Who is The Punisher and what are his origins?

Jon Bernthal as The Punisher in the new series on Netflix

Today marks the premiere of The Punisher on Netflix, but who is the character and how far back can his history be traced in the comic books?

Audiences got their first look at Frank Castle aka The Punisher in the second season of Daredevil. In that series, they touched on the character’s origin story, which is going to be retold in full in the new Netflix series.

In the world of comics, The Punisher made his first appearances in Amazing Spider-Man #129 dated February of 1974, then appeared on his own in Marvel Preview #2 (1975) and would go on to appear in Marvel’s Super Action #1 (1976).

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The Punisher’s first appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man issue 129, February 1974

The Punisher’s origin story is a tragic one regardless of what version you read or learn about. The most commonly used sees Castle, his wife Maria and their kids witness a Mafia execution in which an informant is hung from a tree.

Not wanting any witnesses, the Costa family also execute Frank Castle and his family on the spot, but Frank survives and is able to identify all the shooters. With the police unable to help, Castle becomes The Punisher and goes after the Costa family.

He decides that the only punishment for criminals should be absolute physical destruction. From that point forward Frank Castle emblazons his body armor with a symbol of a death head and exacts his revenge by taking on the name of The Punisher.

The Punisher was created by Gerry Conway and the legendary comics artist John Romita. The character was somewhat of a departure from Marvel’s other titles in that it took place in a much more urban setting and the character was perhaps the most brutal of their line-up.

The Punisher would use any means necessary to bring down his target. It would not be beyond him to employ methods such as kidnapping, extortion, threats of violence and torture — and ultimately murder.

This brutality made The Punisher a standout character in 1974 when he first appeared in comic books. By the 1980s he was part of a wave of psychologically disturbed anti-heroes. At the height of his popularity, he had four monthly books, which included The Punisher, The Punisher War Journal, The Punisher War Zone, and The Punisher Armory.

Prior to his introduction to television via Netflix, there were several attempts at creating a Punisher movie franchise.

The first was The Punisher from 1989, which saw Dolph Lungren take on the role of Frank Castle. This first attempt also starred Lou Gossett Jr as the Police Detective that was trying to capture The Punisher. It wasn’t a huge success but did modestly well in the home video market.

Dolph Lundgren in the very first movie adaptation of The Punisher (1989)

The second attempt at a Punisher movie didn’t come until 2004 when Thomas Jane took on the role of Punisher. In that version of the story, the action was moved from New York City to Miami, which was a major bone of contention to many fans.

In spite of the change in location, many felt that Thomas Jane’s portrayal of the character was pretty good. So much so that a short web-based movie was made, which starred Jane in a new adventure. It was never convincing enough to lead to another movie with Jane, but the fan reaction was widely positive.

The final attempt at a movie incarnation was in 2008 when British actor Ray Stevenson took on the role in Punisher: War Zone. This attempt proved to be an absolute disaster and was even more 1980s in its tone than the 1989 film.

The Punisher has found more success on television than in film and this is despite his violent nature. Prior to his appearance in Netflix’s Daredevil, Punisher has enjoyed appearances in Spider-Man The Animated Series and Superhero Show.

It wasn’t until Bernthal took on the role that all the pieces seemed to click into place. Bernthal was so good during his guest appearance as Punisher on Daredevil that the fans campaigned hard to get a Punisher series up and running which helped lead to Netflix agreeing to do it.

In recent months, The Punisher has also made a guest appearance in the relaunched Defenders comic book series.

We think one of the main reasons The Punisher has never worked as well as a stand-alone in movies is due to the fact that he has always been more successful as a back-up character. We hope that the new television incarnation changes that.

The Punisher Season 1 is streaming now on Netflix.

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