"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 EdgierMarvel Comicscharacter, 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 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. Introduced The Kingpin, Bullseye and Elektra into the MAX universe.
Punisher: Born (2003)
The Punisher Presents Barracuda (2007)
Untold Tales of Punisher Max (2012)
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)
Related MAX comics
Foolkiller: White Angels (2008) — Frank works with Foolkiller to stop white supremacists for half of the miniseries.
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.
Aluminum Christmas Trees: 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 waythe CIA would smuggle drugs, right? Right?
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.
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 hefought inin 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.
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.
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.
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 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, ColonelHowe, 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 he had every intention of stopping Castle's rampage... by capture, trial, conviction, and sentencing, not by extrajudicial killing, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
Dangerously Genre Savvy: General Zakharov, again. He uses Mook Chivalrytwice 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]? Zakharov: 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?
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 to enrage the Punisher to cause the Punisher to drop his guard 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.
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.
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 dath by shooting him in the stomach, and leaving him in the middle of a forest.
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.
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.
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.
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 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).
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 Unbeknownst to the generals, they were also practicing this trope on their commander's orders, and eventually do manage to bring him down.
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.
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.
Only a Flesh Wound: Averted; since MAX is 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.
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. Hekeepsthatpromise.
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 crosseyed hecnhman Inky got his nickname when he killed a guy by shoving a pen in his eye and into his brain.
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.
Private Eye Monologue: The series is typically narrated by The Punisher, who's every bit as gritty and cynical as one would expect.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 setupdespite 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.
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.
Xanatos Gambit: Overlapping with Thanatos Gambit, Old Man Nesbitt gave each of his Psycho for HireInadequate 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.