What can you say?
It seems you either love him or you hate him and that not only applies to us readers, but also to the majority of the characters in the Marvel Universe (and a few from DC's unverse too).
Long disregarded as a Batman rip off after his creation, it was the 1986 mini series by Steven Grant and Mike Zeck, that really brought Frank into his own, though it was definitely a series of dubious quality and character reasoning. The Punisher, though, has since gone on to become a fan favourite, with stand out runs by John Romita Jr, Chuck Dixon, Klaus Janson and, of course, Garth Ennis.
First introduced in The Amazing Spider Man #129, the Punisher was created by Gerry Conway, who wrote and designed the basic concept, John Romita Sr, who refined the costume's design and Ross Andru who drew the first comic book appearance. Though there was no doubt that the Punisher was a vigilante, there was a certain heroic nobility to those earlier Frank Castle appearances, a reluctance to be damned as being cut from the same mould as the villains and a responsibility to the heroes he worked along side. This side of Frank would change over time to a far darker tone and an almost maniacal drive and acceptance of the dark deeds that he must commit in the name of punishment. In those early Spider Man issues, Frank was almost a protector, a colleague to Spider Man, though a homicidal one at best (their first meeting with Moses Magnum still ranks as one of the best comics EVER). Frank Miller used Frank to contrast the differences between heroes in his acclaimed Daredevil run. Mark Millar used the Punisher as the wild cannon in his Civil War epic; the one hero who could never fit, too wild for either heroes or villains.
Frank had always played well as a support character in others stories, a fantastic peripheral character in the marvel universe, and though popular enough to warrant numerous solo titles, seemed destined to have all his classic moments relegated to others titles.
Then, Garth Ennis entered the picture.
Fresh of his acclaimed run on Preacher, Garth Ennis took over the writing reins of the relaunched Punisher in the year 2000, 12 part maxi-series simply titled The Punisher. It was with this run that Ennis wiped years of muddled continuity, not by means of a major reboot, but by succinctly and forcefully refocusing Frank back into everything that made him a fan favourite. This was a no messing around Punisher and a series that introduced a concept no other Punisher series had ever really considered; humour. As Ennis once said in an interview on the subject, "the last thing you want to do is take this kind of thing too seriously." Yet, it seems that Mr. Ennis did not take his own advice and take Frank seriously is exactly what he did, which leads to our defining moment.
THE DEFINING MOMENT
Long, Cold, Dark.
Beginning with issue 50 of volume 6 of The Punisher, this was the storyline that took Frank more seriously than any story before or since and was all the better for it. Not only did it exhibit a tone that very few stories, or mediums for that matter could match for visceral violence and dark tone, it also reintroduced the villain Barracuda as, quite possibly, the most terrifying adversary to ever grace the pages of a comic book.
Having appeared twice before in an earlier Punisher tale and a spin off mini series, Barracuda was, in essence, the anti Punisher. Somewhat comical in his previous stories, this Barracuda was out for blood, but not just the blood of Frank Castle. No. This time he was also out for the blood of (Did i mention there were major spoilers in this article?) Franks' daughter!
That's right, unbeknowst to Frank, a past liaison had produced a baby girl and, unfortunately for Frank, Barracuda found out first. Having kidnapped the baby, Frank is forced into places he has never had to go before and face the entire nightmare of his family being murdered all over again.
What follows is one of the most compelling, harrowing, ultra violent, sometimes hilarious, utterly enthralling stories ever to feature a man with a giant skull on his jumper (which, by the way, rarely makes an appearance here).
It makes us realise that Frank Castle, the Punisher is not a hero, never mind a super hero. His tale is one of tragedy, no tragedy being greater than the life Frank has chosen for himself. Like with opera, his story will never end happier than it began and Franks journey can never end well. It is marked with pain and sacrifice, suffering and violence. Frank's life is a commitment to death which will ultimately end in his own. Yet, when faced with the task of protecting an innocent, an innocent who may represent all his failings in saving his first two children, something triggers in the story and in Frank himself that seems to change things. Perhaps hope is evident. Perhaps justice. Perhaps redemption.
Or perhaps not.
Having done what he needed to do, Frank gives up his baby daughter and ensures that she will never know who her father was, for her own safety. Having faced down the embodiment of the life of violence he has chosen in Barracuda and come out victorious, though horribly beaten, Frank leaves, back onto the highway and on to the next mission.
He shows no remorse. Asks for no forgiveness. Bears his burden with out thanks or self pity.
That is the defining moment for me.
After all the blood shed and gun play, we are left not with the Punisher, but with Frank.
He is not a hero. His path is not one of made of justice, or redemption or even revenge. It is a path that leads to death. When Frank became the Punisher he committed to a never ending task that grace nor kindness nor violence or pain could stop. Only death would stop it.
Judging by news of the upcoming end of the current punisher series, it looks like Frank may finally find his ending.
Until then, please let me know what your definitive Punisher moment is.