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Marvel Needs To Finally Make Punisher A Villain, Not A Hero

Warning: Major Spoilers for Heroes Reborn Squadron Savage #1!

Marvel Comics' premiere antihero Frank Castle a.k.a. the Punisher has remained a staple figure since his comic book introduction. When the vigilante first appeared he was actually portrayed as a villain, which should have remained his role.

A byproduct of the Vietnam War, Gerry Conway and John Romita Sr.'s controversial Punisher character entered Marvel Comics with 1974's The Amazing Spider-Man #129, quickly becoming a favorite in the annals of comic fandom. Without a personal name or even his trademark origin story, Punisher was quite simply a professional assassin hired by supervillain Miles Warren a.k.a. the Jackal to hunt down and "kill" Spider-Man. Following his encounter with perhaps the most family-friendly Marvel superhero in Spider-Man, Frank Castle's increasing popularity saw the trained mass murderer receive a solo miniseries and a one-shot origin story. Punisher's unflinching moral code and tendency to get the job done no matter what struck a chord with certain comic readers of the time, who were beginning to realize that the world wasn't quite as black and white as originally perceived. However, today the legacy of the Punisher has seen a slight dip amongst public turmoil and misinterpretation of the character's own image.

Related: The Punisher's Story Just Became More Tragic In Marvel's New Universe 

Marvel's alternate Heroes Reborn reality where the Avengers never existed offers a drastically new take on the Punisher. Rather than the familiar gun-toting vigilante of the past, writer Ethan Sacks and Luca Pizzari's Heroes Reborn Squadron Savage #1 introduces their version of Frank as a former marksman, who has finally retired to settle down with his family. However, Frank is enlisted by fellow assassin Elektra Natchios of the Squadron Savage, which forces the character to leave his family behind once again for the violence and war. Squadron Savage #1 has made a solid attempt to revitalize the aged vigilante, but this is likewise the issue with modern Frank. Frank is not allowed to be anything other than a hero...unless it's being done from another imprint.

Remaining separate from the main Marvel 616 Universe, writer Garth Ennis's standalone Punisher Max series from 2004-2009 takes the Punisher and shines him in a less than heroic light. Similar to Ennis' other wicked creations found in The Boys and Preacher, this version of Frank Castle is even less of a hero than his original counterpart, using exceedingly violent and sadistic means to place himself on the same playing field as his own villains. Ennis and artist Darick Robertson's four-issue prelude to the Punisher Max series, entitled Born, delved into Frank's emotional psyche during the Vietnam War.

Castle's disturbing time in Vietnam ultimately served as the springboard to his crimefighting career as the Punisher, even more than the death of his family. Several elements of the adult-oriented series enhanced the backstory of Castle more than mainstream Marvel Comics had in years. While it may have once been believed that Frank was committing such violent and extreme acts to avenge the aimless murder of his wife and children, Punisher Max hints that the man was never on a mission to solely avenge his family at all.

Rather than retire the Punisher or drastically dilute the character to fit alongside other superheroes, Marvel needs to devolve Frank Castle. It isn't out of Marvel's wheelhouse to completely shift a former hero into a villain for a time. Frank is not even the most well-liked crime fighter in the Marvel Universe, often coming to blows with several heroes when appearing in major events. Though the Punisher may be a street-level threat compared to the likes of Thanos or Kang, it's not out of the realm of possibility to see the seasoned war vet aiming his hatred against the likes of the Avengers or the Defenders. As long as the Punisher remains a hero, the character will never be allowed to truly progress and evolve as not only a fully formed character, but as a human being.

Next: The Punisher: All 3 Movie Titles Ranked, Worst to Best

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