With and Interview with character creator Gerry Conway!
CREATED BY: GERRY CONWAY
THE PUNISHER – FIRST APPEARANCE: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #129
In this episode we are going to look into the origins of one of Marvel’s most iconic and controversial characters, Frank Castle, a.k.a, The Punisher. Now this is a character that some consider a hero and others consider a crazy person who kills lots of people while wearing a skull on his chest. I think of him as a little of both. I’m also super excited about the interview I got to do with Gerry Conway, the man who created The Punisher, and several other characters throughout Marvel and DC comics. The man is incredible and it was such a honor to speak to him. So first, let’s talk about The Punisher’s history in comics, the movies and the small screen. Then stick around and listen to the interview. It’s really fun.
The Punisher was created by writer Gerry Conway, artists John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru for Marvel comics and first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #129 which was published in 1974. The character actually started out with a much different name and look. Conway first named the character “Assassin”, but Stan Lee, the editor and chief of Marvel at the time thought it was a little too dark, even for an anti-hero and said, “Why not call him Punisher.” And the character’s name was changed and the die was cast. His suit also went through a change. The skull on his chest started off small and then John Romita Sn. enlarged it to cover his chest. He was first drawn by Andru in Amazing Spider-Man 129 and to everyone’s surprise…the character took off.
In the Punisher’s first appearance we find him working for The Jackal, one of Spider-Man’s oldest foes. He’s the villain responsible for the whole clone mess that keeps cropping up. So he tricks the Punisher into working for him, convincing Frank that Spider-Man is a villain and a murderer. The Jackal uses the fact that Spider-Man technically murdered, on accident, Norman Osborne. The first of many times the man dies of course, but there it is. So Frank thinks that Spider-Man is a bad guy and using his straight forward code, villains die. Now Frank repeatedly says that he takes no pleasure in killing, but it needs to be done to eliminate criminals and keep people safe. So right off the bat, especially in the late-seventies, early 80’s this was pretty radical. No “hero” killed, they cracked you on the jaw, made a few witty remarks and took you to jail. Not the punisher. He killed you. End of story.
No The Punisher quickly realizes that The Jackal is putting one over on him and does not kill Spidey. But that’s not the last we see of The Punisher. He pops up again in Amazing Spider-Man 134 and 135 and again, stumbles on Spidey trying to fight bad guys only to think Spidey is the bad guy. And again, he realizes he’s wrong and let’s Spider-man go. These early appearances show us an edgy Frank, a killer who we don’t actually see kill anyone in the beginning, but as time goes on and we move into the 80’s the Punisher becomes darker and grittier as many of the anti-heroes of the time. So it was funny to re-read these early appearances of the character, to see him kind of just screwing up and not really the Frank we know now.
So we know Frank has a war against crime, that he believes they should just be killed. He hates criminals. But why? We get the first Punisher origin story in the B&W comic magazine, Marvel Preview #2 written by Gerry Conway with some amazing art by Tony DeZuniga. Just amazing stuff. You can check out his origin story pages over on the site. It’s here we see Frank having a wonderful family picnic when rival mobsters have a shootout in the park where the Castle’s are having their picnic. In all the gunfire Frank’s wife, little boy and little girl are killed. Shot dead in front of him. It’s a simple origin but very effective. You see what happens to Frank, his kids, under the age of 10 or 11 gunned down, they die in your arms, your wife, your entire life is gone, over. Couple that with his being a military man, with being able to compartmentalize and think in a straight line and decisions get made that shape the rest of his life.
Is he any different that Batman, the characters have been compared before and even fought in the Marvel/DC crossover. Both went through the most horrible things that can happen to an individual and made a decision to shut off a huge part of themselves and to become something that none of their loved ones would have ever wanted them to become. Do you think that Frank/s wife would have wanted him to have hate and death consume his life, or that Martha and Thomas Wayne would have wanted their son to become someone in constant emotional and physical pain. But they did.
One of the more interesting Punisher titles was the four issue mini-series Punisher: Year One. Here we not only see Frank’s origin story replayed, but we see what he was like the days and first few weeks after his family was murdered. It was really interesting to see the Punisher completely destroyed. He was in out of his mind with sorrow to the point of contemplating suicide. His story almost ended before it began when the mobsters who killed his family sent some hitmen to kill him while he was in the hospital. They entered the room and found Frank on his knees weeping. He knew they were there and when they put the gun to his head he was ready to die. Frank whispered Maria, and the hitman said, “yeah I got your maria right here”, and that was it. Frank’s hand shot up and crushed his hand around the gun and then took them out. Take a look at the site for some really cool pages. But he doesn’t kill them, he has the gun to their heads but the cops bust in and tell him not to ruin his life. He lets them go and then helps the police identify some of the people in the shootout. But of course they have fake alibis and walk. It’s then that Frank again tries to kill himself, this time by shooting himself. But he cannot go through with it. He then starts on his road to vengeance.
The Punisher then shows up in several more Spider-Man books through the 70’s and 80’s and also makes some notable appearances in the pages of Daredevil where the differences in the characters are shown in stark contrast. Both have a code, both are feared but Daredevil will not kill. Their fight is pretty cool and of course you can see pages over on the site.
It’s not until 1986 that The Punisher gets his own series, not a full run, but a five issue mini written by Steve Grant and drawn by Mike Zeck. And this is the book that really launched Zeck in the 80’s. His art was really cool and fit the time, expressive faces, big heroes, neat stuff. I actually remember being at one of my first cons, a really small one, and he was there. I was just starting to get sketches and I asked him what they were going for. He said, 50 bucks. Not this was 1987, that was a HUGe amount of money for a sketch back then. Just to put it in perspective, I got a sketch from Scott Cupolo for nothing. True, he wasn’t as big as Zeck at that point, but 50 bucks for a kid, that was way out of my price range. The mini starts with Frank in jail again, he’s sprung by an organization that calls itself the Trust. They are for ending crime and like his style. So the mini is pretty much Frank killing mobsters and continuing his mission. There is also a love interest, a woman named Angela. But the problem is she is working for the Trust to help get him to officially join them. They are trying to get Frank to join by any means, even blowing up his van to make him more dependent. In the end Frank realizes he is being dupped and continues his mission alone.
It’s a fairly one dimensional series but it helps to build Frank’s character, defining him as a loner. But the series was a hit and The Punisher got the green light for his own series and again he got a stellar creative team to man the book. The initial team was helmed by writer Mike Baron and the amazing Klaus Janson. This book is just beautiful, I’m a huge Janson fan so these were just really nice books to look at. I re-read the first five for this episode and I have to say the art holds up really well, but I couldn’t get into the story. At the time I remember really loving it, but now not so much.
This was the era of the Punisher, his main title spun off into several titles, The Punisher War Journal, The Punisher : War Zone and The Punisher: Armory. He also popped up in several titles along the way. This overexposure really hurt the character and after 104 issues of the his regular series and 104 issues with the other lasting much less and in 1995 Marvel canceled all the Punisher series. He would return here and there but most notably in the the series titled The Punisher:Purgatory. And I say notably, but that’s not quite right. It showed Frank digging himself out of his grave after having shot himself. It does downhill from there with the Punisher arming himself with mystical weapons and fighting supernatural baddies. I have to say, it is the lowest point in the character’s history. Wow, it was bad. So that thankfully ended and the Punisher took a break.
Frank was brought back by Marvel in style, again, putting together another incredible team. You may be familiar with them, they are the powerhouse team behind Preacher. Yep, writer Garth Ennis and the late great Steve Dillon. I love these two together as you might know from the preacher series I did over the past 2 months. Subscribe and check those out if you missed them. You can do that over at the site or on itunes, and when you’re there, please leave a review. It helps us move up the rankings which helps more people learn about us. This team really ramps up the action and violence of the Punisher. If you remember some of the ultra-violent pages from Preacher where The Saint of Killers is blowing people away, they do the same thing with the Punisher. It’s crazy. They also revamp The Punishers look, they get rid of the white gloves and white go-go boots, although no one rocks the white go-go boots like The Punisher. His new look however is much more down to earth and even more farther removed from the traditional superhero look. The new creative keeps Frank’s iconic black shirt and skull, but gives him some combat pants and boots and sometimes a black trench coat. And this is pretty much how the character has stayed. More realistic and gritty and always shooting first and well, not really asking questions later.
So the Punisher has had a lot of life off the comic page, there have been quite a few feature films, the first being released way back in 1989 starring of all people Dolph Lundgren. Which I remember being super excited for, I mean it was one of the first comic movies out and to be honest it wasn’t that bad. There were then two other movies, one in 2004 and one in 2008. But they never really got the character right until Frank showed up in Netflix’s Daredevil show. Wow, it was awesome! The Punisher is played by The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal, the actor who played Shane. He looks the part and just pulls it off on every level. And now Netflix has given The Punisher his own series that will be coming out soon, as a matter of fact, the first trailer is out and it’s awesome. I have the trailer over on the site along with the trailers to all the movies. It’s fun to see the evolution. And I cannot wait to see this series and how the latest incarnation of the Punisher is portrayed on the small screen. It’s a great time to be a comic fan!!
The Punisher (1989) Trailer
The Punisher (2004) Trailer
The Punisher War Zone (2008) Trailer
The Punisher Netflix (TV series)https://youtu.be/C9A-tG_tPP4