The Punisher reinvented? Why Marvel Made Frank Castle The Villain
Warning: This article contains Full spoilers for The Punisher #1which is available now in comic stores and digital storefronts.
Frank Castle has been a problematic character for Marvel Comics for a very long time. This should come as no surprise to anyone, given that its raison d’etre is the bloodthirsty execution of the criminal underworld. The Punisher is a figure with an increasingly complicated legacy, as his instantly identifiable skull symbol in recent years has been adopted by some misguided law enforcement and also appropriated by white nationalist groups. That’s almost certainly why he’s been sidelined by Marvel for the past two years, though the publisher hasn’t confirmed any moratoriums on the character.
IGN recently had the chance to speak with writer Jason Aaron about the first issue of its new Punisher series, which features art by Jesús Saiz and Paul Azaceta and color by Dave Stewart. The series establishes a new status quo where Frank Castle is now an enforcer of The Hand. And as the first issue makes clear, the only thing more shocking than Frank’s new job is why he accepted it in the first place. Read on to learn more about this massive shake-up for an iconic Marvel franchise.
The Punisher’s Place in the Modern Marvel Universe
The question of whether there’s still a place for Frank Castle in the modern Marvel Universe has been asked more than once. It’s a question Aaron is aware of, but one he hasn’t specifically sought to answer in this prestige 12-issue series.
“I think the simple answer is that every story should be told for the sake of the story,” Aaron told IGN during a Zoom interview. “It’s not for me to flip a switch and make him a completely different character. My job is to tell an interesting story of Frank Castle, not just to make a change in reaction to other [things]. I have a story I want to tell that I think is an interesting story. And that’s what we do.”
Aaron continues, “Having said that, it’s not like I’m telling this story in a vacuum and I’m oblivious to…all the real-world questions about this character. Those questions have been around for a while of…what this character means. like all Marvel characters, you re-evaluate what they mean over time.”
Aaron says he decided to tell a story about choices, ones that help explain how Frank Castle became the Punisher in the first place.
“We’ve seen stories dealing with his past…but these are brand new things we’re exploring. And I wanted it to speak a lot about Frank Castle in general, throughout his life. Like, who is this guy? How did it get to this point?
Frank Castle’s Shocking Family Reunion
The first issue includes the startling revelation that Castle is now the warlord of the Hand, the ancient ninja clan best known for being a major thorn in the side of Daredevil. The reason why Castle, a notorious loner, picked up the sword to serve the Beast, the leader of the Hand, is revealed at the end of the first issue.
Frank’s wife was brought back from the dead by the demon figure.
We’ve already seen in early promotional images that Castle sports a different symbol in the series. Whether this is a temporary change or something more permanent is unclear. Aaron, understandably, wasn’t spilling the beans on what was about to unfold in his story. But he explained how his story will re-examine who the Punisher is by returning and expanding on his origin.
The beginning of Frank Castle is one of the most well-known origin stories in Marvel canon. A war veteran enjoys a picnic with his family in Central Park, only to see his wife and children murdered by mobsters for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In Aaron’s eyes, this incident, however tragic, was not the only factor that led to him becoming the Punisher. The seeds of bloody vengeance were planted in Frank Castle long before.
“A big part of this story is finding out who this guy is? Who was he when he walked into Central Park that day? He didn’t become the Punisher overnight. It didn’t happen just then. It was an evolution,” says Aaron. “And we follow this evolution throughout his life. And again, this all leads to the next evolutionary step he’s taken now, as we see him embrace this new role within the Hand and what it can mean for him to use the Hand. as another weapon in his arsenal to wage his war. and what that means for the Hand and how they see Frank as sort of the next step in their evolution.
Aaron is no stranger to the character. He scripted a popular PunisherMax series, which resulted in the death of this version of the character. It also gave Castle a starring role in his 2019 War of the Realms crossover. helped fuel his enthusiasm for this new series.
“When I did [PunisherMax], it was really his business. Its own separate universe,” Aaron says. “I brought Kingpin and Bullseye and Elektra and a few recognizable Marvel characters into this run, but it was a different world.”
Aaron was careful not to reveal too much about the direction of the story, but said that when the Marvel Universe’s most notorious vigilante joins the hand, it stands to reason others would sit up and join in. were taking notes.
“I mean, Frank Castle wakes up one day and decides to join the Hand and start fighting with the Hand or using them as weapons in his war. I don’t think it’s going to escape notice within the confines of the Marvel world,” he observes. “One of the biggest motivators for me to do a dark Punisher story and to immerse Frank in the Marvel universe and all of its trappings and toys. So yeah, there will definitely be repercussions for what Frank does.
Punisher #1 preview art
To keep to the schedule, it was decided to use two artists on the book. Saiz would deal with the events happening in the present, while Azaceta would draw the flashbacks. Aaron says some issues will focus more on Castle’s early days as the Punisher. This allowed Azaceta to touch on his New York roots to recreate the Big Apple closer to the one the character first appeared in in the mid-1970s.
“We have flashbacks to Frank’s first murder. Paul basically does like a ’70s New York crime movie, Aaron says. “I love the juxtaposition in flashbacks. Couldn’t have been luckier with the drawing of Jesus and Paul [this book].”
The Punisher’s Complicated Legacy
In the press release announcing this series, Marvel editor CB Cebulski reportedly said that Aaron pitched this story at a Marvel creative retreat “several years ago.” This means that the idea came to the writer long before the events of January 6, 2021. On that day, thousands of rioters stormed the US Capitol in Washington, D.C. Several members of this crowd were seen bearing the iconic Punisher skull logo. This underscored an issue Marvel has faced for years, the symbol’s appropriation by alt-right groups. Longtime Punisher scribe Garth Ennis condemned these groups, as did character co-creator Gerry Conway.
Ever since that day, there has been speculation that Marvel – possibly by order of its parent companies at Disney – had shelved the character while trying to find a solution to the “Punisher problem”. Aaron is certainly aware of the challenges inherent in writing a character whose very raison d’être stands in stark contrast to the heroics of Spider-Man and Captain America.
“If I had to make a list of Marvel characters I’d want to have a beer with, Frank wouldn’t be anywhere there,” he says. “I’ve always been really fascinated by him but I’m also terrified of him. He’s not a healthy man, not in a good place, and he walks a terribly awful road sometimes.
At the same time, Aaron argues that circumstances can dictate how people view the character.
“There are people Frank has helped who feel like no one else could have possibly helped them. No one else could have saved them,” Aaron notes. “Does that mean that Frank is a hero? Again, in certain days, in certain situations, maybe so.
Aaron says he wasn’t given the mandate to change the character or create a storyline where he removes his distinctive logo. When asked if he thought the skull logo was an important aspect of the character, Aaron’s response was quick and decisive.
“No, not in my head. Frank is more than this symbol,” he says. “He is more than the weapon he holds in his hand. This story is about who he is in a much larger sense and how he fights his war. What kind of history and mythology is behind this. I think you see where it’s coming from, you’re starting to see where it’s coming from, in this first issue.
The Punisher: Every Movie and TV Appearance
Part of the problem with The Punisher is that it was created at an unstable time in American history. After the Vietnam War and New York becoming the epitome of urban crime and decadence, the creation of Conway, Ross Andru and John Romita Sr. was designed to reflect the anger felt by a significant number of Americans. Its heyday in the ’80s and early ’90s only complicated matters, as those hyper-violent Punisher stories stood in stark contrast to the spandex punches of other Marvel heroes.
“He’s a character that’s very much of his time. He was part of that kind of post-Vietnam War era, veteran out of whack and sort of fed like the vigilantism of the ’80s,” says Aaron. “He’s not just those things anymore. So the question is, who is this character? What does he mean? Again, my job was to tell a story. Can he answer some of those questions or answer some of those questions in the process? I think that’s up to people, but, again, I looked at it as someone who was fascinated by that character and wanted to do another story with this character.
The Punisher #1 is now available.
In other Punisher news, the Netflix series recently migrated to Disney+ along with other Marvel series like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Agents of SHIELD. Does this mean Frank Castle will start appearing in the MCU proper? Only time will tell.