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 traffickers.

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
  • The Punisher (later renamed Frank Castle: The Punisher) — Running from 2004 to 2008 with #75 Issues, it was written by Garth Ennis, then Gregg Hurwitz, Duane Swierczynski, and Victor Gischler. The final issue was an anthology written (in order) by Tom Piccirilli, Gregg Hurwitz, Duane Swierczynski, Peter Milligan, and Charlie Huston
  • Punisher MAX — Ran from from 2010 to 2012 with #22 Issues. Written by Jason Aaron, it introduced The Kingpin, Bullseye and Elektra into the MAX Universe.

  • Born #1-4 (2003) by Garth Ennis
  • The Punisher Presents: Barracuda #1-5 (2007) by Garth Ennis
  • Untold Tales of the Punisher MAX #1-5 (2012) by (in order) Jason Starr, Jason Latour, Megan Abbott, Nathan Edmondson, and Skottie Young

  • The Punisher: The End (June 2004) by Garth Ennis
  • The Punisher: The Cell (July 2005) by Garth Ennis
  • The Punisher: The Tyger (February 2006) by Garth Ennis
  • The Punisher Annual (November 2007) by Mike Benson
  • The Punisher: Force of Nature (April 2008) by Duane Swierczynski
  • The Punisher MAX Special: Little Black Book (August 2008) by Victor Gischler
  • The Punisher MAX: X-Mas Special (February 2009) by Jason Aaron
  • Punisher MAX: Naked Kill (August 2009) by Jonathan Maberry
  • Punisher MAX: Get Castle (March 2010) by Rob Williams
  • Punisher MAX: Butterfly (May 2010) by Valerie D'Orazio
  • Punisher MAX: Happy Ending (October 2010) by Peter Milligan
  • Punisher MAX: Hot Rods of Death (November 2010) by Charlie Huston
  • Punisher MAX: Tiny Ugly World (December 2010) by David Lapham

Related Comics
  • Foolkiller: White Angels (2008) — Frank guest stars in half the miniseries, helping Foolkiller deal with a supremacist group called the White Angels.
  • 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.
  • Wolverine MAX (2012-2014) — Set in a gritty and realistic world that obviously isn't the main Marvel Universe, the final issue reveals Wolverine's claws were provided by a crime family that wanted him to take out the Punisher.

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: George Howe 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.
  • Anti-Climax: The Punisher's fight with The Heavy/Jigsaw in "Girls in White Dresses". After all the buildup they have a three-page fight scene that ends with Frank just sorta knocking him out a window and onto a passing freight train.
  • Armored Closet Gay: President Luna really hates gays, but his wife says he can't get it up unless she dresses up as Che Guevara.
  • Asshole Victim: In one case, a man actually manages to get the drop on Frank and drugs him into a stupor, then kicks the shit out of him while he was helpless. If that wasn't enough, he also talked down to the Punisher like he was a pet or a small child. Finally, when he's ready to untie Frank, he explains that he's also given him a slow-acting poison that will kill him in six hours, and that he wants Frank to kill some people for him. "I don't have the antidote. I don't know where it is. My associates do. You'll get it when the job is done. Kill me, you're just killing yourself. Understand?" The Punisher nods, and the man is too stupid to realize that Frank is just confirming that he understands, nothing more. Once he is untied, the Punisher immediately breaks the man's neck. Frank: "Won't waste time looking for the antidote. Probably doesn't exist." Asshole Victim, indeed. The guy was practically begging for what he got.
  • 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? the Grim Reaper?) kept hounding him about a never ending war, which when the North Vietnamese Army overran his base he accepted to save his life, only to be told his family would be payment.
    • 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:
    "By way of the SAS, by way of the Parachute Regiment. Feel free to start screaming your head off."
  • 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.
  • Bad Boss: Nicky Cavella as head of the mafia. He treats his mooks as expendable so long as Frank dies. Compare this to the traditional mafia, which treats each member as family. It's not surprise when his capos ditch him in the end, ignoring his threats because there is no one else alive he can order around.
  • 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.
    • It's even called out in the "Up is Down, Black is White" story. A mobster digs up the graves of his family and pisses on them. When it's shown on the news, a diner patron says simply "That... that guy is gonna go fucking berserk." Cut to picture of Frank in the same diner. Tranquil Fury doesn't even begin to describe it.
  • Bigger Bad: In the "Slavers" arc, there's the Moldovans, the people who supplied the girls for the Serbs' sex trafficking ring. Although Frank sends them a video of him killing Tiberiu Bulat with a warning to never come back to New York City and has it delievered by the Corrupt Cop working with them (who disappears afterwards), Frank never goes after them personally.
  • Breakout Character: Barracuda, his popularity eventually gave 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, Yorkie, and the Russian (in a one-panel flashback) 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.
    • The presence of Microchip and the Heavy/Jigsaw imply that even earlier stories may be quasi-canonical, as Micro mentions working with the Punisher for nearly ten years, and it's clear that the Punisher and the Heavy have had previous run-ins, going by their statements about and reactions to each other.
  • Brick Joke: In one issue, 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.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday:
    • 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 moment where 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.
  • Call Back: In the Kingpin arc, we first see Rigoletto slamming his fist down on a table and yelling "Goddamn Punisher!". In the Homeless arc, after Frank begins his final rampage, we see Kingpin doing the same thing.
  • Cannibal Clan: The Geautreauxs.
  • Characters Dropping Like Flies: Given the basic premise, no one is safe from death. Recurring characters like Barracuda and Yorkie Mitchell are safe for maybe three arcs.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Frank often resorts to nasty torture of those working for his target du jour or otherwise connected to them.
    • Subverted in the Kitchen Irish arc. Frank goes to interrogate a member of the I.R.A., and the reader is treated to pained screams... which were caused by Frank ripping the other man's bandages off. The threat of "real pain" is more than enough to get him talking.
  • 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 rumors too grisly to be true) but Microchip knows about it and apparently it was when he first started to love violence.
  • 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. 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: In one arc of the first 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."
  • Covers Always Lie: The cover for Force of Nature oneshot shows Punisher fighting a monstrous sperm whale at the middle of a sea. While he does kill a whale in the comic, it is an offhanded accident.
  • Could Have Avoided This Plot: Vanheim and Frank are almost out of the missile base when they run into two soldiers working on a tank. Vanheim instantly opens fire, raising the alarm. When that firefight is over, Frank tells him the soldiers wouldn't have noticed them walking away, leading to the three escaping by hiding in a nuclear missile.
  • Cowboy Cop: Deconstructed with Detective Budiansky in "Widowmaker." He disobeys orders and kills a teenaged school shooter to save a gym full of kids but while the media loves it the department does their best to punish him for it, sending him to therapy where a condescending therapist implies that he sees himself as a this trope, which he denies. He himself feels no remorse for what he did but wonders if that makes him similar to Frank. Near the end of the story his wife is attacked and he tries to take the law into his own hands but rather than being a Dirty Harry-esque badass he is simply acting out of rage and helplessness. In the end a brief encounter with Frank proves to him that they are nothing alike.
  • Crapsack World: The series is a good example, with even the hero being a decidedly dark gray in a black and gray world.
  • Crusading Widower: Garth Ennis took this concept in an interesting direction during the Widowmaker. 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, an abusive bastard who beat her nearly to death and had his friends rape her, and has nothing but contempt for the other widows (the leader of whom is her own sister) who cruelly abused her. Thus this apparently exonerates Frank of any blame or responsibility.
    • He's not really absolved so much as the story pointing out how selfish and self-centered the widows are, crying and moaning about the loss of their husbands, nevermind the fact that their husbands were vicious killers and the money and lifestyle the women enjoyed so much was funded by brutal crime.
  • Damned by a Fool's Praise: One South American drug lord has an enormous statue of Ronald Reagan in his mansion, out of gratitude.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • It's rare for him to make a joke, but when he does, Frank 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.
    • In The Cell where he'd let himself get caught by the police in order to reach some wiseguys who were in prison, Frank is being escorted to his cell when the corrupt chief guard points out a heavily muscled inmate who's giving Frank the death glare. "See that guy, Castle? He's the toughest con in here and he's the one they're going to send after you." Frank promptly bursts into action, knocking over the guards and grabbing a nightstick which he uses to bash in the convicts' skull. Frank: "Tell them to send the second toughest."
  • Deal with the Devil: In the 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 NVA 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.
  • 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.
  • Doom As Test Prize: In the "Kitchen Irish" arc, a very misanthropic elderly Irish-American gangster leaves what is rumoured to be a hoard of treasure to various separate Irish gangs in his neighbourhood, giving each of them part of the geographical location in the hope that they'll kill each other over it. After much violence and death, the survivors finally do decide to get together and go to split the hoard peacefully. Whereupon it turns out to be a huge bomb that explodes and kills them all. Leaving them just enough time to read the word "CUNTS" scratched into the plastic explosive charge.
  • 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.
    • Teresa (Pittsy's sister) also tries it, but is violently scorned (possibly because of Nicky's previous experience).
    • Jenny Cesare ends up screwing Frank while he's handcuffed and just beat her sister to death with a baseball bat, highlighting just how far gone she is.
  • 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.
  • Epic Fail: During the "Slavers" arc, Frank attempts to ambush the hired guns for the slavery ring. Frank has forgotten, however, that these are not the usual street punks with poor aim and no tactics. These were hardened soldiers from the Yugoslav wars. Frank was nearly killed.
  • 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.
    • During the Widowmaker arc, one of the widows brings up the way Frank dealt with the slavers, including throwing a woman against a reinforced glass window for half an hour. The widow says she herself might have gone at it for an hour.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Averted with Martin Vanheim, who was about to give a little girl a poison to stabilize the supervirus in her blood. A few arcs later, his squadmates refuse to believe he'd go with it.
  • 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 starts what is basically a world war against the New York crime families, even worse than his normal behavior. It gets so bad that the civilian authorities are crippled about what to do, they cant comply with Franks demands because it would be akin to negotiating with a terrorist, but they cant just do nothing and let Frank cause a genocide.
  • 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 is 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:
  • 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". Turns out her family are inbred cannibals, and her role in the group is to serve as a distraction.
  • Fingore:
    • 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.
  • Genius Bruiser: Frank is this both in the regular Marvel universe and in the MAX universe, but in the MAX universe his internal dialogue really highlights how carefully he plans, both before and during a fight. He's always planning for contingencies, keeping an eye on escape routes, and has back-up plans for his back-up plans. When things go really sour and he's forced to go hand-to-hand, even then he's cool and collected. Several incidents of him being very outnumbered in unarmed combat show him planning everything even while fighting; from attacking the strongest people first, keeping everyone in front of him so they get in each other's way, to inflicting very painful injuries rather than simply killing because he knows several people laying on the ground screaming in pain will distract and intimidate the ones he hasn't gotten to yet, dealing with female attackers just as harshly as males, etc.
  • Genre Blind:
    • Maginty, who is otherwise one of the most clever 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.
  • Gilligan Cut: Barracuda starts threatening Frank's daughter with O'Brien, nicking her skin with a knife. The next page is Frank in a hospital, plaster casts and bandages everywhere, and mentioning he can't remember what happened (he then starts putting together what happened from his wounds).
  • Gorn: The blood and guts are very detailed.
  • Gilded Cage: After Wilson Fisk becomes the Kingpin, he refuses to leave his tower out of fear of the Punisher. In the last arc, he reflects on the fact that even though he supposedly owns the city, he's basically become a prisoner in his own home.
  • 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. And inspires hordes of vigilantes to continue his work.
  • 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.
  • Hitler Ate Sugar: When Alice is describing her unfulfilling sex life to Dermot.
    Harry doesn't fuck me. He just has me bend over on the bed while he stares up my ass and jerks off. Before we were married, he used to shake my hand afterwards and say "Thank you for a wonderful evening." You know who else was into that? Hitler.
  • Hurricane of Euphemisms: Half of the dialogue of a supporting character in the Girls in White Dresses arc consists of different terms for methamphetamine.
  • 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.
  • Implacable Man: Pittsy, Barracuda and the Mennonite all manage to nearly kill Frank by virtue the fact that they're really, really tough.
  • Improvised Weapon User: Naked Kill oneshot 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...
  • Instant Death Bullet: Subverted in the finale to the story arc Up is Down and Black is White, where Frank gives Nicky Cavella a slow and agonizing death by shooting him in the stomach, and leaving him in the middle of a forest.
  • Interservice Rivalry:
    • When shooting Barracuda, Frank thinks of him as a "fucking Army puke".
    • In Barracuda's miniseries, the FBI, NSA, DEA and CIA are all cooperating to find Barracuda before he can restore the flow of drugs from Santa Morricone. Naturally, each agency has its own agenda and will make sure to prevent the others don't interfere with it.
  • Just Following Orders: Nick Fury asks Frank to participate in "Operation Barbarossa" because he won't do this. His partner Martin Vanheim tries to use this excuse for trying to kill Galina but Frank kicks the shit out of him and is able to shame him into better behavior. Frank himself qualifies in a strange way. In becoming The Punisher he assigned himself a mission and justifies his vigilante activity through that. In "Mother Russia" he is assigned a different mission and does things he wouldn't ordinarily do, like beat people up unprovoked and kill soldiers who are just doing their jobs.
  • Karmic Thief: Frank takes all weapons and money he finds on his raids for himself. When the cops bust all of his safehouses in Punisher Max, it is revealed that he had over eight million dollars in cash and enough guns to arm a small country.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Frank's murder of Microchip, his former sidekick. 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Left for Dead: In the 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.
  • Little "No": Frank is pretty much made up of these due to his taciturn nature, along with Blunt "Yes" and Flat "What.". One example does stand out from his Vietnam days, when his team attacked an enemy camp to rescue some downed pilots. By the time they got there, there was only one pilot left alive. This exchange immediately followed:
    Soldier: "Just the one, Captain."
    Castle: "Bring him."
    Soldier: "Prisoners?"
    Castle: "No."
  • Made of Iron:
    • Castle's a tough bastard. By human standards, anyway.
    Frank: That's a rib gone. Not broken. Gone.
    • 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 Elektra (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 that the first time Punisher 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.)
  • Mook Horror Show: The annual follows 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.
  • Monkey Morality Pose: When Fisk has Elektra kill his board of directors, she cuts three of them in a way that corresponds to the pose.
  • Morality Chain: Frank's family was this to him. In his origin story Born, set in 'Nam, he says to a fellow soldier that they might be his "last chance" to be something other than a Blood Knight.
  • 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 changed with Garth Ennis gradually filling in the blanks.
  • Never Live It Down: Invoked. The general who'd come up with 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. sniveling).
  • Non-Lethal Warfare: 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 
  • Nominal Hero: Frank's only interest is in killing people he thinks are bad. He'll save innocent lives when he can but he doesn't care about what happens to them afterwards. The only time he is actually interested in saving people are when children are involved and in "The Slavers," where the alternative is to let the police handle the girls he rescues, which would result in them being deported and enslaved or killed.
  • 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 two-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.
    • Other than the usual reactions of villains to realizing the Punisher is here, one guy in "Six Hours to Kill" gets one when his sister's message (Frank has their geeky mook's phone, meaning he can find them) finally gets through.
  • Omniscient Morality License: 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: Frank, obviously. When General Zakharov is preparing for their rematch he acquires two military choppers and an incendiary bomb and can only hope it's enough to take him down. It's not.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Averted; since MAX is set in a more realistic universe than most Marvel books, Frank is noticeably 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 (after removing both his arms).
  • 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.
  • The Pen Is Mightier: Nicky Cavella's cross-eyed hecnhman, Ink, got his nickname when he killed a guy by shoving a pen in his eye and into his brain.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • A typical moment would be when Punisher's 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Nicky Cavella, Rawlins, the Bulats, the Generals, and Finn Cooley all drop ethnic slurs like it's going out of style. This gets Finn in deep shit when he loudly proclaims he'll "never be anyone's nigger again!" in a bar full of black guys. The Heavy/Jigsaw is pretty racist as well as very misogynistic, referring to Hispanic women as "spic bitches", "coozes", and "whores" nearly every time he opens his mouth.
  • Private Eye Monologue: The series is typically narrated by The Punisher, who's every bit as gritty and cynical as one would expect.
  • Psycho for Hire:
    • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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 Foreign Gangsters: The slavers exemplify this. A lot of emphasis is placed on their war time experience, and Frank has trouble finding out information on them because every other pimp in the city is terrified of them.
  • 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.
    • Given as the reason for Howe's involvement in Frank's capture: the U.S. armed forces trained the guy, and look what he did with that training.
  • 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 ever said to his wife was. In addition, we also see in a flashback how Frank's wife reacts to what he said, even though what he said isn't shown. Best guess, based on both those scenes as well as Frank's very manifest discontent with both returning home from the war and trying to fit in as a husband and father: "I want a divorce."
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: "The Slavers" is the most notorious arc of the entire run. It doesn't gloss over how horrific human trafficking is, and the leaders of the ring die worse than any other character during the series.
  • 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.
  • Sudden Name Change: Microchip's real name is changed from "Linus Lieberman" to "David L. Lieberman". Frank's daughter is also given the name Lisa, when previously she had been referred to as either Barbara or Christie.
  • 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.
  • Threatening Shark: Barracuda was thought to have met his end by one in the first arc featuring him.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • 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 urinate 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 Always Works: Zigzagged. Usually Frank can get whatever information he needs through torture. But in the "Force of Nature", Frank describes how some people will keep their mouths shut even when threatened with death, and how others will shut down before revealing anything useful. He has to come up with an elaborate plot to get information from a trio of low level crooks. Barracuda also dismisses torture as a way to get his revenge, reasoning that someone like Castle will eventually disconnect.
  • Twofer Token Minority: One of the cops in the Slavers arc is black and gay.
  • Unfriendly Fire: Frank gets rid of a general threatening to shut down his base by drawing him in range of a Vietcong sniper and standing in front of the warning sign.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Lampshaded in the Widowmaker arc, where several villains comment how every time the Punisher is captured, the villain doesn't just shoot him.
  • Why Won't You Die?: Frank to Pittsy, after dealing the latter incredible amounts of damage, even by comic book standards.
  • 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: A cabal of corrupt US Army generals use their connections to send a group of honest US soldiers after The Punisher. 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". However, he has no problems shooting up Russian conscripts in a missile base.
  • Writer on Board:
    • Ennis tends to alternate between general "organized crime" targets and villains modeled after real groups, including Enron and even contemporary U.S. Military personnel.
    • The Slavers, probably the bleakest, most visceral Punisher story ever written, was based on Ennis's opinion of human traffickers. Hint: He doesn't like them.
      • Perhaps the cover of Frank sharpening a knife as he reads a book on Basic Human Anatomy will give you a clue that Ennis takes his hatred further than most. He also wrote the game and this story shows up.
      • Frank Castle's hatred of the human traffickers in The Slavers is (paraphrasing) "the worst he'd ever hated someone in a long time." In MAX continuity, Frank's been The Punisher for at least a couple of decades.
    • Some of Ennis' political thoughts are chilling. The first line of "The End", where the war on terror goes nuclear? "Soon."
  • 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.
  • X Meets Y: Welcome to the Bayou is basically 'take Action Hero like the Punisher and place him in a Slasher Movie'.