The Many Deaths of Frank Castle

February 14th, 2012 by | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Last week, we lost one hell of an ongoing series with Punisher MAX #22 by Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon. A lot of the time, when a series is canceled, the writer will claim that it isn’t true and that they insisted it end at this point. Sometimes it smells like bullshit, but here it’s legit as Aaron takes the MAX incarnation of the character to the logical conclusion. Frank Castle of Earth-200111 (yes, I looked it up), is dead. After taking on MAX incarnations of some of his usual punching bags, Frank’s body has finally given out and he collapses after being the last man standing one last time.

But so what? So he’s dead. Big deal. Frank Castle dies all the time, doesn’t he? Sure. I’ve seen it so many times I decided to take a trip down memory lane. As far as I can tell, here is the master list of all the times Frank has kicked the bucket. Now, of course, I’m not counting any “Earth blows up” scenarios because that goes without saying. I don’t need to mention every single time the Phoenix devours the universe. It has to be specifically about Frank buying the farm. I’ll also pass on the really vague mentions, like how he died somewhere along the line prior to Punisher 2099.

Despite debuting in 1974, it would take 17 years for any version of Frank to die. Not only did he die in 1991, but he died a lot. In the second volume of Marvel’s What If, Frank died three issues in a row! Let’s begin with that.

Comic: What If #24 (What If Wolverine Was Lord of the Vampires?)
Year: 1991
Writer: Roy Thomas and R.J.M. Lofficier
Artist: Tom Morgan
Background: The world of this issue is based on the time the X-Men fought Dracula. Rather than be defeated, Dracula turns the team to his side. Wolverine, being so awesome, has enough willpower to challenge Dracula. He ends up killing the Count and takes over his throne. While these days, a supernatural outbreak needs to take over the entire world to show that shit’s gotten real, Wolverine is happy enough taking over Manhattan and using it as his vampire nest. With no real reason given, some heroes and villains are turned to slaves while others are ordered by Wolverine to be killed completely. I feel the need to mention that artist Tom Morgan decided to include Frog-Man of all people into that latter group. Anyway, the whole city is in chaos and in that chaos is Frank Castle with a headband and a whole lot of silver bullets.

In regular continuity, Dr. Strange would read a spell that would wipe out all vampires. Vampire Wolverine gets wind of this and has Vampire Juggernaut take down Strange. Strange possesses the bitching cape and the Eye of Agamotto, then joins it with the Punisher to make the ultimate vampire-killing machine. Because nobody cared about Blade back then.

Punisher killing superhero vampires is a thing to see. He melts Colossus with holy water and fries Juggernaut with the Eye of Agamotto. That leads him to a one-on-one fight with Wolverine.

Death: After losing what’s left of his bullets, he goes after him with a silver knife that’s been blessed by a priest. Frank manhandles Wolverine and has him on the ropes until Kitty Pryde appears and begs him to stop. Frank can’t stop the momentum of his swing and takes her head clean off. Even he’s taken aback by this.

On the floor, Frank dies in the Jesus Christ pose because… oh, who knows?

Aftermath: Wolverine’s shocked to his senses by Kitty’s death and with the urging of Dr. Strange, realizes what he’s become and proceeds to read off the spell that will erase all vampires. As I watch the likes of Spider-Man and Doc Samson turn to dust, I find myself wondering how Luke Cage became a vampire in the first place.


Comic: What If #25 (What If the Marvel Superheroes Lost Atlantis Attacks?)
Year: 1991
Writer: Jim Valentino
Artist: Rik Levins
Background: Marvel had that big Atlantis Attacks event back in the day and nobody really cared. The What If issue tries to push a doomsday scenario that’s pretty silly because rather than one thing going wrong, it’s a series of different things. Everybody has to screw up to get us to this point.

The whole thing has to do with the evil snake god Set coming to Earth and running roughshod over the planet. Part of the plot involves a drug being given to the public that turns them into lizard people. Originally, Frank and Moon Knight put an end to that plot, but not so much here.

That’s weird, but he’s still not dead.

Death: The heroes and villains who haven’t been killed by Set nor turned into lizard people after Set’s cult injected the drug into the ecosystem have joined together to stop Set once and for all. The first stage of this has them take on a bunch of near-mindless lizard versions of those who were once superheroes. Sabretooth gets shot up by Lizard Punisher, but plays possum as he gets closer.

Aftermath: Sabretooth is burned to a crisp by a mind-controlled Storm. All the good guys die except for Quasar, who is sealed away in another dimension where he wrestles Set for eternity. Then Set’s children proceed to overrun neighboring dimensions. You’d think the Exiles would do something about that by now.


Comic: What If #26 (What If the Punisher Had Killed Daredevil?)
Year: 1991
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Luke McDonnell
Background: A rooftop battle with Daredevil leads to Frank shooting him with a tranquilizer dart. Wouldn’t you know it, Daredevil’s way too close to the edge of the rooftop and falls to his death. The Kingpin hears of this and starts plotting.

Long story short, a lot of bad things happen to good people. Foggy Nelson, Ben Urich and Aunt May are all killed. There’s a big plot in there about how the Kingpin has orchestrated a decisive victory over both the gang war encapsulating New York City and the governmental structure as well. There’s a new mayor in his pocket and Frank knows this. Unfortunately, he loses his guns and a couple ribs when having to put down a psychotic and overly-drugged Peter Parker.

Death: When Frank goes after the Kingpin, there’s very little left of him to fight. Kingpin easily disarms and dispatches him while gloating about how he’s pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes. Everything has worked to his choosing.

Aftermath: With Frank, the Kingpin and the mayor taken out of the picture, the press looks at it as a crazed maniac taking out two innocents with his own misuse of a bomb. Still, Frank made his death count, as he took out the biggest game on the way out. The only one who knows what good he’s done is the Watcher and he’s not the one to tell anyone.


Comic: What If #29 (What If Captain America Had Formed the Avengers?)
Year: 1991
Writer: George Caragonne
Artist: Ron Wilson
Background: Hoooo boy. This one’s a doozy. It’s a continuation of the previous issue in the series, otherwise known as What If Captain America Had Led an Army of Super Soldiers in World War II. The creator of the serum wasn’t assassinated and so the Americans played God Mode in the war and dominated. On their return voyage, the ship blew up and the Red Skull – in a cloned body of Steve Rogers – pretended to be him. He became a life-long president and proceeded to become like a dictator to the country. He put together a SHIELD team led by Frank Castle set to exterminate all superhumans. Unlike his associates Clint Barton and Jasper Sitwell, Frank begins to wonder if he’s on the right side.

The team gets their asses handed to them by Namor – in full Alan Moore mode – and Frank comes back with a set of armor created by Tony Stark. They uncover the body of Captain America and this revelation makes Frank switch sides. Barton threatens Frank by saying what the government will do to his family for being a turncoat. Frank doesn’t take kindly to this and fries his partners.

Cap puts together one hell of an Avengers team. You have Cap, Frank Castle as Iron Man, unshaven Namor, Wolverine with the power to turn into Wendigo yet calling himself the Hulk, Sam Wilson as Giant Man and helmetless Thor. Frank has a major problem with Giant Man being on the team because working for Red Skull all these years has made him a total racist.

Death: The final battle takes place on the SHIELD Helicarrier, where all the Super Soldier Serum is produced. Cap proceeds to kill Red Skull, but he and the others have to face a couple hundred serum’d goons.



Comic: What If #37 (What If Wolverine Had Been Lord of the Vampires During Inferno?)
Year: 1992
Writer: Roy Thomas and R.J.M. Lofficier
Artist: Mark Pacella
Background: Yes, it’s a What If of a What If. This is during Timequake, an unfortunate 5-part story arc done during this series that mostly involved revisiting old storylines. The idea here is that the “Lord of the Vampires, Bub” thing still happens, only…

Death: …Wolverine gets to Castle before Dr. Strange can.

Aftermath: Wolverine and his crew fight the villains from Inferno, Dormammu shows up and we get Vampire Phoenix taking down Dormammu for good. In the end, Mr. Sinister screws everyone over and comes out the winner.


Comic: What If #57 (What If the Punisher Became an Agent of SHIELD?)
Year: 1994
Writer: Chuck Dixon
Artist: Mike Harris
Background: Castle is cornered by the authorities and is arrested. In his cell, Nick Fury shows up to give him an offer to join SHIELD. He’ll get his own squadron and other perks, but if he refuses, he’ll spend the rest of his life suffering in prison. Frank joins reluctantly, but it turns out better than he could have ever imagined. For the first time in years, Frank Castle feels hope. He’s hitting so high up the ladder compared to his usual style that he feels that he really is making a difference. He’s destroying the drugs and the drug lords personally.

The good times don’t last because Frank isn’t the best fit for SHIELD after all. He doesn’t care for diplomacy and bureaucracy and it gets him in hot water with Fury several times over. He’s put on an assignment with Dugan’s squad and everyone but Frank is wiped out by Hydra. Frank decides to use this as a way to escape SHIELD and buy him some time to make the biggest impact he ever could. He has Microchip hack into SHIELD’s database (which Micro is freaked out over because SHIELD will be able to track him, and they do) and get him some information on Hydra’s main headquarters.

Death: Frank knows that Hydra’s base is fortified against an army attack, but not against one man with a death wish. He glides in and goes on one hell of a killing spree while causing the whole base to self-destruct. As he spends his final moments headshotting Hydra soldiers and Baron Von Strucker while getting shot up like Tony Montana himself, he narrates about how this is his ultimate happy ending. His death, as well as his family’s deaths, are going to mean something.

“I have lived and died as I wanted. I have only one regret…”

I love that strained smile.

Aftermath: Considering that’s the last page, there’s no real aftermath.


Comic: What If #58 (What If the Punisher Had Killed Spider-Man?)
Year: 1994
Writer: Chuck Dixon
Artist: Gordon Purcell
Background: This story is a twist on the Punisher’s comic debut where the Jackal had convinced him to kill Spider-Man. A split second makes all the difference in the world and Frank succeeds in blowing the wall-crawler sky high. He then discovers that he’s just an innocent kid and not some kind of gimmicky mobster. The Jackal had set him up. Spending his days running from Spider-Man’s friends and being welcomed by Spider-Man’s soon-to-be-dead enemies, Frank eventually puts it together that the Jackal is Professor Miles Warren.

Death: Frank confronts Warren, which has been used as a framing device. When Warren asks what he’s waiting for, Frank points out that he called the cops. Not to arrest Warren, but for a little assisted suicide. Whether Frank knew that NYPD Blue‘s Andy Sipowicz was going to bust in is anyone’s guess.

“…See you on the other side, Jackal,” Frank says with a sly smile before being wasted by Dennis Franz and friends.

Aftermath: The cops were pointing their guns at Frank’s head point-blank, but from a myriad of angles, which means that the aftermath is a bunch of cops accidentally shooting each other like idiots.


Comic: The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe
Year: 1995
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Doug Braithwaite
Background: How you feel about this comic mostly depends on when you read it. If you’re new to Garth Ennis, it’s rad as all hell. If you have taken the time to read Ennis’ superhero stuff, your reaction will likely be, “Okay! WE GET IT!”

In this world, Frank’s family is killed in the crossfire of an Avengers/X-Men vs. Brood/Skrulls battle in the park. Frank shoots up some of them and a benefactor springs him from prison to go on a mission of revenge against all the superhumans in the world. With Microchip by his side, Frank takes out the likes of Spider-Man, Hulk, Dr. Doom, the X-Men and hundreds of others. Whenever he’s caught, his lawyer and retconned childhood friend Matt Murdock tries to get through to him that he needs to stop this before it all goes too far.

Death: The last person on Frank’s list is Daredevil. Daredevil gets the better of him and begs him to stop, but Frank yells, “LIKE HELL!” and stabs him through the chest with a knife. Dying in a pool of blood, Daredevil unmasks himself to show that there were more to these heroes than Frank could see, but it doesn’t matter because now they’re all dead. Realizing that he just killed one of the only people to ever give a damn about him, Frank decides that there’s one target left to go. He holds his gun to his chin and it all goes black.

Aftermath: In the end, Microchip is the only major character to survive. I’m sure Ennis loses sleep over that decision all the time. Also, Earth was probably taken over several hours later by whichever alien race got there the quickest.


Comic: Ruins #1
Year: 1995
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Terese Nielson, Cliff Nielson and Chris Moeller
Background: Ruins is a big pile of dumb and you should probably never read it. The idea is that it’s Warren Ellis’ dark comedy antithesis of Marvels, starring Phil Sheldon in a super-shitty version of the Marvel Universe where everything’s worked against its heroes and villains instead of empowering them. Either they’re gross and dying of cancer or they’re a bunch of crazy jerks. If the idea of seeing Bruce Banner explode into a pile of tumors makes you want to read two whole issues of that scene being replayed over and over again with different characters and no story further than an old man saying, “Gee, this world sucks,” then this is the comic for you.

Death: At the end of the first issue, Sheldon trips over the corpse of the Punisher on a sidewalk. Frank has a bullet hole in his head, showing that in this world he lacks his patented plot armor.

Aftermath: Everything sucks and is gross.


Comic: Marvel Knights: The Punisher #1-4
Year: 1998
Writer: Christopher Golden and Tom Sniegoski
Artist: Bernie Wrightson
Background: Back in the mid-90’s, the Punisher fell into the same trap that Deadpool recently fell into. He was a popular name, but Marvel really overshot it by giving him three ongoings. After a while, they were all cancelled and after a bit of a cool-off period, they gave him a four-issue arc under the Marvel Knights imprint in an arc called Purgatory.

Yes, ladies and gents, it’s time we talk about Angel Punisher.

Death: Frank’s first in-continuity death is shown as being nothing more than a simple self-inflicted bullet to the head in an alley during a flashback in the first issue. The third issue returns to the flashback to show that doing so leads to an angel resurrecting him from the dead to become a demon-killing agent of God. Now, for years I’ve seen people talk smack about the Angel Punisher storyline and how utterly terrible it was to the character. Having read the four issues myself I can say this with utter certainty:

Purgatory still doesn’t get as much hate as it deserves.

Angel Punisher isn’t a completely unusable idea. As a fan of Franken-Castle, I’d be a hypocrite for suggesting such a thing. If Ennis felt like it, I’m sure he could come up with a way to make it work. Remender and Ostrander (the last guy to write Punisher before this status quo) could make it work. Here, though, there’s nothing that redeems such a bonehead concept. There’s nothing balls-to-the-wall fun about it and Frank himself seems to be out of character. Still, he’s a man who hates bad guys and it makes enough sense that he’d oppose demons, right?

The problem here is that they retcon him into oblivion and the fourth issue destroys any lingering good will. You know Frank Costa, one of the two brothers responsible for the death of Frank’s family? It turns out that the Castles didn’t stumble onto some kind of mob hit. Frank Costa, otherwise known as Olivier, is actually a high-profile demon on the level of Mephisto, Satannish, Cyttorak, Dormammu and the rest, only his face is a skull. Those rival devils pooled together and put Costa’s spirit into a human fetus so that he’d spend a lifetime as a mortal with no memory of who he truly is. Then he figured it out and wanted to both return to Hell and increase his power. So that “mob hit” in the park was a demonic ritual and he intended on the Castles to see it so he could sacrifice Frank’s family and intentionally leave him alive. Frank Castle would start his one-man war on crime and ultimately kill Frank Costa, sending him back to Hell. Everyone Frank kills becomes one of Costa’s soldiers and makes Costa even more powerful. This was also an explanation as to why Frank wears a skull insignia: it’s Costa’s face.

Also, the main reason the Castle family died in the first place is because Frank Castle’s guardian angel – the same guy who resurrected him – was busy getting drunk and hitting on women, too distracted to watch over the Castle family. As time went on, Costa no longer needed Frank and so, he had his demon buddies push him to suicide.

I’m reminded of a line that appears during one of the Guitar Hero loading screens. It goes something like, “If you’re going to label your new song as a ‘rock anthem’, you better be damn sure.” The same goes with a retcon like this. You better be Ed Brubaker writing the return of Bucky or, more appropriately, Jason Aaron revealing Frank’s cold last words to Maria before she died. Not this.

Aftermath: Frank defeated Costa and forgave his angel for failing him. Then he became a force of redemption instead of vengeance. After the miniseries ended, the Punisher name became a bit toxic for a while and didn’t come back until after a cool-down period. With the start of the 21st century, Garth Ennis picked up the character again with Welcome Back Frank, where he quickly wrote off Redemption by saying that Frank didn’t care for his new status quo, told the angels he quit and went back to being just an angry dude killing criminals.


Comic: Earth X #1/2, Paradise X #2
Year: 2000, 2002
Writer: Jim Krueger and Alex Ross
Artist: Doug Braithwaite
Background: The Earth X trilogy is based on an alternate future where everything in Marvel is streamlined. The super-powered types are all either mutants (Spider-Man and Hulk) or shapeshifting aliens with unlimited power who are given identity by the beliefs of others (Thor and Hercules). It started strong, but by the time of the third installment, Paradise X, nobody cared anymore. Earth X #1/2 very briefly mentioned that at some point, Frank Castle killed himself after accidentally gunning down an innocent family.

It isn’t until the third installment of the series do we get more explanation about it. Frank’s backstory is explained, including a rather bizarre retcon that Frank was staying in prison and told Bullseye that Kingpin had a new assassin in the form of Elektra, meaning that Frank was responsible for Elektra’s death. A story about Daredevil shooting Frank to prevent him from murdering a criminal is changed to Daredevil shooting Frank because it’s HIS fault that Elektra died. Yeah, I don’t get it either.

Death: Frank became a lot more violent over the years to the point that even when he gunned down that family, it didn’t bother him all that much because by being at the crime scene, they’re guilty by association. Still, his lifestyle was starting to get to him.

With Earth X being a bunch of Silver Age fanwank that holds hostility against the more violent heroes (see also: Wolverine as an abusive husband), it’s interesting to see what amounts to the other side of the spectrum to Ennis’ anti-superhero style.

Aftermath: The afterlife in the Earth X universe is weird in that everyone thinks they’re alive while they perceive everyone who’s really alive as being dead. Frank lives peacefully with his family, but being both a family man and occasionally having to murder the Jackal and Jigsaw for the umpteenth time causes him to remember who he truly is and notice the truth in this reality. He teams up with Daredevil and Elektra against Kingpin, where they save Vanessa Fisk from his control and all go on to the realm of Paradise. It’s here that Frank’s finally able to make peace with himself and the skull on his shirt begins to fade away.


Comic: Punisher: The End
Year: 2004
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Richard Corbin
Background: Back in the mid-00’s, Marvel started releasing The End comics where writers who have become synonymous with certain characters would write their own take on that character’s final adventure. Not too many were made, but Ennis did get a crack at writing his vision of how Frank’s life ends. His vision appears to be a graphic novel adaptation of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”.

In this story, Frank seems to be somewhere in maybe his late-60’s, where he’s winded up in Sing-Sing. The War on Terror has led to America and China starting up World War III and nukes are dropped. Frank and a handful of survivors spend about a year in a bunker until Frank leaves, followed by fellow inmate Paris. The world is a radioactive husk, filled with skeletons and the two will be dead in about a day. They make their way to New York, where they find a hidden bunker that one of their fellow bunker-mates told them about before he died from a stab wound. This complex is where all the corporate villains who orchestrated the government workings since World War II and are therefore responsible for mankind’s death had hidden themselves with hopes of rebuilding mankind with frozen embryos. One of them pleads with Frank, explaining that they’re the last humans on Earth and the human race has a chance. Frank decides that he’s seen what the human race leads to and guns them down.

Satan laughing spreads his wings.

Death: After killing all those suits, Frank turns his attentions to Paris. Paris admits to having accidentally killed some kids one time and Frank strangles him to death. Then Frank wanders outside. Falling apart, he wanders through some flames and deliriously imagines himself on his way to the park to save his family in time.

Aftermath: Well, you can look at it in one of two ways. If this is supposed to be the MAX version of the Punisher, the world is flat out dead and nothing’s going on. If you want to believe it’s based on the mainstream Marvel Universe and ignore the line about how there’s no signs of bugs, you can easily match it up with Peter David’s Hulk: The End, which also kills the planet with nuclear war.


Comic: Wha… Huh?
Year: 2005
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar
Artist: Jim Mahfood
Background: Wha… Huh? was a humor-based issue of What If that was meant to be released along with the mid-00’s relaunch of the series. It got delayed for a long time, apparently due to the removal of a Patton Oswalt short story about the Punisher, prostitutes, Twinkies and cauterized rectums. It had a hell of a list of talent on there, such as Stan Lee, Bendis, Millar, Brubaker, Vaughan, Waid and others. Two of the gags involved the Punisher kicking the bucket.

Death: In a Bendis-written page of villains fighting different superheroes (which isn’t much of a joke since Marvel did that as a major event years back), a panel shows that if the Leader decided to go after the Punisher, Punisher would die from a huge hole in his chest. I’m not so sure about that, but I’m more distracted by the following panel, which shows Doc Ock victoriously holding Captain America’s shield while standing over a bloody and dead Cap. Yeah… not buying that.

The other story is Millar wondering What If the Punisher was a Bleeding Heart? From the shadows, Frank watches as a pair of thugs kick down an old woman. He thinks about how society has made them do this, but someone as well off like you wouldn’t understand. He confronts the two muggers and talks up how they’re in the 99% and – with a background of pink flowers – invites them to join him for coffee at a feminist workshop in Hell’s Kitchen he put together. Confused and angry, the two decide to waste him.

Aftermath: Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar both became increasingly successful. Who knew?


Comic: Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness #2
Year: 2007
Writer: John Layman
Artist: Fabiano Neves
Background: The Marvel Zombies universe is a weird bird with diminishing returns in marquee credibility. Millar and Kirkman blew their load in the first couple stories by revealing almost all of the mainstream characters as being infected and then killing them off completely. Follow-up stories like Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness and Marvel Zombies 3 had to start digging a little deeper for guys like Dr. Druid, Power Pack, the Runaways and Absorbing Man. By the time they revisited it again in Deadpool: Merc with a Mouth, we were down to having to contend with the likes of Shamrock and Cipher.

The quality of the franchise dipped down before Fred Van Lente could save it with Marvel Zombies 3, but Layman’s crossover miniseries turned out to be a diamond in the rough. Maybe it was because it was the first Marvel Zombies story to feature a protagonist that we could root for, but Layman’s prequel story is an awful lot of fun. When the infected Sentry comes to a brand new Marvel Earth full of food, the newly-dead Ash ends up leaving the afterlife and ends up on the streets of New York, where he watches the zombie outbreak happen firsthand. It doesn’t take long for him to run into the Punisher, who at this point hasn’t been mentioned once in Marvel Zombies continuity, so anything that happens to him is fair game.

Frank likes the cut of Ash’s jib and the whole chainsaw hand gimmick, so he lets him tag along. Despite the apocalypse happening right outside, Frank puts it on the backburner for the time being. His first action is to riddle the Kingpin and his men with bullets, even if they want to team up against the zombie hordes.

Death: Frank treats Ash as a lowly sidekick and instructs him to throw him ammo whenever he’s low. Ash grows tired of Frank’s attitude fast, especially when Frank doesn’t care to save Ash’s buddy Thunderball from the zombies, so he ends up cutting out.

Huh. I guess the Leader killing the Punisher isn’t so unbelievable after all.

Aftermath: The Punisher reappears in the final issue as a zombie along with all the infected heroes as they smash their way into Dr. Doom’s fortress. He’s last shown infecting the Scarlet Witch as Ash runs off. With Doom’s help, Ash would find escape from this zombie reality only to end up in a world filled with Marvel Werewolves.


Comic: Bullet Points #5
Year: 2007
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: Tommy Lee Edwards
Background: Bullet Points is a decent-enough miniseries based on the Marvel Universe being shaped differently by an incident during World War II that kills both Dr. Erskine and Ben Parker. There is no Super Soldier Serum for Steve Rogers and Peter Parker doesn’t have a father figure to keep him out of trouble. The series is filled with characters fulfilling different roles. Steve Rogers becomes Iron Man. Peter Parker becomes the Hulk. Reed Richards becomes the one-eyed Director of SHIELD. Bruce Banner becomes Spider-Man. At the beginning of the 4th issue, JMS writes a weird interlude where Stephen Strange becomes Wolverine that is never again mentioned.

Weirder is that Wolverine is shown as being Wolverine regardless, so… yeah.

Any problems with the mini is moot when we get to #5 because that’s when things become awesome. Galactus and the Silver Surfer have come to Earth and Reed Richards is able to figure out just how screwed the planet is. He lacks the Mr. Fantastic powers and identity, plus his fellow astronauts are dead, but on the upside, he’s the head of SHIELD. He decides that if Earth is going to die, they’re not going out without a fight. He sends word all around the world to everyone out there with powers, whether they be hero or villain. It’s time for everyone to stand together. This includes a shot of a familiar black shirt with a skull insignia on it.

The scene itself rules, especially thanks to Edwards’ art, but when you look at it, you have to giggle at some soldiers in this army. Having Cyclops, Magneto, Doom and so on around to fight the cosmic entities is acceptable, but what exactly did they expect Daredevil, Moon Knight and Nightcrawler to do?

Death: Add “guy with guns” to that list of worthless heroes in the face of Galactus. Frank is only shown once in the carnage, but with the wound he’s nursing, I think it’s safe enough to say he’s a casualty.

It would be funny if the Leader did this to him. Maybe in the Bullet Points world, Jigsaw is the Leader.

Aftermath: Parker-Hulk shows up to confront Galactus. He ultimately dies in a completely badass way that convinces the Silver Surfer that Earth must be spared. Galactus kills Surfer and leaves Earth for a less troublesome meal.


Comic: Punisher Noir #2
Year: 2009
Writer: Frank Tieri
Artist: Paul Azaceta
Background: The Noir comics were cool. I wish Marvel would do more. For those who weren’t reading them, they’re a series of pulpy storylines that reimagine Marvel characters in the 20’s/30’s without any powers. Except for Spider-Man, but his origin was mystical. For Punisher Noir they gave the book to Frank Tieri, which is confusing to me as why would they ever allow Tieri to write Frank Castle after that terrible Wolverine crossover?

To go on another tangent for a second, back in the day, Ennis was writing Punisher and Tieri was writing Wolverine. Ennis wrote a crossover story that proceeded to make fun of Wolverine and completely make him look like a fool. It’s done in your usual Ennis style where he’s an asshole, but with just enough charm that you can’t stay mad at him. Tieri decided to do his own rebuttal where Wolverine confronted Frank and revealed to the reader that Frank has a stash of gay porn. Frank gets all defensive about how it’s all for research, but Wolverine just smirks and leaves him. So there you go. Ennis at least puts effort into his agenda, but Tieri couldn’t come up with anything better than, “Haha, Punisher is TOTALLY GAY!”

Back on track, Punisher Noir flashes between the 20’s and the 30’s, with the first couple issues letting us get to know Frank Castle, veteran of the first World War. His wife died of cancer and he’s had to raise Frank Jr. by himself, teaching him life lessons and also how to fire a gun. He runs a shop with Mr. Bumpo and they refuse to pay into the local protection racket, even if it is cheaper than cleaning up the store after Frank busts a goon’s head through the wall.

Death: The local mob boss hires a triad of killers to take care of this problem. Frank Jr. leaves the gang of delinquents he had been hanging out with after a moral dispute and finds his home is a crime scene. Frank Sr. has a bullet hole in his head and lays there in a puddle of blood.

Aftermath: In this continuity, it’s Frank Jr. who becomes the Punisher, basing his identity on his father’s chest tattoo from the war and a fictional hero from the radio.

He proceeds to eliminate all those responsible, from the killers Barracuda, Jigsaw and the Russian (a crossdresser ever since Frank Sr. blew off his testicles back in the war) and the crime boss Dutch Schultz. Once his vengeance is fulfilled, he visits his father’s grave and wonders what to do. Does he continue as a vigilante, maybe going after Al Capone? But then he ultimately decides to set his sights higher when he sees Adolph Hitler’s ugly mug on the newspaper front page.


Comic: Dark Reign: The List: Punisher
Year: 2009
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: John Romita Jr.
Background: We return to main continuity once again to see Frank die. This time it’s during a time when Norman Osborn more or less runs the government as he sees fit. He has a special list of threats he wants neutralized and since Frank earlier tried to assassinate him, he’s on that list. He has Frank’s base of operations blown to kingdom come and then sends Daken to finish the job. Frank is able to outfight Daken a couple times over, but Daken isn’t the kind of guy to stay down.

Death: You wound Daken and he gets back up. You wound Frank and he slugs on, hoping to get enough of a win to allow him to recuperate and fight another day. This isn’t one of those days. The fight is taken to a rooftop with a ton of armed HAMMER soldiers waiting. Daken tells them to take a powder and proceeds to end Frank’s life by chopping him to pieces.

Aftermath: I’ve talked about this at great length before, but the short version is this: some monsters collected the pieces of Frank’s body, Morbius the Living Vampire stitched him back together, powered him up with the Bloodstone and turned him into this.

Franken-Castle lasted about a year, met to a very vocal and very mixed reaction from fans. Eventually, he laid back for a while and let his body recover. The Bloodstone turned him fully human again, but also made him mad with bloodlust. Thanks to the intervention of the Living Mummy, Frank gained the will to tear it out of his chest and declare, “We’re done here.”


Comic: Spectacular Spider-Girl #4
Year: 2010
Writer: Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz
Artist: Tom DeFalco
Background: The MC2 Universe has lasted for over ten years and has been able to get by with vocal fan support, but it’s only gone so far. The main draw was Spider-Girl, which lasted 100 issues, got relaunched as Amazing Spider-Girl and then got canceled. The character popped up again in Spider-Man Family, which also didn’t last so long and then this miniseries. It’s about Mayday Parker, the daughter of Peter and Mary Jane, who interacts with a bunch of 90’s concepts that nobody likes to talk about.

Surprisingly, they went over ten years without bringing in the Punisher. In this universe, Frank is a little less intense. He’s not the kind of guy who will keep killing bad guys until he can kill no more. He only cared about taking out the mafia and actually succeeded. Silvio Baracca was the last don on the list and while Frank didn’t kill him, he left him bound to a wheelchair and that was good enough, as he’d make a perfect living warning. Frank went into retirement. Then the Hobgoblin had to come along and hook Baracca up with cybernetics, making him stronger and capable of walking. Frank got wind of this and now he’s back in the skull shirt.

Death: In a big battle of alternate future heroes and villains, Frank jumps off a roof and makes a lunge at Baracca with a large knife. Baracca catches him by the neck and shatters the knife with his wrist. With Frank’s neck in his clutches, victory’s all but assured.

Aftermath: The Hobgoblin is murdered by Spider-Girl’s “twin sister”, who is a clone merged with the Venom symbiote. Exactly.


Comic: Punisher MAX #21
Year: 2012
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Steve Dillon
Background: Now to the MAX universe, what was once a spinoff of 616 and became its own real world continuity where Frank could be Frank without having to deal with the supernatural. Where he can say “fuck” and see ladies’ boobs without strategic hair in the way. More importantly, he isn’t touched by the need to have a sliding time scale to keep him at the same age so they can tell his stories forever. He isn’t a man who looks like he’s in his 30’s due to being reborn twice over. He’s a Vietnam veteran who is in his early 60’s and he’s only going to get older.

Garth Ennis wrote one hell of a run for the character and finished it with Valley Forge, Valley Forge. Ennis had said all there is he had to say about Frank and the series moved on to other writers who had some okay story arcs, but could never measure up to Ennis’ definitive take. Then Jason Aaron stepped in and did a 22-issue run that introduced MAX incarnations of the Kingpin, Bullseye and Elektra.

Not only did he make it work, but he also retconned Frank’s origin in a way that makes him more of a tragic asshole. As Bullseye points out, there are two takes on the character. Did he become the Punisher in Vietnam or did he become the Punisher when his family died? You can’t have both. The depressing answer is that it was the war that created him. When he returned to his family, he wasn’t the same compassionate person anymore. He went through the motions and told his wife that he intended to leave them before they all got shot to pieces. He refuses to allow himself to die because every day is punishment for himself. Sometimes it’s the criminals who get off easy.

Death: The war between Frank and Wilson Fisk becomes incredibly personal. Frank digs up the body of Kingpin’s dead son to draw him out of hiding and this leads to the most brutal night in the life of any Frank Castle. First he contends with the skilled assassin Elektra, getting battered and bloodied in one gruesome fight scene, only to win via willpower, strength and the underestimation of his opponent. Winning the battle, he goes home to find an ambush by Fisk and his men. Despite getting shot many times, Frank kills all the henchmen, leaving only Fisk. Fisk overpowers Castle and brutalizes him some more, but due to some adrenaline, some dirty fighting and a hammer to Fisk’s skull, Castle sends him running. Kingpin finds himself locked out of his complex, muttering that he’s the Kingpin before being shot in the back of the head by a dying Frank.

Frank walks back towards his home and insists that he has to keep going. He needs to make his family’s deaths mean something.

He lands right in front of his house.

Aftermath: The final issue is about Nick Fury, an occasional supporting character in the series, reacting to Frank’s death. He sees himself as the only person in the world who truly respects Frank for what he’s done and who he was and the fact that nobody else gets it makes him gruff. As a courtesy, he terminates Vanessa Fisk, who had taken over her husband’s empire. His eulogy is brief, but he thinks to himself about how he should have lied to Frank’s corpse and told him about how he’s made a difference and that everything he’s done really did have meaning. But he doesn’t believe any of that.

That is, until he sees the news. There’s been a rising of vigilante-based gangs taking back the streets from known felons. At first, Fury is shocked. But then it sinks in.


What truly makes the Punisher’s MAX death so perfect to me is how it reflects the change that’s going on with the character. I mentioned the sliding time scale earlier. The thing that keeps Peter Parker as a guy in his 20’s despite being created in the 60’s. Frank Castle can’t be a modernized character, keep his young looks and have served in Vietnam. At least, he can’t for much longer. Sure, you can explain it away by saying that he died and came back or that the Bloodstone made him young or that being the avatar of Death itself prevents him from aging. Thing is, should you explain it away? I understand that the happenings behind the Vietnam War are critical in separating a man like Frank Castle from a man like Steve Rogers, but is it so important that we have to use a clusterfuck of ridiculous backstory to introduce the concept?

Greg Rucka didn’t think so. His take on Frank in the current Punisher ongoing makes him a modern marine with zero mention of Vietnam. As suggested in the comics and explained in interviews, it’s been retconned away. That, in my mind, gives Aaron’s run on Punisher MAX more juice as an iconic story arc.

It isn’t just Frank Castle being killed off. It isn’t even just a popular and long-running version of him getting a sendoff that he’ll never return from because he doesn’t live in a world of cloning, cybernetics and other magical plot devices. It’s a very specific take on the character being laid to rest so that we can move on. Aaron’s run is to the Punisher as What Ever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow is to pre-Crisis Superman.

And that’s a death that means something.

Similar Posts:

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

9 comments to “The Many Deaths of Frank Castle”

  1. Well done. We’ve differed on the issue of Frankencastle but I’m on board with pretty much everything here. Thoughts on the new series? I can’t seem to get into it so far.

  2. Excellent article. I will admit I was kinda hoping for a bit on ridiculous ’90s crossover Suicide Run, even if it doesn’t quite count as a a death.

  3. >>Tieri decided to do his own rebuttal where Wolverine confronted Frank and revealed to the reader that Frank has a stash of gay porn. Frank gets all defensive about how it’s all for research, but Wolverine just smirks and leaves him. So there you go.

    Wow… not only is that stupid, but it’s also stolen from Neil Simon’s ‘Murder By Death’. It’s a spoof of old detective movie characters and there’s a joke where Sam Diamond (a Sam Spade parody) is questioned by his secretary, Tess:

    Tess: “Why do you keep all those naked muscle men magazines in your office?”
    Sam Diamond: “Suspects. Always looking for suspects.”

  4. @Urbanguy: It’s a little rough, but I’m enjoying it. The villains aren’t doing anything for me outside of the new Vulture, but the last sequence in the latest issue was killer.

  5. Terrific article, Gavok, though I’m not much of a fan of Aaron’s run myself. I have read every single one of those comics, excepting Punisher Noir and Spider-Girl- god, DeFalco sucks rocks in a lock box so bad it burns my socks.

    @Rottgutt: Tieri did say that was meant to be in homage to that scene.

  6. I remember that Atlantis Attacks What If, mostly because the Silver Surfer is actually alive at the end as well. He destroys one of Set’s heads and is then blown off his board, and that’s when Quasar shows up to wrestle set forever…and I kept thinking, wait, why didn’t you just wait for the Silver Surfer to get back on his board? It seems like the good guys could’ve won. Quasar, glory hound.

  7. So did that Tieri Punisher/Wolverine story come after the Beard Hunter story in Doom Patrol?

  8. […] of Frank Castle. Of course, you should know that PunisherMAX just ended, so we should all be sad. Read the article for awesome stuff like this, which is consequently from my favorite What if? story of all […]

  9. Huh… those sculptors had a weird choice of perspective to honor the Avengers in that What If issue.