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The Punisher (Frank Castle) is a fictional character appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. The character was created by writerGerry Conway and artist John Romita Sr., with publisher Stan Lee green-lighting the name. The Punisher made his first appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man #129 (cover-dated Feb. 1974).
The Punisher is a vigilante who employs murder, kidnapping, extortion, coercion, threats of violence, and torture in his war on crime. Driven by the deaths of his wife and two children, who were killed by the mob for witnessing a killing in New York City's Central Park, the Punisher wages a one-man war on the mob and all criminals in general by using all manner of conventional war weaponry. His family's killers were the first to be slain. A war veteran and aUnited States Marine Corps Scout Sniper, Frank Castle (born Francis Castiglione) is a master of martial arts, stealth tactics, guerrilla warfare, and a wide variety of weapons.
The Punisher's brutal nature and willingness to kill made him a novel character in mainstream American comic books in 1974. By the late 1980s, he was part of a wave of psychologically troubled antiheroes and at the height of his popularity, was featured in four monthly publications, including The Punisher,The Punisher War Journal, The Punisher War Zone, and The Punisher Armory. Despite his violent actions and dark nature, the Punisher has enjoyed some mainstream success on television, making guest appearances on Spider-Man: The Animated Series, and The Super Hero Squad Show, where the depiction of his violent behavior was toned down for family viewers. In feature films, Dolph Lundgren portrayed the Punisher in 1989, as did Thomas Jane in2004, and Ray Stevenson in 2008. Jon Bernthal portrays the character in the second season of Marvel's Daredevil as a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Bernthal is set to reprise the role in The Punisher, his own self-titled series.
The Punisher was conceived of by Gerry Conway, writer of The Amazing Spider-Man, who helped design the character's distinctive costume. As Conway recalled in 2002, that, "In the '70s, when I was writing comics at DC and Marvel, I made it a practice to sketch my own ideas for the costumes of new characters — heroes and villains — which I offered to the artists as a crude suggestion representing the image I had in mind. I had done that with the Punisher at Marvel." Conway had drawn a character with a small death's head skull on one breast. Marvel art director John Romita, Sr., took the basic design, blew the skull up to huge size, taking up most of the character's chest. Amazing Spider-Man penciller Ross Andru was the first artist to draw the character for publication.
Stan Lee, then Marvel's editor-in-chief, recalled in 2005 that he had suggested the character's name:
Gerry Conway was writing a script and he wanted a character that would turn out to be a hero later on, and he came up with the name the Assassin. And I mentioned that I didn't think we could ever have a comic book where the hero would be called the Assassin, because there's just too much of a negative connotation to that word. And I remembered that, some time ago, I had had a relatively unimportant character ... [who] was one of [the cosmic antagonist] Galactus' robots, and I had called him the Punisher, and it seemed to me that that was a good name for the character Gerry wanted to write — so I said, 'Why not call him the Punisher?' And, since I was the editor [sic; Lee had been named publisher in 1972], Gerry said, 'Okay.'
Appearing for the first time in The Amazing Spider-Man #129 (Feb. 1974), the Punisher was initially an antagonist of the titular hero. He is portrayed as a bloodthirsty vigilante who has no qualms about killing gangsters, something that most superheroes of the time refrain from doing. J. Jonah Jameson describes him as "the most newsworthy thing to happen to New York since Boss Tweed". In this appearance, the Punisher is determined to kill Spider-Man, who is wanted for the apparent murder ofNorman Osborn. The Punisher is shown as an athletic fighter, a master marksman, and an able strategist. All he reveals about himself is that he is a former U.S. Marine. He has a fierce temper but also shows signs of considerable frustration over his self-appointed role of killer vigilante. He is engaged in extensive soul-searching as to what is the right thing to do: although he has few qualms about killing, he is outraged when his then-associate, the Jackal, apparently kills Spider-Man by treacherous means rather than in honorable combat. Spider-Man, who is himself no stranger to such torment, concludes that the Punisher's problems made his own seem like a "birthday party".
The character was a hit with readers and started to appear on a regular basis, teaming up with both Spider-Man and other heroes such as Captain America andNightcrawler throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. Conway said the Punisher's popularity took him by surprise, as he had intended him only as a second-tier character. During his acclaimed run on Daredevil, writer and artist Frank Miller made use of the character, contrasting his attitudes and version of vigilante action to that of the more liberal character of Daredevil.
In the early 1980s, writer and college student Steven Grant was at a comics convention in New York City over the Christmas break. At the time he was living with Duffy Vohland, an employee in Marvel's production department. Vohland encouraged Grant to pitch story ideas to Marvel, and arranged an interview with then-editor-in-chief Marv Wolfman, with whom Grant would become good friends. Grant sat at Vohland's typewriter for a day and wrote three ideas: One involved the Black Knight and one was the Punisher, since those were characters he liked that as far as Grant knew, no other Marvel writer was working with at the time. Unbeknownst to Grant, the Punisher, as it turned out, was the lead in a black and white magazine being written by Archie Goodwin, making the character unavailable for Grant's use. A couple of years later Grant began writing for Marvel after another friend, Roger Stern, became a Marvel editor there and asked Grant to write something for him. In 1979, Marvel began considering publishing miniseries, which Grant had been lobbying for some time. Grant began pushing for a Punisher miniseries, but this was met with disinterest from editorial, as the character was not thought of as one that readers would care about. The following year, Grant collaborated on Marvel Team-Up #94 with artist Mike Zeck. In 1984, Zeck illustrated Marvel's first Secret Wars miniseries, which raised his profile in the Marvel offices, where editors were thinking in terms of talent "stables" that worked exclusively for each editor. A new editor, Carl Potts, was looking for projects, so Grant and Zeck pitched a Punisher miniseries to him, and Potts accepted it, over much objection from Marvel management, who told him that he bore full responsibility for it.
The miniseries premiered with a January 1986 cover date. It was bannered on the cover as the first of four; although the series had always been intended to be five issues long, and the banner was an error that recurred throughout the entire run. The plot changed from Grant's initial story, though the basic concept remained the same. An important element of the story was a retcon that explains that many of the Punisher's more extreme actions to this point were the result of being poisoned with mind-altering drugs.
An ongoing series, also titled The Punisher, premiered the next year. Initially by writer Mike Baron and artist Klaus Janson, it eventually ran 104 issues (July 1987 – July 1995) and spun off two additional ongoing series — The Punisher War Journal (80 issues, November 1988 – July 1995) and The Punisher War Zone (41 issues, March 1992 – July 1995), as well as the black-and-white comics magazine The Punisher Magazine (16 issues, November 1989 – September 1990) and The Punisher Armory (10 issues, no cover dates, starting 1990), a fictional diary detailing "His thoughts! His feelings! His weapons!" (as stated on the cover of issue #1). The Punisher also appeared in numerous one-shots and miniseries, and made frequent guest appearances in other Marvel comics, ranging from superhero series to the Vietnam War-era comic The 'Nam.
During this era, the Punisher was assisted by his then-partner, Microchip. Serving as a Q type figure, he would supply the Punisher with high-tech vehicles and equipment such as armored combat "battle vans" specially built and customized.
Over the next decade, the Punisher would be shown fighting virtually every known criminal organization including the Italian Mafia, the Russian Mafia, the Japanese Yakuza, the Colombian and Mexican drug cartels, the Aryan Brotherhood, the Chinese Triads, Jamaican Yardies, the Irish Mob, biker gangs, street gangs, gunrunning militias,muggers, killers, rapists, psychopaths, violent racists, sadists, pedophiles, and corrupt city officials. He also assaults criminal business enterprises such as drugs, weapons smuggling, money laundering, and human trafficking.
Due to the Punisher's homicidal nature, few of his foes became recurring antagonists, the most notable of these being the severely scarred enforcer Jigsaw. The Punisher also acquired a nemesis in the form of the Kingpin, a longtime Spider-Man and Daredevil foe, and developed enmity with Daredevil himself, who likewise abhorred and fought against the Punisher's brutal methods. Villains such as the Jackal, Bushwacker, Doctor Doom, The Reavers and Bullseye would be used to provide more of a challenge for the character. In addition, heroes such as Spider-Man, Captain America, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, the Hulk, Wolverine, Nick Fury, and Moon Knight – and, on at least two occasions, the preadolescent team Power Pack – would appear. Often the stories would use the appearance of those heroes to provide commentary on the difference between the Punisher and those more colourful characters. During Don Daley's run on The Punisher title, his version of justice was described by the editor as "an eye for an eye".
In 1995, Marvel canceled all three ongoing Punisher series due to poor sales. The publisher attempted a re-launch almost immediately, with a new ongoing series Punisher, under the new Marvel Edgeimprint, by writer John Ostrander, in which the Punisher willingly joined and became the boss of an organized crime family, and later confronted the X-Men and Nick Fury. The series ran for 18 issues, from November 1995 to April 1997. Writer Christopher Golden's four-issue Marvel Knights miniseries The Punisher: Purgatory (November 1998 – February 1999) posited a deceased Punisher resurrected as asupernatural agent of various angels and demons. This version of the character also appeared in a 4-issue mini-series co-starring Wolverine.
A 12-issue miniseries by writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon, again titled The Punisher (April 2000 – March 2001), under the Marvel Knights imprint, revived the character's popularity. An ongoing series (37 issues, August 2001 – February 2004), primarily by Ennis and Dillon, followed, succeeded in 2004 by an ongoing Ennis series under Marvel's mature-readers imprint, MAX. Returning the character to his lone vigilante roots, those series combined crime focused stories with black humor. The look of the Punisher was modified further removing the white gloves and pairing his traditional skull imprinted shirt with combat trousers, black combat boots and a black trench coat. Castle has used this costume on occasion in mid-2000s stories before The Punisher War Journal vol. 2.
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