The Punisher is a fictional vigilante appearing in comic books owned and published by Marvel Comics: in essence, he is a gift to all comic fans who think Batman is too compassionate (ie: is a pointy-eared puss-hole).
The Punisher appeals to a broad audience of comic fans for the likely reason that he is such an undeniably simple character: like Watchmen's Rorschach, he is inhumanely bound and determined to put an end to crime in all of its forms, be it murder, rape, drugs and weapons trafficking or littering (yes, littering). The Punisher does not see the world in pesky shades of grey, and doesn't take much stock in things like, you know, the justice system. He has one mission on this earth and one mission alone: to fuck up criminals royally, often utilizing what can only be described as "unorthodox" methods to do so.
An avid film buff, Frank Castle often expresses his undying admiration for Joel and Ethan Coen's Fargo in...less than appropriate ways.
As stated before, The Punisher is not exactly a complex character. He's a pissed off motherfucker with a lot of guns and a shoot first, shoot again, make dental records a necessary means of identification attitude. His origin could effectively be summarized as follows: after witnessing the senseless slaughter of his family by gangsters at a picnic in Central Park, ex U.S Marine Frank Castle did what any sane man in his position would do: he gave himself the monicker of Punisher, donned a skull adorned uniform, stockpiled a weapons arsenal bigger than Charlton Heston's and began a one man crusade against criminality.
Like this guy, just less squinty and with a wicked cool skull on his chest.
With such a deliciously simple origin in place, the character and therein the stories are free to let fucking loose. The three key components for a kick-ass comic book vigilante are all there: 1) a motive 2) a persona 3) an armour piercing M60 machine gun.
Breakfast of trench coat wearing, mass murdering champions the world over.
The Punisher has gone through many revamps and changes throughout the years, most of them simply aesthetic or continuity based. However, if the character can be said to have evolved in any way in his thirty years in funny books, it would be that he's only gotten more violent and crazy with each passing decade. This is not a bad thing. Infact, it's been oodles of fun to follow. One could even take bets, ie: "Fifty bucks he shoves a kitten down a dude's throat next issue." That sort of thing.
The Punisher Weapons Inventory: Two .45 handguns, one RPG, one M4 Carbine, one Snowcone the tabby cat.
Most writers who have tackled Big Bad Frank have thankfully stuck to the core elements that have made the character so popular and enduring...with the exception of that magic demon fighting wackiness Christopher Golden put him through in the late 90's, which had Castle killed and resurrected as demon killing messenger of God, or some such insane horseshit. That or he was a wizard of some kind. Who the fuck knows? The point is, it sucked Stan Lee's saggy balls and was likely inspired by a wave of successful, supernaturally bent franchises that were popular among genre and comic book fans at the time, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Marvel's own Blade property. Cause if there's one character the Punisher should be molded to be more like, it's a jive talking, Afrocentric vampire killer with a penchant for samurai swords and designer sunglasses. Next stop, The Punisher written as a gay teenage witch.
Christopher Golden: So, in essence, The Punisher will now have a symbol burned into his forehead and will fight demons instead of criminals. Pretty cool, right?! RIGHT?! Fuck, they're all gone.
While the character has had his mind numbing, dick shrivelling lows (the above mentioned homicidal Harry Potter shenanigans), he has also been privy to some damn classic moments as well...
No. This was not one of them.
Arguably no two writer/artist teams have come close to definining the Punisher like Steven Grant and Mike Zeck did in the late 80s and Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon did in the early 2000s. Mike Zeck's artwork, though shamelessly sylized, was a jolt of energy the character strongly needed. His and Grant's work on the character introduced the world to a Punisher who took no prisoners and operated in a dark and dangerous cityscape that could inspire the runny-fear-shits in Popeye freakin' Doyle.
"This drug bust is gettin heavy...OH FUCK. Not again. Please God, dont let it be poo."
Grant and Zeck's run was iconic, no doubt, but the single most enduring and just balls out entertaining run on the character has to be Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's 12-issue miniseries Welcome Back Frank. The series returned The Punisher to his down and dirty roots, taking the violence and bloodletting to over the top levels rarely seen in mainstream comics and ushering in a new era for the character: the Ennis era. Welcome Back Frank's outlandish humor and buckets of blood were just the tip of the ice berg in terms of what comics most fucked up Mick had to offer Marvel's #1 vigilante hero. Over the course of nearly a decade, Ennis took Castle and readers deep into the dirty sphincter of organized crime and beyond, introducing characters, themes and subject matter that would make even the most hardened New York City homicide detective puke, piss and shit himself. Not for the faint of heart, folks. Ennis' taste for carnage and mayhem truly culminated within the pages of Punisher: MAX, an adults only Marvel imprint that allowed for more guns, gore, boobs, F-Bombs and point blank shotgun blasts to the head than is probably necessary in ANY artistic medium.
Ladies and gentlemen, The Punisher: now a property of the Walt Disney Corporation.
Those familiar with his work on Preacher, Hellblazer, Hitman or virtually anything else the mad Irishman has created or gotten his whiskey soaked fingers on, can tell you that Garth Ennis is not a fan of subtlety, tasteful content or superheroes; which is ironic considering he works in a medium populated, predominantly, by spandex clad weirdos. The Punisher, therein, is a perfect match for the writer: a character who pulls no punches (especially nut punches), operates outside of normal societal bounds and doesn't wear nancy-ass red boots or a mask. Ultimately, what makes Ennis and the Punisher such a wonderful match is that Ennis GETS the character. Frank Castle is a broken, soulless shell of a man, with a ruthless sense of justice and a nasty disposition to boot. Attempts to soften The Punisher and make him more child friendly have backfired badly in the past, reducing the Frank to no more than a sadistic G.I Joe: a badass with guns and a cool uniform. Yes, he is a badass. Yes, he does have a sweet get-up. But there is one thing he most certainly is not: a superhero. This is why many of the comics throughout the nineties which featured Frank going toe-to-toe with popular Marvel villains (and the occassional alien), not to mention driving around in a suped up, hyper-technological "Battle-Van," just missed the point. The Punisher isn't Batman, hell he's not even Daredevil. He's a soldier. A hot blooded representation of American idealism and justice; a Wild West outlaw for the modern age. Ennis gets that, and with his predelection for embarassing or degrading supers in many of his works, he is the perfect handler for a character whom most writers simply dont know how to handle. There is nothing either pretentious or inordinately puerile to Ennis' run on The Punisher. His work is hard-nosed, gritty, nasty and full of more entrance wounds than a Japanese orgy. Luck O' the Irish, indeed. Sadly, Ennis recently left the series. This is a shame because the comic book medium, as we all know, is a breeding ground for bad decision making and there is just no telling what sort of fate awaits the character down the line. Who knows? Perhaps there is a true visionary waiting in the wings, ready to elevate The Punisher to a bold, unprecedented level of comic book greatness:
The comic book adaptation is now an industry in and of itself. Films like X-Men 1&2, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Road to Perdition and Watchmen have proven that what was once considered kiddie fair can make for thoughtful, genuinely entertaining and deeply resonant cinema. Seems like every comic character, save for X-Men's Dazzler (please Jesus, not Dazzler) is getting their own film. So what about The Punisher? Well, Frank Castle has been lucky (snicker) to have not one, but THREE films made out of his bloody adventures. The quality of the three flicks ranges from awesometacular (War Zone), to "I'd rather cut my balls off and make a testicle smoothie than endure that piece of shit again." What sort of film could inspire such a crazed reaction from a viewer, you might ask?
This fucking film.
The Punisher (1989)
To poke fun at this insanely awful film would be beyond redundant. Instead, presented here for the first time is a transcript of the first pre-production meeting between director Mark Goldblatt and producers Robert Mark Kamen, Mace Neufeld and Simon Heath.
"Punisher" Production Meeting: 01/04/89
Goldblatt: Thanks for meeting me, gentlemen. I'd like to share with you some of my ideas for this film. May I add that I'm very excited and honored to be working on this project.
Neufeld: Great. Great. We also have some ideas we'd like to share.
Goldblatt: Excellent. I always enjoy this stage of the collaborative process. Gimme what you got.
Kamen: We want to make the main character a cop.
Goldblatt: You mean Frank Castle?
Neufeld: Yeah, sure. Whatever. Make him a cop. Audiences like cops. Lethal Weapon did huge numbers.
Kamen: Don't forget Die Hard.
Goldblatt: Fine. I can swing with that. Marine to cop, not that big a divergence, I suppose.
Heath: And we wanna get rid of that stupid skull.
Goldblatt: Uh...that's kind of essential.
Neufeld: Ok, so we're all in agreement on the removal of the skull symbol.
Neufeld: Moving on then. Mr. Kamen has a few notes he'd like to add. Mr. Kamen?
Kamen: I propose that we film the movie in Australia - which I should add bears remarkably little resemblance to New York City - change the names of The Punisher's wife and children, have him team up with his family's killers to fight the Yakuza---
Goldblatt: Wait, team up with who???
Kamen: ---give him a drunken, homeless sidekick---
Goldblatt: Please stop.
Kamen: ---and finally, have him live in the sewer like a filthy mole person.
Heath: Where he often meditates nude.
***silence, punctuated by heavy teeth grinding***
Neufeld: Tell him who we're thinking of getting.
Goldblatt: I'd rather you didn't.
Kamen: Did you see Rocky IV?
Goldblatt: Please don't go there.
Kamen: The Russian from Rocky IV.
Goldblatt: I think I'm gonna be sick.
Neufeld: Also, we're cutting your budget down to about nine million dollars.
Kamen: And you have to find a way to fit Lou Gossett Jr. in it.
***what is possibly a vase or an ashtray is heard smashing against the wall***
Goldblatt: SON OF A FUCKING WHORE!
Neufeld: Well gentlemen, looks like we got ourselves a movie. Now, let's smoke the rest of that crack and make tender man-love to Mr. Goldblatt.
Kamen/Heath: Here here!
Goldblatt: Fuck my life.
*** weeping and the sound of a man being anally incapacitated by three aggressors follows for roughly fifteen minutes***
The Punisher (2004)
After fifteen years, and with the wounds inflicted by Ivan Drago beginning to close over, Lions Gate films decided it was time to give the character a fresh start. So what did they do to ensure the creation of a successful Punisher movie? They cast John Travolta as the villain (sigh) and decided to set a violent, gritty revenge tale in the sunwashed vista of Tampa Bay. Also, they crafted an intense, high-octane tale that involves Frank Castle seeking vengeance against his family's murderers by making the man responsible (Travolta) think his gay best friend (Will Patton) is bangin his wife.
"You have beautiful eyes...*GAH! MY JUGULAR!"
The movie is, on a number of levels, a valiant effort. Thomas Jane, as Castle, is excellent: he is suitably grizzled and stoic and knows how to look awesome toting a submachine. The film also lifts some great stuff straight outta Welcome Back Frank (namely Castle's tenement neighbours) and there are several well staged fights and shoot-outs. But the plot is sub-standard and the setting is ludicrously inappropriate. Also, there is just way too much Travolta for any fan of decent acting and good hair's liking. Nobody gives two fucks about a poorly characterized mob boss' marital troubles or disintegrating empire. Like Batman in Burton's first flick, The Punisher becomes second fiddle to his villain and this is a grave injustice that simply cannot be overlooked. For a movie called The Punisher, is it too much to ask that the movie is, you know, ABOUT said character? The shining points, ultimately, are two set pieces in the film's latter half: a car chase involving an assassin who looks like Johnny Cash (for some head scratching reason) and a no holds barred fight between Jane and Kevin Nash's mute rendition of The Russian (another character from WBF). Another point to be made is that director Jonathan Hensleigh seems to be unware that he is making a comic book movie. Rather, the audience is subjected to a smattering of action film archetypes, lifted out of movies much better than this (Mad Max, The Good, the Bad and The Ugly, First Blood). In the end, Hensleigh's Punisher film is more concerned with staging Sergio Leone like shoot-outs, than it is with adhering in any meaningful way to the source material. Shame. With the casting of such an out and out, rugged man's man like Tom Jane, greatness was definitely in this fIlm's reach.
Director/Screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh
Way to go, jerkass.
Punisher: War Zone (2008)
Aaaaaahhhhhh. Now this is more like it. Now, let this be stated upfront, so that there is no confusion: Punisher: War Zone was not designed to win Oscars or be screened at Sundance. It is not a great film and ultimately, doesn't try to be one. But it does have one thing going for it that is hard to resist: a true sense of fun. This is not a film that takes itself too seriously; it is a straight laced action extravaganza with a biting sense of humor and more exploded, stabbed, beaten, shredded, burnt and otherwise ruined human bodies than any other comic book film made in the past decade. It is a full blooded Punisher film and wonderfully marries the tone of Ennis' Welcome Back Frank with his MAX work and utilizes a kick ass score and excellent cinematogra---IT'S A FUCKING BLOODBATH! Gentlemen, start your motherfucking engines, strap yourself in and hold the fuck on. This is rip-roaring guys cinema at it's best. Ray Stevenson's Punisher is the seminal portrayl of the chacter - bitter, merciless and unstoppable - and Lexi Alexander (a controversial choice for director) proves that a woman can make an action movie bloodier, nastier and more unapologetically brainless than her male counterparts. The film also feature's everyone's favourite unhinged Irish cop (Dominic West) as the villainous Jigsaw: a performance with enough ham to make a theater full of Rabbis nervous. West' villain chews the scenery but never takes the movie away from our boy in black. The climax of the flick is simply a master stroke of violent action filmmaking and indeed, so is the film as a whole. Let's give a hand to Ms. Alexander, the best kick-boxer turned director Germany has ever produced. The third time does indeed prove to be the charm. Check out Punisher: War Zone or we'll kill Wayne Knight's mother (note: the film does indeed feature a shot of an elderly woman's obliterated head. Now that's cinema!)
Any great artist accumulates a tremendous body of work in their career; this is also true of The Punisher. For your pleasure, here are Frank Castle's five most jaw-droppingly horrifying (and hilarious) kills:
#5: The Punisher vs The Russian (round 1)
With Castle putting the squeeze on her criminal empire and the loyalty of her troops beginning to erode, Mobstress Ma Gnucci hires a ruthless mercenary known only as "The Russian" to take The Punisher out of the picture once and for all. The Russian is the term "killing machine" personified: a quick-witted panzer tank who takes delight in brutalizing his enemies and cracking jokes in broken English about it afterwards (like some former Presidents). The Russian tracks Castle down to his New York tenement hideout and engages him on his home turf. What follows is a knock-down, drag-out tussle between these two walking piles of man rage, one which makes superb useage of walls, toilets and the tried and true strategy of bashing your opponent's head into a concrete floor. Actually, calling it a tussle would be an insult to any pub brawlers and soccer hooligans who might be reading this: a school yard bully pummeling a fifty pound nerd would be a more apt comparison. Nearly on the verge of death, Castle eventually manages to turn the tables on his Ruskie foe by moving the fight into a neighboring apartment, scalding him with stove fresh homemade Pizza and suffocating him with his obese neighbour, Mr. Bumpo. Vigilante justice at it's most improvisational, folks. Later, in a genius example of a scare tactic, Castle shows up at Ma Gnucc's estate and produces The Russian's severed head, holding it up high for Ma and her goon's to gander and vomit at. Putting it in a box would have worked too, but then again, our Frank's a real showman.
Waldo's time spent working for the KGB produced simply horrifying results.
#4: The Punisher vs Cristu
In a particular nasty and disturbing story arc from the MAX series, The Punisher goes toe-to-toe with Eastern European scumsuckers running a sex slave ring. After battling it out with a number of them at a lakeside resort in upstate New York, Castle captures Cristu, one of the organization's leaders and a thoroughly fucked up bastard to boot. Frank heavily drugs and subsequently interrogate's the half-conscious Cristu for information about the organization. Fearful and disoriented, Cristu nonetheless plays hard ball, only to realize upon gaining full consciousness, that Castle has removed a good portion of his large intestine and wrapped it around a tree. Castle walks off, leaving Cristu to contemplate his predicament. Surely there comes a point in a crusader like The Punisher's life, when he stops thinking of his work in terms of good or evil or justice, and just starts to get a kick out of it. This is that point.
#3: The Punisher vs Ma Gnucci
As if single handedly dismantling her entire mob empire, horribly mutilating her and killing both of her sons wasn't enough, The Punisher adds insult to injury by setting Gnucci's mansion ablaze with her in it. Not one to back down from a fight, Ma Gnucci flings her limbless body from a fiery second story window, only to have Castle kicks her torso back into the flaming carnage like a human football.
#2: The Punisher vs Gnucci Thugs vs..........a polar bear
Wounded, disoriented and pursued by several of Ma Gnucci's trigger happy underlings, The Punisher decides to take a detour through Central Park Zoo. The thugs are one by one lured to their horrible doom by Castle, who uses large snakes, pirhanas and an assortment of other lethal animals to dispatch his would-be assassins. The icing on the cake comes when Castle stumbles upon a den of cuddly polar bears. Too docile to be of any use to him, Castle decides to give the half-ton killing-machines some motivation: by punching one of them in the face. The rightfully pissed off polar bears then proceed to express their irritation by inflicting horrific bodily damage to Gnucci's men, one of whom joyfully declares the arrival of his furry demise with two succinct words: "It's bears!" Best field trip of all time.
#1: The Punisher vs The Russian (round 2) vs Grand Nixon Island
When a crazed Russian General named Kreigkopf organizes the entire populace of an island of mercenaries to begin the systematic ellimination of the Western world, Frank steps in to put a stop to his mad scheme. Unfortunately for Frank, Kreigkopf has resurrected The Russian by grafting his head to a large butch woman's body (complete with mountainous breasts) and has tasked him with dropping a nuclear bomb on the assembled body of the European Union. Boarding the plane upon take-off from the island, Castle once again engages his beastly foe in combat. The fight culminates in Frank strapping The Russian to the nuclear payload and dropping him on the island, like some sort of freakish Slim Pickens. The ensuing blast instantly wipes out thousands, leaving Frank with a sly smirk on his face and a deep sense of self gratification. What a fuckin guy...
From the closing chapter of the Book of Punisher: "And the sky was set ablaze with fiery, mushroom-tipped retribution. And the Lord Frank saw that it was good."