Comic Book: The Punisher MAX
"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."
— Frank Castle, The Punisher #1 (2004)
When you take a Darker and Edgier Marvel Comics character
, and make him even Darker and Edgierer
, you get what is collectively called "The Punisher MAX".
Much like the original comics, the MAX imprint version of Frank Castle became a vigilante
when his family was gunned down by mobsters in 1976. What sets him apart from his mainstream counterpart is that Frank ages in real-time, and is more hardlined in his war on crime. He also faces a more disturbing variety of villains, which include Sex Slave
Continuing the trend from the character's Marvel Knights series' from early 2000s, the comic was written by Garth Ennis
, who provided bleak stories with dashes of really Black Comedy
.Main series in this line
- The Punisher (later renamed Frank Castle: The Punisher) — Ran from 2004 to 2008, with 75 issues and one annual.
- Punisher Max — Ran from from 2010 to 2012 with 22 issues. Introduced The Kingpin, Bullseye and Elektra into the MAX universe.
- Punisher: Born (2003)
- The Punisher Presents Barracuda (2007)
- Untold Tales of Punisher Max (2012)
Related MAX comics
- The Punisher: The End (2004)
- The Punisher: The Cell (2005
- The Punisher: The Tyger (2006)
- The Punisher: Force of Nature (2008)
- The Punisher: Little Black Book (2008)
- The Punisher Xmas (2009)
- Punisher Max: Naked Kill (2009)
- Punisher Max: Butterfly (2010)
- Punisher Max: Hot Rods of Death (2010)
- Punisher Max: Tiny Ugly World (2010)
- Foolkiller: White Angels (2008) — Frank works with Foolkiller to stop white supremacists for half of the miniseries.
- Fury: My War Gone By (2012-2013) — Frank appears in the arc set in The Vietnam War, and Barracuda appears in the one set in Nicaragua.
These comics has examples of:
- Adaptational Sexuality: Elektra (the old flame of Daredevil in the mainstream universe) and The Kingpin's wife, Vanessa Fisk, are a couple.
- 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.
- 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.
- In the penultimate issue of 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 do the same.
- 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.
- 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:
- Badass Grandpa: While this isn't as prominent in the mainstream universe thanks to Comic-Book Time, in MAX, Punisher drawn to look like the fifty-to-sixty-year-old man that he is, and his age is mentioned from time to time.
- 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.
- 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.
- Dented Iron: Becomes a plot point in the second 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: In mainstream comics, it varies 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 "Bullseye" arc, where Bullseye nearly drives himself crazier trying to figure out Frank's exact motivation.
- 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.
- Empowered Badass Normal: In Punisher: Born, Garth Ennis 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.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Frank himself arguably qualifies, if you accept Ennis' version, in that he knows he's a monster and has a strict code against harming innocents.
- Excrement Statement: Nicky Cavella digs up and pisses on Frank's dead family, in order to anger him. This puts Punisher in the Tranquil Fury mode, and he ups the ante on his war on criminals until they are put back under the ground.
- Failure Is the Only Option: The second 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Big Jesus in Homeless arc smuggles a razor blade under his fingernail.
- Gag Penis: Horribly, horribly subverted in Naked Kill oneshot: 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. 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:
- 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: In Six Hours to Kill story, Frank is drugged unconscious and upon waking up, is told by a hired mook that he'd been given a poison that would kill him in six hours, and he would only be given the antidote if he followed orders. Mook: "I don't have the antidote on me. I don't know where it is. Kill me, you're only killing yourself. Understand?" After being released from his bonds, he immediately breaks the mooks' neck and tosses the body aside. Frank: "Won't waste time looking for the antidote. Probably doesn't exist. I've got six hours to kill. May as well get started." Frank then gathers all his guns and commences killing every criminal on his list, not even thinking about who his poisoners wanted him to kill until much later.
- Gorn: The blood and guts are very detailed.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Unsurprisingly averted in the Max comics, in many, many glorious ways.
- Gun Porn: Not only is there plenty of depictions of guns, but Frank knows weapons like no one's business. He practically makes it a sub-genre, as evidenced in the Christmas special:
(A single shot is heard way off in the distance)
Man: What was that?
Frank: M-25 sniper rifle with a .303 Winchester cartridge.
- 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.
- The Hero Dies: In the second MAX series, Castle himself is killed. Even then, though, he manages to finish off what he started.
- High-Altitude Interrogation: 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.
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: 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.
- Race Lift: Elektra is Japanese in this.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: Ennis took quite a bit of heat for In the Beginning, 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?
- Ruthless Modern Pirates: The River Rats from Kitchen Irish. The River Rats are a group of pirates out of Hell's Kitchen in New York City who primarily rob rich people on yachts.
- 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.
- Semper Fi: Subverted in 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.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: With Born, 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.
- 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.
- Smug Snake:
- The conspiracy of generals in the 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 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.