One of Marvel’s top anti-heroes and its biggest Batman villain, The Punisher is also one of the company’s best anti-heroes.
It’s not difficult to understand why The Punisher is maybe Marvel’s most contentious superhero. Frank Castle is one of the few well-known superheroes who employs lethal force against his adversaries, and he has done so ever since he first debuted in The Amazing Spider-Man #129. Castle had no problem shooting his enemies in the head and calling it a day, unlike most heroes of the day and even now who imprison their foes.
The Punisher has quite a following that defies industry standards, possibly as a result of how unorthodox he is. However, as mass shootings in the United States have virtually become a regular occurrence, the figure has gained some notoriety over the years due to what some perceive to be a celebration of gun violence. Marvel has done everything it can to make The Punisher, his goal, and his lifestyle as unpleasant as possible to stop people from idolizing the figure. Additionally, most portrayals imply that the character is gravely mentally ill, insane, or simply a pure psychopath who is no better than those he murders. You could argue that The Punisher is the best Batman villain from Marvel.
The Punisher made his debut in The Amazing Spider-Man #129, during the illustrious run of the comic book by Gerry Conway and John Romita Sr. The lack of powers and the character’s 80s/90s action movie hero attitude shocked everyone at Marvel, but the character really connected with readers. One of the notable book series featuring Frank Castle that would later appear was The Punisher, which debuted in 1987. In the 1990s, the Marvel anti-hero would star in The Punisher: Warzone, a series written primarily by Chick Dickson, co-creator of Bane and writer of Batman: Knightfall. However, despite being entertaining, the book’s overarching theme of shlock caused many people to write the character off for any in-depth analysis or discussion.
Garth Ennis, a veteran writer for The Punisher and co-creator of The Boys, discussed this specific approach in the introduction to The Punisher: The Complete Series Volume 1 from MAX Comics. He talked about a conference he went to in the late 1980s and a panel he attended that covered violence in comics. The general consensus when The Punisher was brought up was that the character wasn’t deserving of a serious discussion on the topic of violence. Ennis freely acknowledges that, deep down, he continued to view the Punisher as a subject unworthy of serious examination even during his own time on the Marvel Knights Punisher series. This would alter during his tenure as the character’s MAX imprint, where the
The Punisher run by Garth Ennis on the Max Imprint is possibly not just the best work the author has ever produced, but also the best work the character has ever seen. The darker undertone of the character is brought to the fore, which is what makes the book so gripping. It is quite evident from the outset that Frank Castle is a bad person. His continual desire to kill people he believes deserve it, regardless of extenuating circumstances, and his obsessive need to battle and kill criminals present the picture of a man who is, at the absolute least, seriously ill if not outright mad. This is further developed in his internal monologues by the titular antihero. Punisher: Born, the prequel miniseries, delves even deeper into this by having him kill other soldiers who he believes are doing something wrong and by demonstrating that he was seriously ill even before his family was murdered. Everything about this is a textbook example of a Batman antagonist.
The Punisher is one of Batman’s more intriguing adversaries who originally had a sympathetic backstory, like many of the villains in his films. After mobsters murdered his family, he went out to exact revenge on those who had mistreated him in the first place. The Punisher’s fight continued after the initial wrongdoers, expanding to include anyone who makes him angry, just like many of those Batman villains. It becomes evident that the individual in the issue does deserve pity but likely needs professional help much more when you dig deeper into the character’s past and discover that the character wasn’t totally correct earlier.
Antagonizers such as the Punisher are also nothing new to Batman. For instance, former Robin Jason Todd was a youngster who grew up on the streets before becoming Batman’s sidekick. He was killed and then revived, becoming The Red Hood, one of Batman’s more complex foes. Jason Todd’s persistent use of deadly force was a point of disagreement between the two even after they made amends. Similarly, Azrael was a figure who adopted Batman’s persona and was even more merciless and violent among criminals. You also have a character like Mr. Freeze, whose explanation for wanting retribution, in the beginning, is one of the best Batman stories ever written, but later tales saw that justification crumble. The most obvious comparison, however, is made by Two-Face.
Even before his deformity, Two-Face frequently exhibits symptoms of a disordered mental condition, much like the Punisher. In The Dark Knight, we saw how eager the character was to kidnap and frighten a suspect, and in the Batman comic Batman: The Long Halloween, he most certainly killed a few people before becoming deformed. Two-Face had a split personality before being disfigured by torture as a youngster in Batman: The Animated Series, which gave rise to a third personality. All of this indicates a damaged character who was far more similar to The Punisher than we give him credit for before his terrible genesis.
Two-Face frequently displays signs of a deranged mental condition even before his deformities, much like the Punisher. The character’s eagerness to kidnap and terrorize a suspect was demonstrated in The Dark Knight, and in the Batman comic Batman: The Long Halloween, he very definitely killed a few people before turning monstrous. Before being tortured as a child in Batman: The Animated Series, Two-Face had a split personality, which gave rise to a third personality. All of this points to a broken figure who, prior to his horrific origin, was far more The Punisher-like than we give him credit for.
As Batman does with his more lethal counterparts, The Punisher debates whether it is better to apprehend and combat criminals rather than simply murder them. As the season progresses, you learn that The Punisher suffered a severe brain injury, which most likely left him without the capacity to discriminate between right and wrong. Due to this, Nelson and Murdock attempt to have his multiple murder convictions overturned on the grounds of insanity. A deeper look into his past reveals that he may not have been fully rational from the beginning and that his brain injury just served to enhance this. Additionally, he is still too eager to revenge himself even after killing everyone who had harmed him in his own story.
It is funny how, whether intentionally or not, The Punisher is Marvel’s best Batman villain.