, when those people are Evil. They hurt people? I’ll hurt them worse. There’s an endless supply of them, just like back in the jungle. They’re the Enemy. They need to be executed. But that name’s already taken. By a guy named Mack Bolan. So fine, Frank Castle says. I’ll punish them.
I’m the Punisher.
The Punisher started out as a Spider-Man “villain”. In the 70s, he later got some love as a back-up feature in Marvel’s black-and-white “adult” comic book magazines. In the 80s, he became a goddamn phenomenon and one that Marvel banked on. He’s had three movies (so far), only one of which made any money. He has been portrayed onscreen by Dolph Lundgren, Thomas Jane and Ray Stevenson.
Created by Gerry Conway and Jazzy Johnny Romita (Senior) and… I want to say Ross Andru? (A quick check of Wikipedia proves me to be entirely correct!) Stan Lee gave him his moniker. “He executes criminals.” ‘We already have a character called the Executioner. Plus, comics are for kids. Come up with another angle.’ “Well, he PUNISHES criminals.” ‘Fine. He’s the Punisher.’ Done and DUN! *wipes hands* That was Stan’s favourite part of the day.
Frank Miller used him in Daredevil, to great effect, as a contrast to Matt Murdock’s Catholic guilt – Frank knew that EVERYONE was guilty. It wasn’t until Steven Grant and Mike Zeck and Mike Baron and GARTH ENNIS got a hold of him that Frank became … interesting. And not just a one-note psychopath.
He’s an anti-hero. He kills people. That’s what he’s good at. Rarely does he take joy in it, although he’s been known to enjoy watching an evil person suffer. Is that wrong? Not really. Wouldn’t you enjoy watching an evil person suffer for the evil they’ve done? There ya go.
Garth Ennis wrote a scene once, in a Punisher comic book – and I’m paraphrasing, as it would take me a month to find the passage in question – shortly after his entire family was murdered in cold blood right in front of his eyes, Frank is visited by his neighbour, some jack-ass in suburbia, who tries to empathize with him. The guy confesses that he’s cheating on his wife, having an affair and that he feels terrible about it but what can you do? Frank gets all quiet.
And says “I lost my entire family. And you complain to me about how you’re throwing your whole family away? I have one word for you. ‘RUN’.” The guy sits there, dumb-founded and wrapped up in his own narcissistic self and says “…what?”
The next panel is the guy being launched through the bay window of Frank’s house, landing on the immaculate lawn in a bloody heap. I distinctly remember Frank following up and beating the shit out of the guy, bleeding on his immaculate suburban front lawn.
The very next day, Frank began his one-man War On Crime. He started off by spray-painting a skull onto a black t-shirt.
If I ever tell you to run? DO IT.
God only knows where the lawn has been.
*YES, there was a stupid story-line where Frank dies and angels resurrect him, so he can continue punishing the guilty. But we don’t talk about that. He also was Franken-Castle, for a while. (I never read those, although I heard they were fun. Apparently, he got better. HEY, KIDS! IT’S COMICS!)
Tl;Dr – If you like a good crime story, read Garth Ennis’ Punisher. You can’t go wrong with Garth Ennis.