Today, Netflix begins season 2 of Daredevil and one of his crucial adversaries is The Punisher. This will mark the fourth live-action version of the Punisher following three separate attempts at a film version: 1989’s Dolph Lundgren vehicle, 2004’s version starring Thomas Jane, and the 2008 movie Punisher War Zone starring Ray Stevenson. Your mileage may vary on how much you’ve enjoyed them but none of them have been huge hits despite the comic character experiencing a long history of popularity. Why might this fourth time be the charm? Because despite Punisher’s more grounded nature than other Marvel characters, he has a history of being a great foil for other superheroes. In fact, he started as a Spider-Man opponent and many of his best stories find him butting heads not with criminals, but with Marvel superheroes. Let’s take a chronological look at his stories opposing those characters. It’s not 100% complete, but it includes the majority of his key appearances.
The Amazing Spider-Man #129 (February 1974)
The Punisher originally debuted over 40 years ago as an adversary for Spider-Man. He featured his signature black clothes and white skull across the chest and used real-world weapons. He was said to be a former Marine and despite opposing Spider-Man, he showed deep regret when he ultimately realized that Spider-Man was not a criminal. Punisher had been tricked by the Jackal into thinking Spidey was a bad guy. So Punisher rode that line between hero and villain. He was willing to kill, but not willing to kill an innocent.
The Amazing Spider-Man #135, Giant-Size Spider-Man #4, The Amazing Spider-Man #161–162, 174–175, The Amazing Spider-Man #201–202, Annual #15 (August 1974; April 1975; October–November 1976; November–December 1977; February–March 1980; 1981)
Punisher continued to be a foil for Spider-Man intermittently over the next decade. His willingness to kill put him at odds with Spider-Man’s refusal to do so. While they went up against the same enemies and would occasionally form a fragile truce, they never saw eye to eye. Despite Punisher having no superhuman abilities, his athletic skills and proficiency in close-quarters combat along with his tactical plans are often enough to knock out Spider-Man or battle him to a standstill. In issues 161 and 162, they form a tenuous alliance along with Nightcrawler from the X-Men to track down a sniper. This ends up being Jigsaw, one of the very few recurring Punisher enemies. Jigsaw is a crime boss whose face Punisher mutilated but has no superhuman abilities either.
Captain America #241 (January 1980)
Around this same period that he was a recurring character in Spider-Man, Punisher went up against Captain America. In Captain America #241, Captain America encounters the Punisher while fighting organized crime in Brooklyn. It contrasts the very different paths these two servicemembers took. Punisher escapes at the end, because Cap would have arrested Punisher along with the other criminals. This was the first time he was drawn by Frank Miller, who would go on to use Punisher later.
Daredevil #181–184 (April–July 1982)
In 1982, Punisher’s profile was raised when he was integrated into a Daredevil arc by Frank Miller involving Kingpin and his dueling mercenaries Bullseye and Elektra. Into Daredevil’s already chaotic life, the Punisher shows up killing criminals. Moving forward, Punisher became more and more of a dark reflection of Daredevil than Spider-Man. Punisher is angry that Daredevil puts criminals behind bars because he believes they continue to get loose and go back to their old ways. He believes in a more permanent solution. In fact, Frank Castle begins the story locked up in Rykers Prison, killing criminals inside. The two characters first meet in issue #183. We start to realize that Punisher has no one to live for and nothing to live for other than his mission. Daredevil and Punisher team up to take down a criminal they are both pursuing but Daredevil actually shoots Punisher and has him arrested at the end of the story.
Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #78–79, 81–82 (May–June 1983; August–September 1983)
In these issues, Punisher seems to be losing his mind. He shoots at such petty criminals as jaywalkers, for instance. He seems deranged. His goal is to kill the Kingpin. When Spider-Man can’t convince Cloak and Dagger to help him stop the Punisher, Spider-Man actually races to Kingpin’s home to defend him against the Punisher. Ultimately, the Kingpin actually beat Punisher unconscious and escaped before Spider-Man could arrive. This is about as far towards outright villainy as Punisher had gone at this point. Following nearly a decade of supporting appearances, Punisher then appeared in a mini-series that did not involve any superhumans. It was purely Punisher killing criminals and a detailed story of his origin – a former Marine who did three tours in Vietnam, Frank Castle married and had two children. His entire family was killed in the crossfire of a mob fight at the park and he opted to spend his entire life eliminating such criminals.
The Amazing Spider-Man #284–285 (January–February 1987)
Following his miniseries, Punisher reappeared in Spider-Man, killing off and attempting to kill various crime lords who were at the time fighting a gang war. When Spider-Man tries to stop him, Punisher gasses Spider-Man and escapes. There isn’t too much nuance to this appearance and it seemed to almost be a test as to whether fans prefer the stories of Punisher as an anti-hero protagonist fighting street crime or as a foil for street level superheroes who tests their moral convictions. Following this story, Punisher began his own ongoing series which primarily focused on him going after organized crime and other street level crime.
Daredevil #257 (August 1988)
Daredevil is tracking down Alfred Coppersmith, a man who is poisoning aspirin pill bottles, and who Punisher originally went after in his own title, issue#10. Daredevil ultimately defends him from Punisher trying to murder him. It really sets up that Daredevil respects Frank Castle’s abilities but is disheartened that he is so extreme.
Strange Tales #12–14 (March–May 1988)
In a pretty bizarre story for Punisher, he decides to eliminate superheroes Cloak and Dagger. Kingpin has convinced him they push drugs (they actually are dedicated to eliminating drugs). And when he goes after them, the Power Pack of all characters try to intervene and stop him. The Power Pack is a quartet of pre-teen brother and sister heroes. Punisher works well with Spider-Man and Daredevil but does not contrast well with superhero kids. They ultimately convince Punisher that Cloak and Dagger aren’t villains.
The Spectacular Spider-Man #140–141 (July–August 1988)
Obviously the Punisher was becoming hugely popular at this point because this is his third crossover this year on top of having his own title. In these issues, he simply targets Spider-Man villain Tombstone, a crime boss, for assassination. However, Tombstone turns the tables on him by having fellow villain Arranger ambush Punisher with a team of his own. It’s not much of a team-up so much as Punisher crossing through.
Power Pack #46 (May 1989)
Honestly, Punisher mostly appears here because this title was not selling well. There’s no good reason for Punisher and these kid superheroes to cross paths. When the writer of the Power Pack kids’ favorite children’s books is accused of embezzling money, Katie Power… calls the Punisher for help tracking down the real embezzler. Apparently he gave them his card when they stopped him from killing Cloak and Dagger. So he helps them figure out who really stole the money and the guy gets a spanking. This does not mesh very well with Punisher’s usual portrayal.
Punisher War Journal #6–7 (June–July 1989)
Frank Castle is convinced by his partner, Microchip, to take a small break and be a safari guide in the Congo. Meanwhile, Wolverine is tracking down some poachers in the area and mistakes Punisher for the poacher. Initially, Wolverine easily beats Punisher and leaves him in the river for crocodiles to finish off. But Punisher kills the croc and comes back to fight Wolverine some more. They ultimately realize neither is the poacher and track down the real poachers together. Oh, and the poachers are actually killing dinosaurs because this is the Marvel universe. What’s interesting about this meeting is Punisher finally goes up against a hero that is also willing to kill and they get along a lot better than any of the previous heroes he’s met. Well, except for the Power Pack but that one’s hard to accept.
Punisher Annual #2 (September 1989)
In this issue, Moon Knight and Punisher are individually tracking criminals that lead them to the same place. A fake drug rehab business that’s actually turning people into snake warriors. Even though Moon Knight was relatively new, Punisher has heard of him and they shake hands and team up immediately. Both are on the same page. There isn’t much conflict in their goals or their means. The organization ends up being run by Madame Viper who poisons Punisher. But Moon Knight hypnotizes Punisher and gives him an antidote. Viper escapes but the two destroy the snakeman poison. Friends!
Punisher War Journal #9 (October 1989)
In this issue, Punisher is tracking down some drug lords and crosses paths with Black Widow, who apparently has been asked by the out-of-town Daredevil to patrol the area. They both encounter an Asian family targeted by a criminal organization called Sunrise. Later, Punisher realizes the family is a ninja clan called the Shadowmasters and they’re good guys. But in this story he and Black Widow defeat the Sunrise guys, who even have Iron Man-esque armor. They don’t interact a lot. At the end, Black Widow just lets him go. I guess it makes a type of sense. She used to be a KGB assassin originally. But on the other hand, she’s an Avenger and an ally of Daredevil. It just seems easy that she just lets Punisher go. It’s more interesting when Punisher’s methods highlight the limits other heroes impose on themselves, but they tend not to investigate that as often in Punisher’s own books.
Damage Control Vol. 2 #2 (December 1989)
Punisher is used as a comic foil in this story. Damage Control is a construction company that specializes in repairing damage from superhero battles. The company was partially owned by Kingpin as one of his legitimate businesses. That brings the Punisher in but the business is so chaotic that no one notices him initially. Later, his origin is played for a laugh when a scared employee relates how he has a similar story to his where he brought his dog to the park one day and his dog got sick but the vet gave him some drops that cleared it right up. Then he realizes it’s not too similar at all. It’s pretty funny, although it does not go too far into investigating some of Punisher’s foibles.
Marc Spector: Moon Knight #8–9 (December 1989–January 1990)
Moon Knight and Punisher cross paths while separately tracking down Flag Smasher and his terrorist team, ULTIMATUM. They team up and get along just like before, with one wrinkle. Punisher knocks out Flag Smasher’s #2, Anarchy. But Moon Knight won’t let him kill someone that’s defenseless. He’s okay with Punisher shooting the terrorist guys in a fight, but not killing someone that can’t fight back. Punisher agrees to let her be arrested. I guess he likes Moon Knight.
Punisher War Journal #14–15 (January–February 1990)
For the first time, Spider-Man crosses over into Punisher’s title. They are each tracking down a group of neo-Nazis. They agree to team up but Spider-Man insists that Punisher not kill while they work together. For some reason, Punisher reluctantly agrees to this. I suppose having his own title has started to soften his stance as the writers work to make him a bit more likable. The most interesting contrast is the very end where Peter Parker goes home to his wife, MJ, while Punisher retreats to the sewers where he lives a lonely life.
Amazing Spider-Man #330–331 (March–April 1990)
Wow, another two-part team up with Spider-Man, but this time in Spidey’s book. This time they are each tracking down cocaine shipments and while Punisher kills one criminal at the dock, they agree to team up and Punisher promises to use non-lethal weapons. That’s because apparently the cocaine is all being bought by the U.S. military. In a very strange story, some CIA guy says that he’s stocking up in case America needs to switch from a gold standard to a cocaine standard. This is not played as a joke. It’s pretty far-fetched borderline fear-mongering. Anyway, Spider-Man allows Punisher to blow up both the cargo ship that was delivering drugs an the warehouse where they were stored. I guess 14 years in, they’ve found a balance they can each live with?
Impossible Man Summer Vacation #1 (August 1990)
I mean, this is an intentionally silly comic about an alien who can shape shift into whatever he wants to be. He is best known for harassing the Fantastic Four but in this special issue, he runs around bugging a lot of Marvel characters. This includes making Punisher’s gun shoot a flag that says “Bang”. That almost gets him killed by a gang. Just a quick silly joke where Punisher is treated kind of like Yosemite Sam and Impossible Man is Bugs Bunny.
Punisher: No Escape (August 1990)
In this issue, Punisher is going against the massive Maggia crime family (a fictionalized mafia in the Marvel Universe). But the Maggia has hired Paladin, a super strong mercenary to protect them. And at the same time, independent of all this, USAgent (who was briefly a backup Captain America) has been tasked with arresting Punisher. Punisher first encounters Paladin and while they are each soldiers, Paladin’s super strength gives him the edge, initially. However, this highlights how Punisher thinks differently than most other characters. He’ll fight dirty. He punches Paladin in the balls and escapes, only to be knocked down shortly by USAgent. Punisher uses the fact that Agent is a bit mentally unstable to convince him to help take down the Maggia, arguing they’re a threat to his family. Agent’s family is dead but he can’t accept this and lives in denial. Together, they get past Paladin and kill off the Maggia head. Punisher fakes his death and USAgent falls for it. Punisher may be borderline crazy, but he is also pretty smart. He has a tactical mind. He’s able to plan on the fly and this story highlights that.
Web of Spider-Man Annual #6 (August 1990)
Punisher was everywhere this month. In a mercifully short backup story, Spider-Man’s Aunt May is at a hairdresser appointment when terrorists take everyone hostage. But May sees Punisher show up and Punisher gives her a small smile which makes her trust him. She fakes a heart attack, distracting the terrorists and then Punisher shoots them all. That’s the entire story. I don’t know what this is supposed to tell us. That Aunt May is willing to kill criminals to protect herself and others? I guess.
Ghost Rider Vol 3 #5–6 (September–October 1990)
Punisher is staking out a secret rally by Flag Smasher and ULTIMATUM when Ghost Rider sees him and attacks, thinking he is a criminal (logical enough since Punisher is armed to the teeth and ready to kill). Their fight puts them in the middle of the rally and they have to fight their way free, allowing Flag Smasher to escape. But they immediately decide to work together. Ghost Rider threatens a straggler and they figure out the next location of Flag Smasher. Together, they apprehend him and Ghost Rider delivers the penitance stare, which reduces Flag Smasher to a quivering mess. I’m not quite sure why Ghost Rider, who delivers vengeance, is okay with what the Punisher does, but he is. I think it sort of speaks to the late 80s/early 90s power fantasy of fighting back at all the crime that in real life appeared to be running rampant. Punisher was becoming a right-wing power trip to some degree at this point, and more heroes were leaning towards his end of the spectrum than before.
Marc Spector: Moon Knight #19–21 (October–December 1990)
Spider-Man and Punisher both cross over into Moon Knight’s book. He’s up against a terrorist organization called the Secret Empire. All three characters independently arrive at the same warehouse and grudgingly team up. Spider-Man warns against Punisher’s lethal ways and Moon Knight sort of finds a middle ground between them that he’s comfortable walking. The story isn’t great but there are a bunch of scenes where they all argue about where they stand. Those are the strongest parts, helping to understand each character’s motivations. Punisher essentially says he deals with loss by getting even. He’s 100% about revenge. That’s nearly all there is to him.
Fantastic Four #349 (February 1991)
This is just a super quick cameo by Punisher but it’s used to great effect to highlight how prevalent the constant crossovers with hot characters had become. The Fantastic Four is temporarily incapacitated and a reserve team comprised of Wolverine, Hulk, Spider-Man and Ghost Rider is recruited to be a new version of the team. At the very end of the story arc, Punisher flies overhead in a jet and realizes that there’s already a bunch of superheroes so he isn’t needed there. It’s a pretty good way to lampshade what they story just did.
New Warriors #7–9 (January–March 1991)
The New Warriors cross paths with the Punisher. He and Night Thrasher fight and Night Thrasher pretty much wins. But Thrasher thinks to himself that Punisher is “never wrong” and it leads to him investigating his sister. Later, Thrasher reveals he keeps a gun hidden in his armor. Finally, Punisher stops a fight between Night Thrasher and a new guy, Bengal. They all have a heart-to-heart about how they all lost family and it started them down this path. This is borderline idolization of Punisher. And saying he’s never wrong kind of justifies what he does. You’re telling me this guy has killed at least hundreds at this point and has never accidentally killed an innocent? With the amount of bullets he’s firing? That’s beyond far-fetched.
Daredevil #292–293 (May–June 1991)
Daredevil stops Punisher from killing Taskmaster and Tombstone. Daredevil argues that Punisher isn’t looking at the big picture and that he’s trying to track down who these guys are working with or for. At the end, Daredevil easily beats Punisher in a fight and demands he leave New York. Yeah right. It’s a fair point of comparison to make from Daredevil’s point of view, with him as the main character. Punisher is usually portrayed as too single-minded to look at a larger picture.
Namor #16, 18–19 (July 1991, September–October 1991)
This is a bizarre use of the Punisher. He actually doesn’t interact with Namor in his title at all. Instead, Namor hands over his company to a guy named Desmond Marrs to run. Desmond is a corrupt creep who uses company money to buy drugs and do other shady stuff. The Punisher tracks him down and kill shim. Namor never even gets involved in this subplot about his company. Punisher just pops up to murder a character. No depth at all.
Darkhawk #9 (November 1991)
It’s kind of a gratuitous team-up to help give the new title a bit of buzz. Darkhawk and Punisher come across some AIM scientists and while Darkhawk tells Punisher he doesn’t need to kill them, Punisher does anyway. Darkhawk doesn’t really even try to stop him or debate him. When Punisher walks away at the end, he tells Darkhawk to “stay pure.” So he’s used as an early contrast to let us know Darkhawk is a fairly traditional, no-kill superhero. But as so often happens throughout the 90s, heroes just let Punisher walk away at the end, even though they would more typically try to arrest anyone who kills people.
Amazing Spider-Man #353–358 (November 1991–January 1992)
This is an arc where Spider-Man teams up with Moon Knight, Nova and Night Thrasher to take on the Secret Empire and save Moon Knight’s former sidekick. Punisher is there to take them down, too and they all team up. Spider-Man seems to be the only one who has an issue with Punisher’s lethal ways and says that “one day” there will be a reckoning between them. At one point, Punisher does start to talk about his “origin” where his family was killed but no one else is too impressed because they’ve all lost people too and haven’t gone to the ends that Punisher has.
Deathlok #6–7 (December 1991–January 1992)
Obviously a lot of Punisher’s guest appearances were overlapping at this point. Storywise, this started to mean that his encounters were unlikely to effect much change on him because A) he was in someone else’s title and B) what serious debate or conflict could you have with Punisher if he needs to be available for another team-up that same month in a different book? That said, this is definitely one of the better uses of Punisher as a contrast. Deathlok is a cyborg. His human self is a pacifist but the computer system in his body is amoral. In tracking down some drug dealers to find his kidnapped son, Deathlok comes across Punisher. They form a tenuous alliance. Deathlok tells his computer to keep things non-lethal until they ultimately come up against villain Silvermane who has the son at gunpoint. Deathlok unlocks his lethal protocols but is fortunately able to employ a non-lethal solution. He tells Punisher that they should work to do the right thing, not the easy thing. Punisher argues there is nothing easy about what he does. While Deathlok doesn’t agree with that, he does admit that lethal measure were justified this time and lets Punisher go. So there’s a bit of a good debate going on there.
Ghost Rider/Wolverine/Punisher: Hearts of Darkness (December 1991)
Blackheart, the demon son of Mephisto, invites
the three most profitable characters Wolverine, Ghost Rider and Punisher to a small town. He argues that they represent a new breed of hero who live in a grey area and that he can use that to boost their power if they agree to help him kill Mephisto. When they reject his offer, he kidnaps a kid and they all beat him up. Wolverine wonders if they really do live in a grey area and Punisher says he sure doesn’t. Then Ghost Rider says it doesn’t matter where they are as long as innocents are protected. Basically, Punisher is used as a backup in an argument of “the ends justify the means.” It’s a fairly shallow story. But it does look great.
Punisher #60–62 (February–April 1992)
This is the single worst Punisher contrast with another hero. Why? Because it’s flat out offensive. Punisher recently had plastic surgery and… it turned him black. He looks like a black man now. He’s immediately harassed by some cops and who immediately comes to his rescue? Luke Cage, a black superhero. Punisher doesn’t reveal who he is but hires Cage (who is working as a hero for hire) to help take down some drug lords. Punisher is forced to employ non-lethal means to keep up the charade. Punisher’s skin color fades back to white throughout the story and after they beat the bad guys, it’s obvious who he is. And yet Punisher actually tells Cage that since Cage isn’t necessarily 100% on the side of the law, he’ll be keeping an eye on him. That’s just talking down to someone that is so much more moral than you. It feels racist. Punisher admits he owes Cage a favor. Using Punisher to highlight that black people have more trouble with police is just wrong.
Moon Knight #35–38 (February–May 1992)
Yet another team-up between Moon Knight and Punisher. This time, Moon Knight insists he use non-lethal means and Punisher obeys. That’s because they’re going after Moon Knight’s brother, who has been brainwashed by a cult to be a serial killer. Until, at the end of the story, Punisher flat out murders Moon Knight’s brother. There’s no real confrontation over it because Punisher leaves before Moon Knight can talk to him at all. Punisher is used here to fulfill a plot function.
Cage #3–4 (June–July 1992)
Punisher gets in Cage’s way when they’re both after Tombstone and Nitro. Punisher wants to kill them, Cage doesn’t. Nothing new to this one except Punisher is just an annoyance. He thinks Cage is working with Tombstone so he says he no longer owes him a favor. He kills a guy that has the power to jump back in time 3 minutes, even though that same guy saved Punisher from dying (Punisher didn’t know that). He just comes off as a jerk and a killer. I won’t say that it’s an unfair portrayal but it isn’t used to very good effect.
Punisher/Captain America: Blood & Glory #1–3 (October–December 1992)
It’s an interesting match-up that should get more mileage than it does. Punisher and Captain America both end up searching for a corrupt U.S. Attorney General who was trying to instigate a war with a fictional South American country. They contrast how Cap’s war was seen as noble while Punisher’s was not respected. The story also implies that Steve Rogers may have been taken advantage of, along with other idealistic youths, by the war propaganda of his time. The two characters debate their stances and approaches several times. But ultimately, Punisher settles for only shooting the Attorney in the kneecap and Cap allows Punisher to walk away. Actually, he salutes him. But Punisher hasn’t just made a few questionable decisions. He’s straight up been murdering criminals for a long time and has a massive body count. Cap shouldn’t really be any kind of okay with this. You have to sort of ignore some of the previous continuity for the story to work, in other words. It’s an interesting contrast that doesn’t quite dig deeply enough but it at least posits some interesting questions.
Daredevil #308, Punisher War Journal #46, Daredevil #309, Nomad #6, Punisher War Journal #47 (September–October 1992)
In a crossover story, a bunch of criminal organizations are meeting in Las Vegas to potentially work together. Daredevil and Punisher encounter one another while tracking the villains and very briefly fight. But then they agree to work together. Which doesn’t make much sense. They also team up with Nomad. Ultimately, all the villains get away. The story is very incoherent.
Punisher/Black Widow: Spinning Doomsday’s Web (December 1992)
Black Widow is chasing down a criminal that she was responsible for transferring but who was freed by his followers. Punisher is after him, too. They briefly butt heads when Punisher tries to snipe him but Widow protects the guy because she needs info. Eventually they team up and Widow kills the guy. Not a lot of nuance between what makes them different. The story is more focused on Black Widow and showing how both the KGB and S.H.I.E.L.D. kind of manipulate her.
Wolverine/Punisher: Damaging Evidence #1-3 (October–December 1993)
A 3-issue story where Kingpin has a cyborg mercenary designed to look like Punisher and both frame him and kill him. And Wolverine stumbles into the trouble. Eventually they both kill the cyborg Punisher. Wolverine, right at the end, says they both walk a similar line and he came to ask Punisher to take him out if he feels he’s ever gone too far and he’ll do the same for him. Considering how black and white Punisher sees things, I’m really not sure that is a good idea but it’s never followed up on.
Punisher Vol 5 #2 (August 2001)
Punisher is battling one of his enemies, the superstrong Russian on a NYC rooftop. Spider-Man interrupts but Punisher grabs Spider-Man and just uses him as a human shield, allowing the Russian to wail on Spidey. Punisher subdues the Russian with Spider-Man’s web shooters. He tells a nearly unconscious Spider-Man that they had a team-up and he was great, walking away. It’s played as black humor. It certainly shows that Punisher has little to no respect for superheroes.
Punisher Vol 5 #8 (March 2002)
Reed Richards agrees to send Punisher back in time to kill Al Capone. But it’s all a dream. So… it doesn’t really count, does it? Reed would never have anything to do with the Punisher.
Punisher Vol 5 #16–17 (November–December 2002)
Punisher and Wolverine cross paths while tracking down a serial killer. Wolverine believes Punisher could be the killer and they fight. Punisher is in danger of losing and is about to set Wolverine on fire when they are attacked by the actual killers. Punisher shoots Wolverine in the groin so that they go after him. Punisher regroups while they beat on Wolverine and kills the killers. Then he runs over Wolverine with a steamroller so that Wolverine can’t chase after him. It’s kind of mean-spirited and portrays Wolverine as a nearly incompetent lunatic. It’s to contrast Punisher as being tactical and efficient. But I’m not sure it makes either of them look that great in the long run. Of course, it’s to be played for laughs but it’s at the expense of Wolverine. Wolverine is a character that can be as deep or as shallow as the writer in charge of him decides to portray him. There’s certainly depth to exploit. But he’s also been used in numerous crossovers and team-ups. Something Punisher is equally guilty of.
Punisher Vol 5 #33–37 (December 2003–February 2004)
Wolverine, Daredevil and Spider-Man team up to finally take Punisher down. That makes sense! But when they go after him, Punisher repeatedly tricks them into squabbling or making tactical errors. He ultimately tricks them into meeting at a warehouse where it turns out he has Hulk waiting for them. He had kidnapped Bruce Banner and tortured him as a backup plan against heroes coming after him. And he fed Banner stew with plastic explosives. After Hulk brings a building down on the heroes, Punisher detonates the explosives, reverting Hulk to Banner. He warns the heroes never to try that again. For the third time in this title, Punisher makes other heroes look absolutely foolish. He’s used to ostensibly poke fun at the foibles of other heroes but it requires them to be written a bit out of character to continually make so many mistakes and be upstaged by a clever but not super-powered human. Wolverine has many years of experience and military training. Spider-Man is a brilliant scientist. Daredevil is a dedicated and hard working lawyer. These are not dumb people. Except for this story. Punisher has reached the apex of not just being cool for a crossover, but nearly unbeatable.
Civil War #5–6 (November–December 2006)
Punisher saves Spider-Man from being beaten on by supervillains employed by the government to take in superheroes who have not agreed to register with them. He takes Spider-Man to Captain America and his Secret Avengers. While the heroes do not want to allow Punisher to join, Captain America ultimately agrees to let him work with them on a special mission. Punisher sneaks into the Fantastic Four’s Baxter Building to steal information. Working with Cap, they encounter two supervillains who Punisher immediately shoots at. Cap attacks Punisher for this but stops when he sees that Punisher refuses to fight back. He kicks Punisher off the team. It’s a portrayal of Punisher we haven’t seen in years but is closer to his base characterization. Punisher won’t let innocents die, even Spider-Man who he frequently clashes with. He won’t fight Captain America because he’s about the only superhero he respects since they were both soldiers. But his willingness to kill makes him fundamentally incompatible with mainstream Avenger heroes. Even though in this story Cap and his team are on the run from the government, Punisher is used to show that they are still heroes. They won’t kill. There are moral boundaries for them, if not legal ones. A pretty good use of Punisher. Following this story, Punisher was integrated into the overall Marvel Universe more often. In his own title, he went on the run from a S.H.I.E.L.D. task force.
Moon Knight Vol 3 #26–30 (March–July 2009)
Moon Knight is living down in Mexico and ends up tracking down a crime ring. Punisher snipes one of the men he’s questioning. Moon Knight agrees to find a young girl, the daughter of a crime lord being kept by corrupt cops. Mostly the two characters try to stay out of each other’s way and they have conflicting missions. A decent idea. Ultimately they do work together and it goes pretty well. If anything Punisher is a bit more sarcastic and talkative than usual. Sort of a buddy cop team up by the end.
Punisher Vol 7 #11–21 (January 2010–November 2010)
After being killed by the supervillain Daken, Frank Castle is resurrected as a Frankenstein’s monster type of creature by Morbius (a living vampire) and the Legion of Monsters. They live underground and are being hunted by a Japanese society dedicated to killing all monsters, even though this group wants to live peacefully alone. They recruit Punisher for his tactical mind and skills and ultimately he defends them. He comes into conflict with Elsa Bloodstone, a hero who wants the Bloodstone gem that revived Frank. By the end, he’s back to normal. It is completely different from any other Punisher story but perhaps made him the most likable despite his outwardly monstrous appearance. Written by Rick Remender. One of the more fun takes on Punisher.
Avenging Spider-Man #6, Punisher Vol 8 #10, Daredevil Vol 3 #11, (June 2012)
Daredevil, Spider-Man, Punisher (and his partner, Rachel) and The Hand are all trying to control The Omega Drive which has data on all the major criminal organizations on it. The Punisher agrees to not kill and work with Daredevil and Spider-Man in exchange for not losing the Omega Drive. They come up with a plan to draw out criminals with it as bait. During their operation, Daredevil is able to convince Rachel, who has a similar story to Punisher, not to kill a criminal because it would make her just like them. Daredevil draws all the criminals together with plans to destroy the drive, thus ending the fighting among them. But Rachel shoots Daredevil and takes the drive. Ultimately, the heroes and Punisher admit that they can no longer convince the criminals to meet up again and Rachel escapes with the drive. Punisher is extreme, but his student/partner Rachel is even more extreme. And it makes her a bit sloppier and more dangerous.
Daredevil/Punisher: Seventh Circle Infinite Comic #1–present (May 2016–present)
Punisher is mostly back to his original version: an antagonist to a superhero. Daredevil is trying to protect a mobster’s life so that he can give testimony on the witness stand that puts away other criminals. Punisher just wants to kill the mobster. While Frank may have a tactical ability to plan on how to take out his target, his overall mission is a bit short-sighted. He has zero faith in the criminal justice system to put away convicted criminals, let alone potentially rehabilitate them. He just wants to end the life of the target in front of him and find the next.