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Comic Book: The Punisher

"It's Omaha Beach. Wounded Knee. Rorke's Drift, The Killing Fields, the first day on The Somme. World War Three in North Jersey. And only now, pouring automatic fire into a human wall — do I feel something like peace."
Punisher (MAX) #1

Possibly the most enduring Darker and Edgier Anti-Hero ever to appear in a comic, the Punisher is one of Marvel's most reliable cash cows, a Vigilante Man and Judge, Jury, and Executioner whose only passion is finding and executing criminals in the most brutal (and sometimes imaginative) ways possible. The Punisher first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #129 (February, 1974), created by writer Gerry Conway, along with artists John Romita, Sr. and Ross Andru.

For a while the Punisher appeared mostly in titles starring Spider-Man. He received his first origin story in Marvel Preview #2 (April, 1975), again written by Conway. He received another solo story in Marvel Super Action #1 (January, 1976), a one-shot publication. After that Punisher returned to making appearances in titles featuring Spider-Man, Captain America, and Daredevil. In the 1980s, Steven Grant and Mike Zeck campaigned for a Punisher mini-series. But Marvel editors were reportedly reluctant. The series eventually did materialize: Punisher vol. 1 (January-May, 1986). It sold well and consequently Punisher gained his first ongoing series in 1987. The Punisher has since starred in various magazines over the years, even gaining two events that ran through all his books in the early nineties: Suicide Run and Countdown.

Frank Castle is a Vietnam War veteran who saw his wife, son and daughter slaughtered in a Mafia hit gone wrong. So he got himself a black shirt with a scary white skull on the front and a whole lot of guns, and started a one-man war on crime (as you do).

The big difference between him and, say, Batman? Castle kills the criminals that he fights. A lot. Often several dozen at a time (his confirmed "high scores" to date are approximately 2,000 in the Marvel Universe with a nuke, and 68 in one night, with 32 in a single location in the MAX continuity. Wizard magazine also had his death count as slightly above 1,000, pre-Ennis and later in MAX, this is mentioned to have climbed to 2K. Combine all that together, and the total death toll comes around to an astounding four thousand bad guys.) He uses machine guns, explosives, a certain amount of martial arts, knives, and on occasion, wildlife (most notably, the time that he punched a polar bear in the face to get it riled enough to eat some Mafia hitmen). He can be very, very sadistic. He tends not to get on with Marvel's actual superheroes, especially when he's written by comic-book scribe Garth Ennis; many fans think Castle and Ennis were a match made in heaven.

The tone of the stories vary from violent pitch-black comedy to intensively grim-and-gritty noir tales to attempts to make him a full-on Super Hero... who just so happens to kill people. His enemies have ranged from sex slavery rings (the MAX arc "The Slavers" being possibly one of the single darkest stories in the history of comics, if not the history of fiction) to gigantic Russian hitmen augmented with cyborg body parts and enormous breasts... both of them written by Ennis.

The character himself often suffers from inconsistent writing. Many writers have portrayed him as a good man at heart who sincerely does want to help people and keep them from suffering the same way he did, while other writers have portrayed him as a psychopath with no pity for anyone and no motivation beyond killing criminals. There are two notably different Punisher series: the main Marvel Universe series and a second series created for Marvel's adults-only MAX imprint (originally titled The Punisher and referred to as Punisher MAX, before changing to The Punisher: Frank Castle and then PunisherMAX). This latter version, written almost exclusively by Garth Ennis for four years, features no superheroes and is deeply rooted in "mundane" crime — The Mafia, Irish terrorist cells, Eastern European sex slavers, gangsters and real-life wars are prominent. It is also considerably less funny than the mainstream Marvel series, though there are touches of black humor here and there. The MAX series is written much more consistently than the mainstream version, due to being almost entirely shaped by Garth Ennis' vision of the character; this series is also notorious for its moral absolutism. The Marvel Universe version may be willing to excuse himself for killing a friend's girlfriend while under the influence of a "hate ray", but the first post-Ennis MAX issue sees Frank on the edge of killing himself after believing that his instinctive shooting had led to an innocent girl's death, declaring to himself that "I must be punished."note 

There have been three Punisher movies: 1989's The Punisher (starring Dolph Lundgren), 2004's The Punisher (starring Thomas Jane), and 2008's Punisher: War Zone (starring Ray Stevenson). (It should be noted that War Zone is not a direct sequel to the 2004 Punisher film.) He will star in the 2014 anime film Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher.

There were also several Punisher video games with the most notable being a Beat 'em Up by also featuring Nick Fury (see The Punisher (Capcom)), and a The Punisher third-person action game, which is rife with The Joys Of Torturing Mooks. He's also one of the recruitable heroes in Marvel Avengers Alliance.

The character has the ignoble distinction of ranking highly in various Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny debates, thanks to a combination of Popularity Power and the comic entitled "The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe" (coincidentally written by Ennis years before his more regular work with the character). He also has the distinction of being one of the two title stars of what is undoubtedly The Single Weirdest Comics Crossover Known to Humankind: Archie Meets the Punisher.

This comic contains examples of:

  • Accidental Misnaming: Detective Martin Soap gets called by the wrong name, and even has to fix the "R" initial on his door to an "M."
  • Affably Evil:
    • Barracuda, despite being a treacherous Psycho for Hire and even a self-admitted cannibal, managed to reach status through being the ever-optimistic, constantly cheerful source of Black Comedy. He not only got better after being iced by Punisher at the end of his first arc, but even starred in his own mini-series, which was unprecedented for MAX villains.
    • The Russian is another example: murderous, violent and psychopathic. He is, nonetheless, incredibly friendly to his enemies, actively complimenting and joking with them mid-fight.
  • All Crimes Are Equal: In some stories, many later stories subvert this somewhat, by having Frank focus on higher ranking Criminals.
  • All Just a Dream: The infamous comic of Frank traveling back in time to kill Al Capone is just Frank having a dream.
  • Alternate Company Equivalent: The Punisher is modeled very closely on the character of Mack Bolan, who also lost his family to mob violence and becomes a vigilante with the nickname "The Executioner". Mack Bolan was featured in a series of books that were first published in 1968, and new books in the series still come out today.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: In Punisher MAX: In The Beginning, Ennis took quite a bit of heat because he has Frank refuse to hunt Bin Laden for the CIA, referring to his Vietnam war days as the last he'd ever waste fighting for the government. Later, Micro admits that his handlers plan to fund the hunt with Afghan heroin. No way the CIA would smuggle drugs, right? Right?
  • Always a Bigger Fish: Frank easily kills normal human villains — put him against a genuine supervillain, though, and he's in trouble. Taken to its logical conclusion with the recent "Punisher vs. Daken" (aka Wolverine's psychotic killing machine of a son with all of dad's powers) story arc: Daken takes Frank apart. Literally.
  • Ambiguously Evil: This has mostly do with inconsistent writing, but it's still debatable whether Frank is an Anti-Hero or a psychotic serial killer.
  • And Call Him George: The Russian puts his arm around the shoulder of one of the guys assigned to escort him for reassurance, and it kills him.
  • Androcles Lion: The Delta commander in "Valley Forge, Valley Forge", or at least what his hapless "minder" ends up thinking happened. When the colonel was a regular soldier in Vietnam, he was rescued by a Special Forces raid that inspired him to enter Special Forces himself; the lieutenant realizes at the end that one of the participants was none other than Frank Castle.
  • Arch-Enemy: For obvious reasons, criminals rarely make repeat appearances. The closest thing Frank's got is Billy "Jigsaw" Russo, whose main claim to fame is tussling with Frank a few dozen times and actually living to talk about it.
  • Asshole Victim: Most (if not all) of Frank's victims.
  • The Atoner:
    • Frank's mission against criminals is partially motivated by his failure to protect his family from being gunned down. Frank feels that he sacrificed his family, as the voice he heard in Vietnam (the devil?) kept hounding him about a never ending war, which when the Vietcong overran his base he accepted to save his life, only to be told his family would be payment. This trope shows up under Ennis's authorship. Prior to that, though it was rarely brought up, Frank did what he did in part to punish himself, for being unable to save his family.
    • The second MAX series reveals Frank to be this in a bigger, more disturbing way than ever thought. The reason why Frank continues to wage his war on crime is to punish himself with a life of endless suffering. He feels he deserves this because it is revealed that shortly before his family was killed, he had made a decision to divorce his wife and leave his kids with her, because his time in Vietnam had made life outside the battlefield unbearable for him. The fact that he was willing to toss aside his family in favor of his bloodlust sticks with him.
  • Author Appeal: Garth Ennis' run prior the MAX print of series. His distaste for Catholicism is shown with the psycho priest, while his dislike for popular masked super heroes is shown in a fight with Frank vs. The Russian where Spider-Man steps in; all Spidey does is get the shit kicked out of him and act like a human shield for Frank.
  • Avenging the Villain: After Punisher kills Julius Cabrone, his daughter Rosalie hires several assassins after him. This isn't an one-time incident, as in the words of Punisher: "I've got more vendettas against me than I can count."
  • Awesome McCoolname: Frank Castle.
  • Ax-Crazy: Many of villains and, Depending on the Writer, Frank himself.
  • Back from the Dead: Jigsaw, Microchip.
  • Badass Boast:
    • Yorkie Mitchell, answering a captured Irish terrorist (who murdered a friend of Yorkie, the father of the kid Yorkie brought over) as to whether he's MI6:
      "By way of the SAS, by way of the Parachute Regiment. Feel free to start screaming your head off."
    • Frank gets one at the start of Punisher Noir when his wife tells him to be wary of the Angel of Death.
    Frank: Baby, I ain't got a thing to worry about 'cause I am the Angel of Death
  • Badass Grandpa: While this isn't as prominent in the mainstream universe thanks to Comic Book Time, in MAX, he is drawn to look like the fifty-to-sixty-year-old man that he is, and his age is mentioned from time to time.
  • Badass Longcoat: Frank's often depicted wearing a black trench coat, especially in more modern stories where it replaces his more traditional comic costume. Typically, towards the end of the story, when he starts to mean business he just stops wearing it. In War Zone, he trades up the longcoat for a more mobile outfit, replacing the longcoat with body armor.
  • Badass Normal: Castle has no superpowers of his own, and typically most of his foes are either just mooks or other badass normals. However, he has gone toe-to-toe with various superheroes and villains in the past.
  • Badbutt: Any animated version of him will inevitably wind up as this, with the exception of Iron Man: Rise of Technovore, which shows him killing a group of terrorists and acting more like his comic book depiction.
  • Bait the Dog: In General Zakharov's first appearance, while there's some whispering of his reputation and he does use the We Have Reserves trope (though he was trying to dislodge terrorists from a nuclear silo), Zakharov in the end did stop a nuclear confrontation and showed way more patience with The Starscream than he had a right to. Later, when we see him again, we find out just how he fought in in Afghanistan.
  • Bears Are Bad News:
    • One of the earlier stories had Frank stranded in Alaskan wilderness and picking a fight with a bear.
    • And there is the infamous moment when he deliberately angered a bunch of polar bears to kill mobsters in a zoo.
      Punisher: Cuddly. Lovable. Docile. *POW* That won't do at all.
  • Berserk Button: Frank has several. His family is one, his illegitimate daughter is another, and God help you if he finds out you're a human trafficker. In general, violence against women tends to be this, and at one point a group of widows (of gangsters killed by Frank) attempt to use this against him, by luring him into an ambush under the guise of a fake human-trafficking operation... it almost works.
  • Black and Grey Morality: The Punisher is a sociopathic, cruel, Knight Templar, Blood Knight, mass-murderering, Vigilante Man, but is recurrently put against Up to Eleven versions of the worst sorts of people reality has to offer. Most Punisher villains don't seem to even have any character traits besides malice, greed, sadism, and selfishness. Garth Ennis writes the character as 100% aware of this, often repeatedly stating that his only reason to continue living is to punish those worse than himself.
  • Black Comedy: Shows up from time to time throughout the character's history, but Ennis's 90s run is built on it.
    Punisher: Gunfight in the morgue rule one. Don't hide behind the thin guy.
  • Blood Knight: Why does Frank kill? 33% for revenge, 33% for justice, and 33% because he likes it; the remaining 1% is just plain crazy.
  • Book Ends: The first issue of Garth Ennis' mainstream series ended with Frank throwing a criminal off of the Empire State building. In the last issue, he does the same thing again and reflects on all that's happened since he came back.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Has happened a couple of times to Frank. He tried killing jaywalkers and his second sidekick's girlfriend.
  • Breakout Character: The Punisher originally appeared as a Spider-Man villain in 1974. He became popular and started to appear on a regular basis, eventually getting his own series in the '80s.
    • Barracuda again, his popularity eventually giving him his own mini series.
  • Broad Strokes: The first Punisher MAX series in relation to the Garth Ennis Marvel Knights series. The MAX series started immediately after the Knights series ended and though it takes place in its own continuity characters from the Knights series like Jen Cooke and Yorkie make appearances in the MAX series with events from the Knights series referenced, while superheroes who were in the Knights series (Spider-Man, Wolverine and Daredevil particularly) presumably don't exist.
  • Brooklyn Rage: While some men might seek vengeance on those who killed their family, Frank Castle doesn't settle that low. He wants to kill every criminal. Every single one.
  • Brick Joke: In one issue of the MAX series, Nick Fury, who had previously gone on a rant about how smoking had been banned in public areas, said that he was going to "fuck every hooker I can find before some cocksucker bans that too." An issue or two later, he's seen in a large bed, with three women sleeping next to him.
  • Bulletproof Human Shield: A common tactic of Frank's; use a crook to kill a crook.
  • Bulletproof Vest: Frank's original costume is decorated body armor, but the better writers make it clear that being shot even while wearing such protection is much like getting hit by a truck.
  • Bullying a Dragon: When Frank walks in on Anti-Venom busting a Mexican crime syndicate in New Ways to Live, they team up until he realizes Anti-Venom is his old adversary Eddie Brock. Castle promptly shoots Anti-Venom - who was in the process of thanking him - point-blank in the face with a shotgun, and when the last surviving thug takes the ex-drug addict Anti-Venom had been using as an informant hostage, Frank coldly states "That's not a girl... it's a junkie" and takes aim. Anti-Venom to pull his head back together, severely pissed off, and smashes Frank through a wall.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Frank's usual reaction when he runs into somebody trying to Avenge The Villain. However, this also applies to people that Frank accidentally helps.
    • In the penultimate issue of Garth Ennis' Punisher Max "Widowmaker" arc, Castle is rescued by a woman who explains that she did it because Castle killed her brutal mobster husband who beat and raped her and let his friends beat and rape her... Let's just say that she was really grateful for that slaughter in the first issue, as she knew for a fact she didn't have a chance in hell of pulling it off herself.
    • In the final issue of Ennis' run, Castle is outmaneuvered and captured by a Special Forces unit. Turns out that its commander, Colonel Howe, owes Frank his life - he rescued a teenage Howe from a Viet Cong camp during the war. To Castle, it was just another of his countless deniable operations. To Howe, it was the most important moment in his life - the reason he joined Special Forces in the first place. This is why he volunteered to take Castle alivenote , and upon discovering that the generals who ordered the takedown were bastards, he freed Castle and let him kill them all, which led to a Crowning Moment Of Awesome as Howe only left him a single handgun and eight bullets to do it. Castle simply gave the eight generals eight Pretty Little Headshots and walked away.
    • At the end of the issue that inroduced Jigsaw, Nightcrawler and Spider-Man discuss how much the guy hated Punisher for disfiguring him; but for Frank, its such a mundane occurrence he doesn't even remember it.
  • Butt Monkey: Detective Soap, the biggest joke of NYPD, is the prime example. For that matter, if you're a police officer and The Punisher's case is assigned to you, it's a sure sign that you're in danger of becoming this. Charlie Schitti would be another great example of Butt Monkey, if not for the fact that just still being alive at the end is remarkably lucky for a (former) mobster.
  • Captain Ersatz:
    • One of the villains was a cult leader The Rev, who was an analogy to Jim Jones.
    • "Politically naive" actress-turned-activist Alice from War Journal is one to Jane Fonda.
  • Car Fu: In "Welcome Back, Frank," the mafia hires a former Desert Storm sniper to kill him. Frank just runs the guy over with an SUV, then backs up.
  • Carnival of Killers: An early arc in Punisher: War Zone had the New York mob hiring the seven best assassins in the world to hunt down the Punisher. Such things are something of an occupational hazard for The Punisher.
  • Celibate Hero: Frank doesn't seem to have much interest in the ladies, but this is most likely justified by the fact that he still thinks about his family and/or he's too busy killing scum. He has had romantic encounters with some women, including the one that resulted in his illegitimate daughter, but it's not a significant part of his characterization outside of when he's written by Mike Baron, who has him sleeping around as much as your typical action hero.
  • Characters Dropping Like Flies: Given the basic premise, no one is safe from death (even Frank died once, though he came back — while making no reference to the whole affair). Recurring characters like Barracuda and Yorkie Mitchell are safe for maybe three arcs.
  • Charles Atlas Super Power: Frank is occasionally depicted as this, between being a Vietnam veteran Determinator having Impropable Aiming Skills and (as in the War Zone movie) extremely sensitive hearing. Some of his enemies - particularly The Russian - are similarly empowered.
  • Chest Insignia: The Punisher's iconic skull. Like Batman, it serves as a heavily armored target and in the earlier issues the teeth were spare ammo magazines.
  • Christmas Special: He's dressed as Santa whilst gunning down mobsters multiple times.
  • Chronically Crashed Car: The Battle Van tended to get wrecked every time Frank brought it out.
  • Classical Anti-Hero: Some writers also throw in this, a lonely, unstable shell of a man with no future, who can only function as a killing machine.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: All three new vigilantes watch the same broadcast about them and the Punisher, and say "This gives me an idea!" at the same time.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Particularly in the MAX series, Frank often resorts to nasty torture of those working for his target du jour or otherwise connected to them.
  • Cold Sniper: Castle himself. His second tour of duty in 'Nam was spent performing sniper work and recon. Its never said exactly what went on (and the men he led on his third tour only knew rumours too grisly to be true) but Microchip knows about it and apparently it was when he first started to love violence.
  • Combat Pragmatist: The following quote from "Welcome Back, Frank" sums it up:
    Frank Castle: When you're on your own, behind enemy lines, no artillery, no air strikes, no hope of an evac, you don't fight dirty. You do things that make dirty look good.
    • Also in "Welcome Back, Frank" one of the three hit men hired to kill Castle was an expert in multiple forms of martial arts. Instead of even thinking about trying to fight the man hand-to-hand, Castle surreptiously follows the man into the subway, stands behind him in the crowd on the platform, then pushes him in front of an oncoming train. Castle: "I have a favorite: Splat-Fu."
  • Combat Sadomasochist: Colonel De Sade from Summer Special issues, who loved to be in the receiving end of pain as much as causing it.
  • Comically Missing the Point: When Ma Gnucci says she wants to kill the one who crippled her, one of her mooks says, "You want us to put a hit on the bear?"
  • Comic Book Fantasy Casting: The MAX line has a lot of characters looking like famous "cool" actors in real life.
  • Comic Book Time: Explicitly averted, in the MAX series at least. Frank fought in and is described as a product of the Vietnam War. In the MAX series, he ages appropriately, and is drawn as a beefy 50/60 year old man...while the main continuity just tries not draw your attention to it too much.
  • Cool Guns: Even though the Punisher uses a lot of different types of guns, he shows a preference for military weapons such as the M16 rifle or M1911 pistols.
    • He actually had a ten-issue series titled "Armory" dedicated to showing off his guns and other equipment.
    • In one arc of the MAX series he explains this as force of habit, from his days in Vietnam; even in a scene where he decries the killing power of M16 rounds compared to those from an AK, he nevertheless states: "''I'm used to it. I'm good with it. And like I said, there is the M203."
    • And from "Punisher : War Journal" (main continuity) - a gun that shoots swords.
  • Crapsack World: The MAX series is the best example, with even the hero being a decidedly dark gray in a black and gray world.
  • Criminal Doppelgänger: In the Crossover Archie Meets The Punisher, a criminal the Punisher has tracked to Riverdale looks very similar to Archie.
  • Criminals: The Punisher has killed all kinds of them: Mafiosi, The Irish Mob, Yakuza, The Mafiya, South American crime bosses, embezzlers, modern pirates, poachers, gang members, bombers, pyromaniacs, bikers, modern nazis, super villains, mercenaries, assassins, Ninja, serial killers, rapists, child molesters, slavers, terrorists, killer families, Satan worshippers, Voodoo priests, ruthless vigilantes, crooked cops, and so on.
  • Crisis Crossover: He tends to be left out of these big events, partly because they don't fit his "realistic" tone, and partly because, as mentioned above, most of the spandex set really don't like him, and would rather he was in jail. Two notable exceptions:
    • In the Civil War, Captain America recruited him for the anti-registration side. Most of Cap's allies hated this — especially when Cap tried to recruit some low-level villains, who the Punisher promptly shot dead in front of everyone.
    • Frank appears very briefly in the Justice League-Avengers company crossover series. Batman sees him in action, and swiftly kicks the tar out of him.
  • Crusading Widower: Castle seeks vengeance then effects genocide on the American criminal element for the murder of his family during a botched mob hit. Garth Ennis took this concept in an interesting direction during the miniseries: "Widowmaker" for the Marvel MAX imprint of the character. In that arc several wives of high-level mafioso Frank Castle had brutally murdered come together to take vengeance on Frank. Unfortunately before Frank can come up against the potentially morally interesting decision of how to deal with them, they are interrupted by another Mafia widow. This widow is thankful to Frank for killing her husband, who she regarded as a diabolically vile monster, and has nothing for contempt for the other widows who cruelly abused her. Thus this apparently exonerates Frank of any blame or responsibility.
  • Cultural Translation: One of the early arcs had a Carnival of Killers, one of which was described by Frank as shooting "faster 'n greased lightning". The French translation has "shoots faster than his own shadow".
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: General Zahrakov, again. He uses Mook Chivalry twice to catch Frank unprepared. He's the only one in Russian intel to guess that the Americans would attempt a Moral Event Horizon for their False Flag Operation. Finally, he anticipates a Defensive Feint Trap the Punisher had planned for him and even when warned by Rawlins and Dolnovich that he was heading into a trap, outwits all three of them and captures the Punisher. His only mistake really was taking Smug Snake Rawlins at his word when he said that he searched The Punisher properly. And we have this gem:
    Rawlins: For God's sake, why not [give me a job]?
    Zahrakov: Because I am a soldier and you are something else. It is in your nature to betray, a small child could tell you that. You would betray me and I would be forced to kill you—and why would I create that much trouble for myself?
  • Darker and Edgier: Though pretty mainstream by today's standards, the first Punisher miniseries (Circle of Blood) was a far cry from most other Marvel Comics products of the mid 1980s. Today, The Punisher: Frank Castle (the MAX imprint title) is the epitome of this trope for Marvel.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The Punisher is an Anti-Hero example who only kills bad guys and he has black clothes with a skull. This, however, is often Depending on the Writer, as a lot of the time he practically qualifies as a Villain Protagonist.
  • Dead Man's Trigger Finger: A Captain America/Punisher teamup comic has Frank cause this with a precise knife-throw into a guard with a machine gun, which takes out the other guards for them.
  • Deadpan Snarker: It's rare for him to make a joke, but when he does, Frank's shows he's got a very dark and cynical sense of humor.
    Cop: Any time you wanna finish that, big man: you an' me, wherever the fuck you like...
    Frank: I'm not really dating right now.
  • Deal with the Devil: In the MAX-continuity miniseries Punisher: Born, which shows Frank during his last tour in Vietnam, he appears to talk with a mysterious voice in his head. Frank refuses to accept that the US is withdrawing from Vietnam and does everything he can to postpone shutting down his camp. The Vietcong finally assault the base during a storm while the US army air support is cut off, killing everyone. Frank is the last American alive, and the voice makes him an offer. Eternal war, in exchange for something. Frank accepts and survives when the US air strike finally arrives. Frank comes back home and meets his family at the airport, and the voice returns to claim the price for his eternal war: Frank's family.
  • Death by Newbery Medal: Frank's old guard dog, Max, which was killed off in the same arc it was introduced in. It's shot by a gangster trying to raid one of Frank's hideouts. When Frank sees that he's dying, he puts him down with a knife. Frank's crying when he does this.
  • Decompressed Comic: The Punisher MAX.
  • Dented Iron: Becomes a plot point in the second Punisher MAX series, in which the physical and sometimes emotional toll of waging a 30+ year war on crime has on Frank is explored. Frank goes through an increasingly ruthless Rogues Gallery worth of foes including The Mennonite, MAX!Bullseye, MAX!Elektra, and finally, MAX!Kingpin, getting more and more irrevocably battered after dispatching each one, with the last one culminating in a long, drawn out, excruciating Mutual Kill.
  • Depending on the Writer: How much Frank fights to help innocents and how much because he likes killing, as well as how sane he is in general. This gets downright meta in the MAX "Bullseye" arc, where Bullseye nearly drives himself crazier trying to figure out Frank's exact motivation. His feelings towards other Marvel heroes he runs in to also varies with the writer. Does he view them as admirable but too soft? Just annoying obstacles in his path?
  • Depraved Dwarf: Frank and Wolverine take on an entire gang of these at one point, led by the midget brother of a mafia boss killed by Frank. It doesn't end well for them (or Wolverine).
  • The Determinator: Frank, of course. As he once said "A man who doesn't have anything to lose, can't help but win."
  • Dirty Coward: About 95% of the criminals behave like this when on the wrong end of a gunpoint, begging Frank for their lives and promising him anything and everything (this never helps). The remaining 5% are mostly Psychos For Hire or otherwise too raving mad to feel fear - only very rarely you can see a sane villain who just has enough guts for something like "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Zahrakov and Dolnovich get bitten back in the worse way by Smug Snake Rawlins after attacking his groin several times, wiping blood on his shirt, and generally kicking him around. Granted, Rawlins is such a bastard that they probably would've gotten a knife in the back regardless, but at least don't give the guy ammunition.
  • Don't Make Me Destroy You: Inverted in "Mother Russia". Frank catches his partner doing something he shouldn't be doing. His partner shouts "Back off! Don't make me fuck you up!" Frank just kicks him in the face and knocks half his teeth out.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: Averted: Nicky Cavella was raped by his aunt when he was very young, presented as a serious issue instead of a point of humor.
  • The Dreaded: Frank himself. The white skull on his chest has become such a terrifying icon of death that just the sight of it can make men from EASTERN EUROPEAN DEATH SQUADS fall to their knees and sob for mercy.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Frank at the end of "Punisher Kills The Marvel Universe"
    • Also, criminal profiler Buddy Plugg.
  • Empowered Badass Normal:
    • In a What If Castle visits the Our Lady of Saints church a few minutes before Eddie Brock does and winds up becoming Venom.
    • There was a brief period of time in the nineties when Castle was given a supernatural bent. He became a divine assassin on behalf of God, using angelic firearms to smite demons in return for a chance to be reunited with his family in heaven. Predictably this didn't turn out to be a popular development. When Ennis began his run in "Welcome Back Frank", he pays lip service to it by acknowledging it before declaring: "It didn't work out."
    • In Punisher: Born, Garth makes his own supernatural upgrade part of Frank's backstory: During the battle of Valley Forge, an enigmatic voice gave him the choice to either die in battle or be its agent on Earth. This entity is implied to be Death Itself, and it apparently guides The Punisher's hand.
    • Later, Morbius the Living Vampire resurrected Frank as a Frankenstein's Monster version of himself after a fight with Daken left Frank shredded into pieces.
  • Epic Fail: In Issue #18 of the original Punisher: War Journal series, Frank is in Hawaii tracking down a gang of drug dealers. He ends up armed with an old double barreled pistol taken off the body of Captain Cook. Frank ambushes one of the dealers and fires at him, causing a loud bang and bright flash...followed by the ball bearing slipping out of the pistol. Frank then throws the gun at the guy, which he ducks causing the pistol to smack against the stump of a tree... which makes the other barrel discharge, hitting Frank right in the kevlar.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Frank himself arguably qualifies, if you accept Ennis' version, in that he's a monster who knows he's a monster and has a strict code against harming innocents.
  • Excrement Statement: Nicky Cavella on Frank's dead family, in order to anger him.
  • Exiled from Continuity: The MAX series.
    Marvel Civil War Handbook On Punisher: Although recently Castle has escalated his war on crime even further, with record-breaking body counts, he is paradoxically now rarely encountered in the field by any super hero save Daredevil. (...) It’s almost like he inhabits two worlds, one where heroes can capture him and one where they can’t, and he can slip from one to the other with ease.
  • Exploding Fish Tanks: Frank has twice shot aquarium tanks with sharks in them to take out bad guys.
  • Failure Is the Only Option:
    • The mainstream incarnation of The Punisher has only once succeeded at dispensing his own brand of justice to significant supervillains he encounters, even those who badly screw with him personally, like Bullseye. Probably that's why he mostly goes for mundane mobsters, who don't have Joker Immunity (or superpowers). The one exception is Stilt Man, which he got with a bazooka to the groin. The saddest aspect of all is, getting offed by the Punisher was probably was the high point of Stilt Man's career.
    • The second Punisher MAX series applies this trope to Frank's war on crime in general, with a common theme in the series being Frank's inability to effect any lasting change on New York's crime scene, where there never an end to the criminals no matter how many Frank offs. MAX!Nick Fury, who is revealed to have shadowed Frank for much of his war, laments at the end of the series that Frank murdered, suffered and ultimately, died all for nothing... only for the next page to show that Frank inspired hordes of people to stand up for themselves and kick criminals out of their neighborhood.
    • No matter what continuity Frank appears in, he will always lose his family to set up his reason for becoming The Punisher.
  • False Reassurance: If you're a criminal and The Punisher promises you something like "scratching your name from his list"... you better talk anyway, even if you are sufficiently Genre Savvy to recognize what that means, as being shot right after giving him the necessary information is still preferable to his other methods of loosening tongues.
  • Fan Disservice: Mamma Cesare is at least eighty years old. Both Fisk and the reader are given a view of her naked body.
  • Farmer's Daughter: In the "Welcome To The Bayou" story, Frank runs into one of these (on a gas station in the middle of nowhere, but the idea is the same), who is a) dressed in far-too-revealing clothes and b) "crazy as a shithouse rat". She also turns out to be part of a family of inbred cannibal hicks.
  • Fingore: Big Jesus smuggles a razor blade under his fingernail.
  • Flamethrower Backfire: The Punisher is well aware of the flamethrower's limitations: "Flamethrower's no good for a prolonged firefight. Sooner or later one of the tanks is going to take a bullet. Too bad for them that's what I'm counting on."
  • Flanderization: Frank's Ultimate Marvel counterpart may be even more fanatic about his crusade than Frank is. Even having the Ultimate Marvel version of Ghost Rider, an agent of Satan, telling him "keep up the good work" doesn't dissuade him from his killing spree. He thinks the message comes from his family, or maybe even God himself.
  • Follow the Leader: Almost single-handedly kick-started the Darker and Edgier trend of the late 80s and on through the 90s, and remains one of the few such series/characters to have retained his popularity and effectiveness after it died out (though Lord knows he's had his share of Dork Ages).
  • Funetik Aksent: Mrs. Pearse
  • Funny Background Event:
    • On a filing cabinet in the police station, there is a stuffed pig in a policeman's uniform. Those cops must have a good sense of humor.
    • When Ma Gnucci is in the hospital after being mauled by polar bears, there's a get well card on the bed with a picture of a teddy bear on it.
  • Gag Penis: Horribly, horribly subverted: the Guy is known only by the dimensions of his member when he's not aroused, and his employers use it to the fullest extent in their Snuff Film enterprise (he splits the girls open). Needless to say, revenge was had when his destined victims ripped him apart.
  • Gangsta Style: Subverted in one of the Ennis comics. A gang member fires at Castle like this multiple times, but misses every shot. Frank calmly says "They put the sights on top for a reason" before downing the gangster with pinpoint accuracy.
  • Genre Blind: The numerous gangsters, mobsters and other crooks who think that they will be the one to finally bring Frank down. For an example: Maginty, who is otherwise one of the most Dangerously Genre Savvy villains in the comics, cheerfully walks into his hideout without an armed escort after mentally torturing a Retired Monster and leaving him in the room by himself. It's a good thing his Mooks came back to check on him—of course getting his fingers sliced off by said murderer didn't do much to dissuade him from walking into Nesbitt's Batman Gambit, making him doubly Genre Blind.
    • Notably, Nicky Cavella is told in no uncertain terms that his plannote  is fundamentally flawed without killers actually capable of exploiting the supposed opening.
  • Genre Savvy: During the whole "Kills the Marvel Universe" issue, Frank manages to kill The Hulk. How? By following him undetected until he turns back into Banner. And then killing Banner.
  • Give Chase with Angry Natives:
    • Chased by Mafia goons through a zoo, Frank runs through the polar bear enclosure, punches the first sleepy one he sees and keeps running. By the time the goons get there, they are facing three very pissed-off polar bears.
    • In another story, Frank is driving around town killing various gang members and criminals. One group survives the initial attack and gives chase. Frank gets rid of them by driving through a Mafia meeting without stopping, the gangstas following aren't so lucky.
  • Gorn: In the MAX Imprint, as written by Garth Ennis, the blood and guts are very detailed.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Unsurprisingly averted in the Max comics, in many, many glorious ways.
  • Gun Porn: The Punisher Armory is an entire line devoted to loving descriptions of the guns and tactics he uses.
  • Guns Akimbo: The Punisher frequently does this.
  • Handicapped Badass: Frank lost an eye during his fight with the Red Vulture.
  • Handy Cuffs: Frank was captured by a minor gang leader named Machete, who insisted on killing a cuffed Castle in a machete duel. Castle rejects the machete, and kills the guy with his bare hands.
  • Hannibal Lecture:
    • Frank doesn't do this often, being The Stoic, but he completely destroys the last shreds of dignity Nicky Cavella has with one.
      Cavella: Either I walk outta here or I blow this little fuck all over you. It's your call.
      Castle: You won't shoot him. You're a coward. ...Psycho rep only takes you so far. After that, you've nothing. Hurt the boy and you die bad. You know that. But there's a part of you that still thinks that if you let him go, you've got a chance. And that part of you just won't shut up.
    • Frank's S.A.S. pal Yorkie is the master of these. He'd probably have the Trope Namer weeping for forgiveness after a few minutes with him. In a Double Subversion, Barracuda laughs off one of these after killing Yorkie, but true to form his dying speech echoes in his head at a most inopportune moment and gets under his skin — allowing the Brit to punk him from the grave. (It's possible that Yorkie did it in the hopes that this would actually happen.)
      Yorkie: He's going to kill you. Not over me. You're going up against him, so he'll kill you. Because you're a joke, in spite of it all... and he's the most dangerous man who ever walked this Earth.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: The Punisher is often presented this way whenever he makes a guest appearance in more idealistic books like Spider-Man or Daredevil. However, in his own books, he's portrayed as a profoundly messed up individual, more tortured machine than man.
  • Hero Antagonist: Any superhero that shows up is likely to become this. Especially Daredevil who is the superhero most determined to put a stop to the Punisher to the point where they might as well be members of their respective rogues galleries.
  • The Hero Dies: In the second Punisher MAX series, Castle himself is killed. Even then, though, he manages to finish off what he started.
  • Heroic Dolphin: Subverted in an issue of The Punisher War Journal. A Hawaiian "kahuna" controls sealife to rescue Frank from being stranded in the sea, and he thinks to himself that he didn't know that dolphins rescuing humans was true. When he gets back to the shore, she reveals that she actually used a shark to help him.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Despite being a fugitive for 30+ years and having his mugshot on the news semi-regularly the only time he is ever recognized is when he opens his coat and reveals the skull on his chest. Either people recognize him but pretend they don't or they don't watch a lot of news.
  • High-Altitude Interrogation: Frank uses this among other interrogation techniques. Like most typical Anti-Heroes, he often does go through with the threat of letting them plummet to death. In one notable example, Dolnovich used this trope on Rawlins to give him a last-minute attempt to come up with the Batman Gambit of his life. Notably he didn't even want to let Rawlins live in the first place and even tried to shoot down the latter's attempt to save his life.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Averted in Punisher: War Zone. During Castle's attack on Jigsaw's hideout, Castle uses an M4 variant with a suppressor. The gunshots sound more like muffled cracks than a "fwip". Also, the Smith and Wesson model 500 he uses is fitted with a suppressor which makes the shots sound like loud thuds.
  • I Love This Town: Officer Soap, who was promoted to Chief Inspector at the end of the Welcome Back Frank series, proudly looks out of his office to the Golden Sunset of New York... only to have a passing pigeon defecate on his head. Nevertheless, he warmly quotes this trope, for compared to all the hardships he endured trying to catch The Punisher, he was not going to let something as trivial as bird poop rain on his parade.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Often justified, as most of the mook criminals he faces don't really have much skills or experience in real combat. Averted in the case of "The Slavers", when Frank loses his self-discipline and breaks his cover by attacking a 'straggling' gunman, alerting his fellows... who are infantry veterans, aim down their weapons' sights, and use small unit tactics such as (effective) suppressing fire and flanking. End result: although he's able to swim away, non-powered gunmen actually defeat Frank Castle in combat and force him to flee for his life.
    Frank's monologue: I saw straightaway it had been a mistake. These boys weren't ghetto trash like I was used to, the kind whose will you break in the first ten seconds of a firefight ... They were soldiers ... [splash page of Frank being hit] The end came even faster than I'd figured.
  • Impersonating an Officer: Frank has been known to use fake ID to enter crime scenes and get firsthand information before the detectives arrive.
  • Implacable Man: Frank himself, but the trope also extends to the enemies like the amnesiac Thorn, Roc who survived being shot in the head and having his neck broken and the Russian, who's just a large man. MAX series has Pittsy, Barracuda and the Mennonite.
  • Improvised Weapon User: Oh, so much. He uses piranha, giant snakes, rhinos, table saws, nail guns, fuses, meat packing equipment, a shark, the list goes on and on. Some more notable examples:
    • The keeper would have to be punching out a polar bear to anger it into taking out a mob boss, and using a pizza and the morbidly obese Mr. Bumpo on The Russian.
    • One issue involved Castle assaulting an office building that was being used for snuff films. Security was ultra-tight, so he couldn't bring guns inside. Instead, he ended up killing the guards one by one with increasingly bizarre and brutal uses of office equipment. He started with pens and pencils, worked his way up to computer monitors as blunt instruments, staplers to the eyes, smashing a man's head to pulp in a copier machine...
    • Once he used the freakin' Hulk against Daredevil, Spidey and Wolverine to get them off his back.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: While most of Frank's fights are up close, he pulls this off every now and then. For example, in one of his earliest fights he manages to shoot out both of Spider-Man's web shooters while he's in mid-leap.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Played straight or subverted depending on the comic. Notably subverted in the finale to the Punisher MAX story arc, Up is Down and Black is White.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: While attempting to infiltrate a drug cartel, the cartel's boss hands Punisher a rifle and orders him to execute a captured DEA agent. The Punisher turns the gun on the boss only to discover that the gun is unloaded. It was a test of Frank's loyalty.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Frank is a big fan of it.
  • Jerkass: Kevin the bartender
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Frank is homicidal towards criminals and is very cold to innocents he comes across, but he does genuinely show concern for innocents. He does have a softer side that comes out on very rare occasions, too-he was notably a perfect gentleman towards Miss Grundy in Archie Meets The Punisher.
  • Joker Immunity:
    • Most notably, the Kingpin. The biggest gang boss in New York, but it's been explained that Frank can't kill him because if he does, New York will be devastated by gangs trying to take his place.note  Also Jigsaw, who Frank has let live numerous times except in the 2008 movie, where Frank impales him with a metal rod, then pushes him onto a large torch.
    • Lampshaded in his crossover with Batman. Frank has cornered the Trope Namer himself, who immediately starts cracking jokes about going to Arkham. Frank just coldly cocks his handgun and prepares to blow off the Joker's head, until Batman intervenes.
      The Joker (Staring at Frank's gun) ... You're really going to do it.
  • The Joys Of Torturing Mooks: The video game was basically built on this.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Frank's murder of Microchip, his sidekick. Frank also killed the reformed Stiltman. Microchip was killed because he was turning a blind eye to government-funded drug operations to get his dough, making it a Kick the Dog moment for himself as well. He was also given the chance to escape. They were holed up in a warehouse awaiting an attack from the mob. Frank told Micro to run but Micro decided to stay. Apparently he didn't quite understand what Frank meant.
    • The villains also constantly do this (if not much, much worse), because as bad as he is, Frank's the protagonist.
    • After rescuing a not-so-corrupt corporate executive from retaliatory gang rape for threatening to blow the whistle on a scheme, Frank shows an alarming amount of callousness towards the victim, telling him 'I bought you eggs and bacon—two days is more than enough to get over this'; unusual since he's usually more sympathetic to female rape victims... although his indifference comes back to bite him in the ass later.
    • Dolnovich, a loyal, level-headed hardass... who kills a reporter who wrote an unflattering book about his boss. Even then, he probably didn't deserve to die believing that his only son was going to be raped to death by his Smug Snake killer.
  • Killer Yoyo: One of Frank's one-time villains was an evil scientist with this weapon.
  • Knife Nut: When met with an assassin who prefers knives, Frank's inner monologues notes that one must be either insane or really good to use knives. Then he notes that knives are nothing against guns, and blows the guy away.
  • Knight Templar: The question is not "How far?" The question is "How fast will he get there?" In the MAX series, for example, Barracuda kidnaps the daughter Frank had with O'Brien. He reacts...violently. Frank often has flashbacks to his children's deaths. He wakes up in the hospital with no idea what happened, but the skin doctors found under his fingernails and the flesh between his teeth jog his memory.
  • Lampshade Hanging: The aforementioned split in The Punisher's portrayal as regards to his interactions with the rest of the Marvel characters is lampshaded in Secret War: Secret Files (written in the voice of Nick Fury as entries in the SHIELD database); it comments on how it seems like Castle lives in "two different worlds," one where he interacts with the other heroes and one where he never crosses paths with them. Also:
    "I caught a glimpse of heaven once. The Angels showed me. The idea was I'd kill for them. Clean up their mistakes on Earth. Eventually redeem myself. Tried it. Didn't like it. Told them where to stick it. So they brought me up to heaven, to see what I'd be missing. A wife. A son. A daughter. I hadn't seen them since they bled out in my arms. Then I was cast down. Back to a world of killers. Rapists. Psychos. Perverts. A brand new evil every minute, spewed out as fast as men can think them up. A world where pitching a criminal dwarf off a skyscraper to tell his fellow scum you're back is a sane and rational act. The angels thought it would be hell for me. But they were wrong."
  • Left for Dead: In the Punisher MAX continuity, you CANNOT count on this trope to save your bacon. One particularly noteworthy example was when Castle drove Cavella out to some abandoned woods and shot him low in the gut with the intention of slowly killing him over several hours/days while he walked away. Perfect setup for Cavella to come back, right? Well, just to shoot down any ideas of him returning some mooks talk about how they found his corpse with the eyes eaten out. Just as well, as Villain Decay had wrung out any threat he had to begin with.
  • Let The Past Burn: In the final Punisher Max arc "Homeless", after the death of Frank, Nick Fury takes a flamethrower to the house where the Castle family used to live and where Frank had been staying during the events of the arc. By doing so he hopes to put an end to the tragedy that made The Punisher once and for all.
  • Limited Wardrobe: While it's entertaining to think that Frank has been wearing the same skull T-shirt all these years, no doubt stained with the blood of hundreds, he appears to have lots of spares. He even states in one comic devoted to showing his equipment and methods that he orders the shirts by the gross (gross = 144).
  • Made of Iron: Especially in MAX, but even in mainstream continuity Castle's a tough bastard. By human standards, anyway.
    Frank: That's a rib gone. Not broken. Gone.
    • In "The List", he continues trying to stab Daken after - in less than a half hour - having being shot, hit with grenades, punched around, cut across the chest by Daken, broke a leg, getting his throat slashed, lost an arm and about three gallons of blood. He probably would still be fighting him as a disembodied head! (Black Knight? Is that you?)
    • The Russian, Barracuda, and Pittsy all take enormous amounts of damage that would leave normal people nothing more than a greasy smear on the pavement.
    • In the finale to Punisher MAX Frank gets stabbed, shot, and beaten half to death by Electra (to the point where his face is described as looking like "a swollen wad of hamburger" by Nick Fury), shot multiple times by The Kingpin's goons, and endures a savage beating by Fisk himself, and still manages to kill him in the end, only succumbing to his wounds much later.
    • The Menonnite from Aaron's Punisher MAX took a knife boot right to his crotch and still kept coming. It took an electrified security system and a falling safe to kill him.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: It's stated in the MAX series that the first time he killed a woman, he lost a lot of his supporters. (That she was already tried and imprisoned and no threat to anybody may have had something to do with it. It's not specified.)
  • Merry Christmas in Gotham: There's a story where Frank is about to snipe a drug lord, when suddenly there's a little girl pulling on his coat telling him she's lost her dad. Frank stares at her and puts the gun away. When they find her dad, he starts to thank him before recognizing his chest emblem and starting to panic. Frank tells him to calm down, that he should really teach his daughter not to talk to strangers, and then leaves.
  • Mook Chivalry: Obviously used quite a lot. What makes this extra-hilarious is that the smarter bosses (Cavella, Zakharov, Maginty) actually take the failings of their Mooks into account and use it to engineer Batman Gambits; Zakharov manages to blindside Frank with this trope twice.
  • Mook Horror Show: In a Marvel MAX annual, from the POV of an arsonist, being pursued by the Punisher through Manhattan. It never once gave the Punisher's perspective; he was presented as simply an unstoppable force that the criminal just couldn't get away from.
  • Morality Chain: Frank's family was this to him. In his origin story set in 'Nam he says to a fellow soldier that they might be his "last chance" to be something other than a Blood Knight.
  • More Dakka: Frank's solution to most problems is massive firepower. Submachine guns are just the starting point for automatic ballistic mayhem in his arsenal.
  • Mugging the Monster: Happens to Frank a lot, considering his habit of walking around the worst neighborhoods alone. Naturally this does not end well. In one short story, Frank pretends to be a drunken hobo to the specific purpose of practicing his knife fighting.
  • Muggles Do It Better: He has fought many super powered heroes and villains, sometimes beating them or at least fighting to a draw, with nothing more than his wits, aim, and guns. Averted of course at times... Depending on the Writer.
  • Mysterious Past: In the MAX continuity Frank's military history started out as a mystery, with only the events of his third and final tour being detailed (in Born) and the rest being Noodle Incidents. However, lately that is changing and Garth Ennis is gradually filling in the blanks.
  • Neighbourhood Friendly Gangsters: The Geracis, who convince Frank to be their next Don.
  • Never Hurt an Innocent: This is one of the reasons the Punisher is an Anti Hero. He takes great pains to avoid civilian casualties while he's gunning down dozens of goons. Frank has also on occasions been shown to dislike killing animals, because an animal can't truly be guilty. That said, Frank's definition of "innocent" can be very narrow, as he would have shot an otherwise innocent drug addict to get to the gangster holding her hostage in New Ways to Live. This, like many of his traits, varies quite a bit by the writer.
  • Never Live It Down: Invoked. The Head general of the terrorist plot after getting his face wrecked by Nick Fury. Characters in the story repeatedly bring up his humiliating beating and he reacts predictably in each case (i.e. snivelling).
  • New York City Cops: Whenever the NYPD show up, they are usually put into three groups; honest cops who truly believe that the Punisher is a danger to society, Dirty Cops who end up becoming more victims of The Punisher, or cops that secretly approve of the vigilante's activities and don't put that much effort into arresting him.
  • No-Nonsense Nemesis:
    • Inverted (at least with respect to morality) in a Punisher/Batman crossover.
      Punisher: I've got all the therapy you'll ever need right here, comedian.
      Joker: ... you're really going to shoot?
    • Played with in the regular comics quite a lot, especially the MAX series. In the "In the Beginning" arc, villain Nicky Cavella puts a gun to the Punisher's head when the Punisher is tied up and pulls the trigger. The Punisher dodges the shot and bites off several of Cavella's fingers. Later lampshaded in the "Widowmaker" arc, where several villains comment how every time the Punisher is captured, the villain doesn't just shoot him.
  • Non-Lethal Warfare: Generally averted, however the Punisher has been known to carry less-lethal weapons around. In the earlier stories, he often used "Mercy Bullets" when teamed up with other superheroes so as not to violate their no-kill rules; with no explanation as to what they were. Modern stories will sometimes explicitly mention him using rubber bullets. He'll usually only use non-lethal weapons grudgingly. For instance, in the Omega Effect crossover with Spider-Man and Daredevil:
    Punisher: We'll need forty minutes to prep the action.
    Spider-Man: With zero fatalities?
    Punisher: Forty-five.
    • At one point, corrupt generals tried siccing special forces soldiers on him, figuring that Frank Castle couldn't bring himself to kill American soldiers... he sure didn't, but he didn't go quietly.note 
  • Noodle Incident: We catch the tail end of Soap describing how he was once handcuffed to a dead sheep.
  • Oh Crap:
    • The closest Castle has ever gotten to doing one of these was when he was fighting Pittsy, a balding fatso of at least 60 years old. Halfway into the fight, he tore off Pittsy's bandage where he received an Eye Scream and broke his fingers. Pittsy gave him a Cluster F-Bomb in defiance and popped all of his fingers in place, ready to fight. Frank looked on in disbelief.
      Frank: "Asshole's been eating his spinach."
    • Happens again when at the end of the arc, where Pittsy comes walking toward him, with part of the fence he was impaled on before Frank landed on him after a 2-story leap out a window still sticking through him. Frank shoots him in the face with a shotgun, and the man falls after following a few more steps. Frank is left staring at the corpse, trying to convince himself the man is actually dead and those last few steps were reflexive.
    • He was also taken aback when Anti-Venom got back up after having his head blown in half by a shotgun.
  • Omniscient Morality License: Quite common, particularly in issues written by Garth Ennis; Frank seems to know without fail whether any given person is a criminal who deserves death or not... or he's just extremely good at self-justification. This could be a trait he has as Death's avatar, an aspect of his character Ennis introduced.
  • One-Man Army: In the side materials to Secret War, Nick Fury compares the Punisher's destructive capabilities to that of Incredible Hulk's.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. Oddly enough, of the men who killed his family was also named Frank. (Which takes on rather interesting implications considering the outcome of Born, of course...)
  • Only a Flesh Wound: About 90% of times when Frank actually gets shot, it's Only a Flesh Wound, as a side effect of him being Made of Iron. Sure, writers pay some superficial attention to things like blood loss and shock, but Frank still can operate at practically 100% efficiency within hours after, say, taking bullets from a machine gun in his flank and shoulder, outside of the MAX series; since it's set in a more realistic universe than most Marvel books, Frank is noticably impaired by severe injuries. Of course, in such situations he doesn't stop fighting, he just starts fighting dirty. The less strength he has to call on, the more creative he gets in his combat and interrogation methods. Barracuda once succeeds in putting him in traction - less than three days later, Frank's got Barracuda's nuts wired to a car battery, "and the world was a beautiful place." Less than three hours after that, Frank's burying a fire ax in Barracuda's chest.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Jigsaw, started to feel this way about Punisher when he heard about his (fake) death in the electric chair.
  • Opponent Switch: The Acts of Vengeance event saw Doctor Doom deciding to one-up Kingpin by taking out the Punisher.
  • Papa Wolf: In the MAX series, regarding his illegitimate daughter. Barracuda learned this the hard way. Also in the "Mother Russia" arc, Frank is sent to retrieve a biological weapon that is inside a little girl. The little girl is sad that people are "always mean to her" and Frank promises that if anyone tries to be mean to her, he will be much meaner to them. He keeps that promise.
  • The Paragon: At the end of the second MAX series, Frank becomes this in a dark, Family-Unfriendly Aesop-y kind of way. His latest skirmish with MAX!Kingpin has proven fatal for the both of them, and after over 30 years, Frank Castle's war is finally over. As MAX!Nick Fury cleans up the carnage left by Frank's last battle, he muses that Frank's war was ultimately useless in the big picture. Cue news reports of citizens across New York banding together in Punisher-themed gear and exacting vigilante justice on local criminals. Even Fury had to crack a smile.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Pretty much the cornerstone trope of The Punisher is doing bad things to even worse people.
  • The Pen Is Mightier: One mook got his nickname (Inky) when he killed a guy by shoving a pen in his eye and into his brain.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Having beaten Jigsaw, Frank goes to finish the job when Soap calls for help, having been taken prisoner. It nearly costs him his life, as Soap tries to reason not to kill Jigsaw, before shouting a warning when he tries to shoot The Punisher.
    • Frank's an avid dog petter, though of course it's a case of Depending on the Writer. A typical moment would be when his Berserk Button is smashed and he discovers women smuggled into sex slavery. He rescues them then as they speed off he hands a detonator to one of the captives, telling her to blow up the ship and the slavers.
    • In his final MAX appearance, Nick Fury finds Frank had written I'm sorry on the walls of his old house (for failing to save his family.) Fury then pets the dog by using Frank's flamethrower to burn the house down and drive away the police raking over old wounds.
    • In the end of Greg Rucka's run, Frank stays behind to take on a whole bunch of superheroes, including Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Black Widow in order to buy time for his partner, Rachel Cole-Alves, to escape.
  • Play-Along Prisoner: Whenever The Punisher is jailed, it's usually because he allowed himself to be (usually he walks up to a police station and says "I surrender"), so he can kill one or more guys who are unreachable otherwise. Given that he's the friggin' Punisher, no one gives him trouble (those that do don't last very long).
  • Plot-Powered Stamina: After shrugging off shotgun shells and sniper rifle bullets for years, in "Widowmaker" Frank takes a nine mil from a suppressed MP5 at considerable distance, and apparently it went right through his chest, creating a hole in his back that according to Jenny, "was too big for sutures, all I could do was pack it full of gauze." He spends the rest of the story arc bed-ridden, allowing Jenny to become the "She-Punisher" for a short while.
  • Power Armor: Frank had Micro whip up a suit in order to combat a bunch of cybernetic mutant hunters. He broke it, and had in repaired in order to assault a gang boss who was selling a modified version of PCP... and then broke it again.
  • Power Copying: New Ways To Live reveals that has replicas of Captain America's shield, the Green Goblin's glider, and Doctor Octopus' tentacles.
  • Private Eye Monologue: The MAX series is typically narrated by The Punisher, who's every bit as gritty and cynical as one would expect.
  • Psycho for Hire:
    • Barracuda, The Russian, Jigsaw - most of Frank's serious opponents are this.
    • Finn Cooley used to be this, until he decided that this lifestyle was for the birds and that he was going to get him some sweet inheritance money. So he could ride Angelina Jolie if she'd have him, apparently. Didn't last long, unfortunately.
    • MAX Bullseye takes this to a whole new level, with his psychotic side being even less picky about the death and destruction caused in carrying out his contracts than in his other incarnations.
  • Rasputinian Death:
    • Many Dragons or more physically tough Big Bads require a rather spectacular sendoff. See Pitsy, The Russian, and Barracuda.
    • Frank himself gets one in "Dark Reign", when Daken quite literally tears him apart piece by piece. Then Morbius the Living Vampire brings him back as a patchwork monster (Franken-Castle).
  • Red Right Hand: The Russian has a huge scar on his face.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Frank's entire point, in some incarnations, tearing through entire towns worth of criminals connected to the death of his family.
  • Ruthless Modern Pirates: Frank targets modern day pirates as readily as any other criminals. The River Rats from Punisher MAX are one example.
  • Scary Black Man:
    • Barracuda. The guy loses all the fingers on one hand and still fights just as well.
    • Maginty in "Kitchen Irish": Kidnaps a Retired Monster's grandson to make him do his work (cutting up bodies so they can't be found) on a live man, then brings said grandkid in to watch.
  • Scope Snipe: The first Punisher story in The Nam depicts Frank Castle as a sniper in Vietnam. The entire two-part story is plagiarized verbatim from Carlos Hathcock's Real Life experience, including the Scope Snipe finale.
  • Semper Fi: Frank's a Marine. Subverted in Ennis's work, especially The Punisher: Born. The story takes place in a base filled with Marines who are amoral washouts, apathetic or cruel, run by idiot commanding officers. As a Marine, Frank Castle was shown to be addicted to combat, willing to indirectly kill a general in order to keep his firebase (and therefore, his war) going. Certainly doesn't sit well with the brave, heroic image the USMC typically has.
  • Serial Killer: Frank tries to present himself as the Mission-Based type, but in later stories, he's shown to be more of the Hedonistic type; subconsciously obsessed with the idea of a never-ending war to sate the bloodlust he developed in Vietnam. In the Young Masters arc of Young Avengers, Hawkeye (Kate Bishop) notes that the superhero community of the Marvel Universe only sees the Punisher as a serial killer and any real hero would bring him down as hard as any villain if necessary.
  • Serial-Killer Killer: Frank's more of a Mass Murderer Murderer but he still fits.
  • Series Continuity Error:
    • Oddly, Frank's daughter has had at least four different names, Barbara, Donna, Christie and Lisa, while the name of his son (Frank Jr) is always consistent. Also Microchip's real name was originally "Lowell Bartholomew Ori", but was changed to "Linus Liberman" later. Additionally, the first time Frank's father is mentioned he's given the name "Mario", but a later story arc has him named "Lorenzo".
    • Also goes for Frank's last name (sometimes his birth name is Castiglione, other times it isn't; the whole thing was a clumsy attempt to add mobbed-up relatives as part of an Expansion Pack Past) and his Vietnam service (usually shown as an officer, many stories feature him instead as an enlisted rifleman). Several attempts at an Author's Saving Throw have him illegally re-entering the Marine Corps under his assumed name, which only raises further questions.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: After three brutal tours of duty in The Vietnam War, Frank Castle lost his wife and children to Mafia thugs and now wages a one-man war on crime. Various authors have toyed with Frank's mental state, and Garth Ennis has suggested that in Vietnam, Frank started to love combat and killing people, with the death of his family possibly being only the final straw that caused his killing sprees.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The Barracuda mini-series, as he fails to accomplish anything he wanted.
  • Shotgun Wedding: Welcome to the Bayou has an absolutely psychotic woman suggesting this as Frank's fate. He thinks he'd prefer being eaten by cannibals.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The late, great, Puerto Rican rapper "Big Punn" (he had a heart attack; dude was 400 pounds).
    • The Colonel who tries to capture The Punisher in "Valley Forge, Valley Forge" has the likeness of Morgan Freeman.
    • Ma Gucci mentions Namor the Sub-Mariner by name in the midst of all her snarking, and it's thrown in with lots of other off-hand reference to lots of different Marvel heroes made throughout the book.
    • One of the mooks is reading The Bridges of Madison County, of all things.
    • In The Punisher: Assassin's Guild oneshot comic, Frank guns down thinly-disguised counterparts of Lupin III and his gang.
    • While fighting Roc, who keeps on going even after having his neck snapped, Frank notes that the guy's "just like Jason, he never dies!"
  • Silent Whisper: Bullseye whispers something to Frank as they fight. Frank's reaction implies Bullseye was spot on in guessing what the last thing Frank's wife ever said to him was.
  • Sinister Minister: The Rev, a Captain Ersatz of Jim Jones, and one of the few villains to survive his initial run-in with Frank.
  • Slasher Smile: Many of the Punisher's Psycho for Hire foes and Frank himself occasionally sports one in the mainstream Marvel universe.
  • Sliding Scale of Antagonist Vileness: Subverted repeatedly. Killing Anti Villains and Harmless Villains accounts for the majority of Frank's Kick the Dog moments.
  • Smug Snake:
    • The conspiracy of generals in the MAX arc "Valley Forge, Valley Forge" is perhaps the best example, as it consists of eight incompetent Smug Snakes (who cause a great deal of death and suffering nevertheless), but it is far from the only example... the Punisher's opponents in general are no criminal masterminds.
    • Nicky Cavella was downgraded to this as the start of his Villain Decay.
    • Rawlins is so much of a smug snake that he can't help but crack wise even when he's getting his eye pulled out by the Punisher. It'd make him pretty badass actually if he wasn't such a sniveller.
    • If MAX Bullseye wasn't so frightening and bloodthirsty he'd go down as the biggest Smug Snake of them all. He's so full of himself that he takes time out to tease Frank during their chases.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Frank is either this or a Villain Protagonist.
  • Spoiler Title: There's an Alternate Continuity comic which asks the question "What would happen if the Castle's had been caught in the middle of a Superhero battle instead of a gangland shooting?" It's called The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe.
  • Squashed Flat: One of the stories has Wolverine coming after Frank, mistaking that recent mutilations are his doing. Due to Wolverine's Healing Factor, Frank uses a steamroller to get him off his track.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: While Frank doesn't do this much in his own books, it is a fairly common way for him to take his leave at the end of a superhero team up.
  • The Stoic: Frank is either calm, detached, and homicidal, or (much more rarely) pissed off and homicidal. That's it. To quote the videogame (written by Garth Ennis):
    * after blasting Bushwacker through a wall* I don't smile much. Don't smile ever. But if I did, this would be one.
  • Story-Breaker Team-Up: Archie Meets The Punisher puts, thanks to the setting being primarily Archie's, much less of an emphasis on Frank's common traits involving death and mayhem.
  • Super-Detailed Fight Narration: Punisher's various authors have employed this, to incredible anatomical precision.
  • Superman Stays Out of Gotham:
    • Avoided by having the Darker and Edgier Punisher relegated to his own MAX title while the Marvel Universe Punisher took up Captain America's costume for an issue and had some Lighter and Softer (by comparison) adventures.
    • Greg Rucka indicated, when starting his 2011 series, it was all a matter of viewpoint. The other superheroes are far better equipped to deal with major threats like Galactus, Norman Osborn and Dormammu, but someone has to pay attention to the drug pushers and mobsters.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Averted or subverted repeatedly.
    • When general Zakharov gave a Motive Rant detailing why he did all of those horrible things — and not smashing his face in mid-sentence, but instead waiting until the end and even asking if he was ready. It was a Mercy Kill, but after hearing what Frank did about the general, it's doubtful that he would've spared him even if he wasn't dying. But Zakharov's final words do to seem to touch a nerve in Frank, given how he's a veteran of The Vietnam War, in which he did more than a few horrible things himself.
      Zakharov: Kill (Rawlins), Castle. Our world is bad, but we are soldiers. He is a parasite; he would make the world this way forever.
    • The ONLY person Frank feels sorry for when he guns down a cadre of swamp-dwelling cannibals is the Psychopathic Manchild banished to the edge of the community, kinda-sorta blaming himself for pissing the poor bastard off.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Force Frank to team up with another hero, and this trope is the result. While he and the hero community in general tend to dislike one another, he's at least willing to work with them against the 'real' villains. Averted more often than most people might assume, at least in the nineties. Frank had quite a few crossovers, and most of the people he worked with were either okay with him or felt he was a good man at heart. There were only a few who outright hated him.
  • Themed Aliases: The Punisher often uses aliases that are linked to Castle, his real last name: Charles Fort, McRook, Frank Rook, Francis Stronghold, Johnny Tower, Frankie Villa, etc.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Unlike the traditional position of heroes, it's rare when the villain du jour doesn't wind up getting killed by the end of the story.
  • Threatening Shark:
    • A couple of mobsters thought that a big shark in equally big (and not bulletproof) glass fish tank would be a great addition to their opulent mansion. They eventually learn their lesson just before their messy demise.
    • Barracuda was thought to have met his end by one in his first arc in the MAX series.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Quite a lot of villains.
    • One minor gangster was dumb enough to brag about how he would take over his boss' territory and "business" when Frank (who had just offed said boss) was still right there; this was met with the predictable results:
      Gangster: I-I-I...I mean I'm gonna leave all this shit behind me. Get a job. Leave town.
      Frank: Yeah. Well. * shoots him* Just in case.
    • Special mention goes to Nicky Cavella, a jackass of a mob dude who got the astoundingly bright idea to dig up the remains of Frank's family and urinates on them. And then release the footage to the news media in the hopes of getting Castle pissed off and go berserk. Yeah. It's been nice knowing you, Nicky. Notably, it doesn't even work: Instead of murdering the hell out of Nicky, Frank instead murders the hell out of everyone but Nicky, demanding that the city re-bury his family's remains, or he'll keep murder-spreeing until they do. When they finally do bury the remains, then Frank goes after Nicky, completely calm and utterly vindictive. Nicky spent the intervening time oscillating between gloating that the Punisher was terrified of him and doing his work of taking out other gangs, and batshit paranoid that Frank was going to kill him at any second.
      • As Rawlins pointed out, Nicky didn't spend any of that time getting mooks that could have taken advantage of Frank's dropped guard! (Frank's still pissed off enough that when he goes after Nicky, he goes along with an obvious setup despite recognizing the setup for one, but he's bailed out of that one.)
    • Another special mention goes to the Westies/Maginty/River Rats/Cooley for actually believing that their Retired Monster boss actually wanted to give them his fortune. Frank and Yorkie couldn't help but think that this was odd and they didn't even know him.
  • Torture Technician: Not a villain, but Frank is pretty knowledgable about the human anatomy and torture methods. Press a Berserk Button of his and you'll wish he was just practicing the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique.
  • Tranquil Fury: More often than not, Frank's completely and totally calm when brutally murdering villains. Pushing one of his Berserk Buttons leads to Unstoppable Rage. Either way, people die.
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback
  • Vengeance Feels Empty: Yorkie Mitchell meets with Frank, bringing with him the son of a fellow soldier murdered by an Irish terrorist now hiding in New York. In the end, the kid kills his father's murderer, but states he doesn't feel any better for it.
  • Victory By Endurance: There's one story where a mook barely escapes from Frank, and his mental condition gradually worsens as he seeks help everywhere. Frank barely appears at all except at the end, allowing the mook to tire himself out all by himself.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: The 2005 videogame's big draw was the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique, wherein Frank could beat, threaten, or otherwise pry answers out of enemy grunts he manages to grab. Combine that with environment specific actions (Piranha tank interrogation anyone?), and you have this trope.
  • Vigilante Execution: Frank once executed an arsonist as he was leaving the court. With a fire truck.
  • Vigilante Man:
    • He's actually been called "Vigilante Man" a couple of times.
    • Frank also has a disdain for other "amateur" vigilantes as shown when he calls out the "Vigilante Squad" (a trio of Punisher fanboys who don't have as much scruples) for being Ax-Crazy Knight Templars before gunning them down.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Cavella and Barracuda break down spectacularly, the former turning into a simpering pants-wetter and the latter turning into a raving lunatic. Finn Cooley's breakdown is more physical than mental, as his face continues rotting with each appearance. Surprisingly averted with Rawlins, though, because even as things repeatedly go to hell for him he can't help but act the smug little weasel he is, and a simple "Oh no" — with an Oh Crap expression — suffices for his final downfall.
  • Wall of Weapons: Frequently, with one issue devoted to a detailed study of his armory.
  • Weaponized Car: The Battle Van, which Frank had a tendency to trash every time he used it. He also once had what was basically a go-cart from Hell. It was destroyed in its second appearance.
  • We Have Reserves: Subverted spectacularly at one point; Nicky Cavella, desperate to finish off the Punisher, attempts to bully his capo underlings into giving him their men. Not only do they tell him to get bent, they also rant at how they're not going to serve as cannon fodder for an obvious General Failure complete with his mooks giving him a Hannibal Lecture on how much of a fuckup he is. This took major brass on their end, since Nicky was known for among other things chopping up a preteen and serving him to his father.
    • They could die Nicky Cavella's hands, or they could die at the Punisher's hands...
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Frank's uncompromising morality is mixed with the fact that he's quite nuts.
  • What a Drag: Punisher does this once to a homophobic priest who had killed a young gay man, sparking a near-war between the sheriff (the victim's lover) and the military supplies dealer (the victim's mother).
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Averted with most of the recurring villains from earlier books, whose plotpoints were resolved in various one-shots, annuals and miniseries before all three of Punisher's main books came to an end.
    • Played straight with Thorn, who is probably still shuffling around Newark and Dr. Ng, who is shown surviving his debut but fails to make an another appearance.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The Punisher gets this from almost every superhero (and a few supervillains) he comes across. Frank himself occasionally gets to deliver these.
  • Why Won't You Die?: Frank to Pittsy, after dealing the latter incredible amounts of damage, even by comic book standards.
  • Wife-Basher Basher: Frank is extra-cruel towards scum who beat women.
  • Worthy Opponent: Frank Castle to General Zakharov in the "Mother Russia" arc, as he explains after Frank successfully escapes the nuclear missile silo by setting one of the missiles to defuse at 8000 feet, stowing away inside, launching it and parachuting to safety. Especially notable because it came after spending the whole arc insisting to his disbelieving inferiors that they were under attack from Americans and not Arab terrorists.
    "That was no American. It was a Russian who was born there by mistake."
  • Would Hit a Girl: When he finds out that Vera was actually the brains behind the human trafficking operation (i.e. was the one who told the mooks to "break" their victims by gang rape) in "The Slavers," he repeatedly throws her face-first against a shatterproof window, reasoning correctly that the frame would give before the windowpane did.
  • Would Not Shoot a Good Guy: Frank doesn't kill honest cops (Dirty Cops aren't so lucky).
    • The final run of Garth Ennis' take on The Punisher involved Frank being in the sights of a cabal of Corrupt US Army Generals... who use their connections to send a group of honest US Soldiers after him. Frank doesn't kill them, but the soldiers learn the hard way that non-lethal force doesn't mean gentle force. Thanks to the orders of their commander, who deliberately accepted the task to cover for his own agenda, they return the "favor".
    • Naturally he avoids lethal force against superheroes as well, with the exception of the Elseworld issue The Punisher Kills The Marvel Universe.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Overlapping with Thanatos Gambit, Old Man Nesbitt gave each of his Psycho for Hire Inadequate Inheritors a piece of a code that they would have to put together in order to get at his inheritance. After they almost kill each other trying to steal the other pieces of the code, as they expected, they decide to call a truce. When they all come together to collect, it's revealed that the secret location for his funds has no money in it at all, just an extremely powerful explosive with an expletive scrawled on it. That'll get 'em.

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alternative title(s): Punisher; The Punisher; Punisher
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