The most popular anti-hero in comics, The Punisher carries the kind of appeal that has buoyed the career of Quentin Tarentino or drawn audiences to any ultra-violent movie. A gun-toting one-man army waging a never-ending war against crime, Frank Castle is not after revenge like certain other heroes, in his own credo, ‘this is punishment.’
Created as a Spider-Man villain by Gerry Conway and artists John Romita, Sr. and Ross Andru in issue 129 of The Amazing Spider-Man 1974. An angst-ridden Vietnam veteran hunting down the mobsters responsible for the death of his family, The Punisher in time joined Spider-Man as a kind of cohort, using rubber bullets and kicking villains in the face rather than blowing them up or knifing them in the throat as later became his want.
It was not until the character warranted his own mini-series by Steven Grant and Mike Zeck that The Punisher gained his own dedicated following. The series was so popular that it was extended an extra issue (mysteriously drawn and written by an entirely different team). Mike Zeck was so strongly associated with the series that it has become the defining mark in his career. A hyper-violent story involving Frank Castle‘s capture, incarceration, escape from prison and confrontation with his nemesis Jigsaw, the mini-series lead almost immediately to the ongoing series.
The success of The Punisher was an indicator of the times. With TV programs like the A-Team whetting the appetite of vigilante justice-crazed suburban youths in America and the films of Steven Seagal and Arnold Schwarzenegger selling out in the cinema, the commercial need for a more violent comic book hero was great. All in all, The Punisher series had a whopping 104 issue run.
This of course does not include the numerous spin-off series, graphic novels and guest appearances in other titles. Seizing a good thing, Marvel saturated their titles with The Punisher, teaming him up with Wolverine, Ghost Rider or both at the same time. The strangest tea-up to date still has to be The Punisher and Archie.
I’m not sure what that demographic looks like.
It came as quite a surprise when the character was so unpopular that all of his series were canceled and he disappeared entirely from comics. After numerous attempts at a revival, the Vertigo team of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon (of Preacher fame) arrived with their dark comedy, ‘Welcome Back, Frank.’ The Punisher was once again a major pull for Marvel Comics and back in vogue with both his standby fans and a brand new audience.
To counter the humor in the new Punisher series, a second series under the Marvel imprint MAX was launched. In the second series, the violence was portrayed as much more realistic and even Frank Castle himself bore little resemblance to the ‘pretty boy’ he had become in the Marvel Universe. This version of The Punisher looked battle-worn and aged. For the first time since his initial appearance, the reader could believe this man had fought in Vietnam.
A failed motion picture of 1989 starred Dolph Lundgren (who?) as a gun happy ex-cop assisted by Louis Gossett Jr… and is best forgotten by all that ever saw it.
A second attempt was made to capture The Punisher on film during the beginning of the comic book movie craze of 2004 starring newcomer Thomas Jane. A more successful film, the second Punisher movie adapted the character’s origin and the ‘Welcome Back Frank’ story of Ennis and Dillon. While not a major commercial success, it has garnered enough interest to earn a sequel.
All of this brings us to a Marvel Two-In-One movie news piece today. One is that the Punisher sequel is a go (apparently the DVD sales warranted another film), the second is that the role of Frank Castle has been recast with Ray Stevenson from the HBO series Rome.
Thomas Jane removed himself from the project and was quoted as saying “I’m writing to tell you that I regretfully and painfully had to pull out of Punisher 2. I cant tell you how completely broken up I am about it. What I won’t do is spend months of my life sweating over a movie that I just don’t believe in. Ive always loved the Marvel guys, and wish them well. Meanwhile, Ill continue to search for a film that one day might stand with all those films that the fans have asked me to watch.”
While what many fans would regard as a ‘good Punisher movie’ has still not appeared, the process is getting more refined. In fact, the DVD Special Edition features a comic book-influenced opening featuring an excerpt from Frank Castle‘s tour of duty (the filmmakers swapped Desert Storm for Vietnam to keep the ‘current day’ feel of the film).
It’s a shame that comic book fanatic Thomas Jane is not attached to the second film. His enthusiasm for the series and comics in general greatly assisted the franchise’ success and connected to the fan community.
Punisher 2 is due out in 2008.
Essential Punisher, Vol. 1 (Marvel Essentials)
Essential Punisher, Vol. 2 (Marvel Essentials)
Punisher MAX Vol. 1: In the Beginning
The Punisher Vol. 1: Welcome Back, Frank
The Punisher (Extended Cut)
Punisher Video Game-for PS2
Punisher Video Game-for XBox