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Comic Book / The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank

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The Punisher (subtitled Welcome Back, Frank for collected editions and interior titles) is a 2000 comic book miniseries by Marvel Comics, released under the Marvel Knights imprint. It's written by Garth Ennis with art by Steve Dillon and Jimmy Palmiotti, and color art by Chris Sotomayor. The series is the fifth volume of The Punisher.

The series, set in the shared Marvel Universe, stars the titular Punisher, Frank Castle, and serves as a Soft Reboot for the Punisher. The previous series, The Punisher: Purgatory , had reinvented the character - normally a Badass Normal vigilante - by giving him magical powers. They are promptly removed again prior to the start of Welcome Back, Frank, something which is briefly explained in the first issue and then never mentioned again.

Now returned to his old self, the Punisher is back in New York, ready to end the Gnucci crime family once and for all. Understandably, Ma Gnucci is not prepared to let that happen.

Frank's return has also inspired other vigilantes, "The Holy", "Elite" and "Mr. Payback", each with their own focus and their own trail of bodies.

Meanwhile, New York's police can't just let a murderous vigilante run free, but they also broadly approve of the Punisher, who saves them so much work, So, the "Punisher case" gets assigned to the most pathetic pair of losers they can find, who are now getting entangled in all of this. Lord help them.

The first issue was released on April 1, 2000. The series ended with #12, released on March 1, 2001.

A Sequel Series, also simply titled The Punisher, swiftly followed in June 2001, initially with the same creative team.

The Punisher (2000) contains examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Detective Molly turns down the romantic advances of several creepy men and insists she was only assigned to the Punisher task force because she wouldn't give sexual favors to her superiors.
  • Achilles' Heel: Heat is the only thing that causes the Russian any significant amount of pain and it doesn't take very much of it. A hot pizza is enough to incapacitate him for several crucial seconds.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Ma Gnucci loses both arms and both legs to a polar bear attack.
  • And Call Him "George": The Russian gives a mook a sidehug, crushing him without even noticing.
  • Ascended Fanboy: The Russian may be a villain, but he's a huge fan of American superheroes. He's even one of the founding members of the Daredevil Man Without Fear Fan Club in Smolensk. And when he's done with Punisher, he will go to meet the others and ask for autographs. Or perhaps he will join the Fantastic Four? Who is stronger, The Thing or The Russian?
  • Bad Boss: Ma Gnucci orders one of her thugs to kill her own cousin, Stevie, simply because he asked her how she was doing after the polar bear attack, when that thug questions her, she orders another thug to kill that thug and Stevie, that thug also questions her, so she orders a third thug to kill the three of them, that thug complies. Then warns everyone else that anyone doubting that she means what she says would do well to remember she was fed to a pack of polar bears ten days prior.
  • Back-Alley Doctor: Frank has to pay one to fix up Dave after he's tortured, and to remove the bullets that are still in Frank's body after a nasty shootout. Frank thinks that he would've done it himself, but he needed someone who could help Dave. Frank also doesn't trust the hospital's (more sober) doctors since they could be on Ma Gnucci's payroll — the back alley doctor, on the other hand, is "old-school".
  • Barred from the Afterlife: Punisher's speech in the first issue about the afterlife. The angels would give him peace and reunion, if he did some work for them. He refused. So they sent him back to a world filled with petty criminals, thinking that in comparison it would be like hell for him...but they were mistaken.
  • Bandaged Face: Spacker Dave's face is covered entirely in bandages after being tortured by Ma Gnucci's goons. Even after his face heals up, he decides to keep them on because he decides he likes them more than his piercings.
  • Bears Are Bad News: Ma Gnucci will always regret following Castle into the bear's cage. And he had just attacked them and ran, so they are more angry than the average bear!
  • Berserk Button: The Russian no-sells virtually everything Punisher throws against him, with one exception; he has a low tolerance for heat. The only times he expresses pain is when Frank burns his hand on the stove and throws a scalding pizza in his face. Unfortunately, this also makes him furious.
  • Blood Knight: The Russian, who we're told visits war zones for money or for fun.
  • Body Horror: Ma Gnucci ends up bald and limbless after getting mauled by bears.
  • Bond One-Liner: "The Holy" was pleading Punisher to lead him and the other two vigilantes, that together they can create a super group and destroy crime. Isn't that what Punisher wants?
    Punisher: No. [kills them]
  • Bulletproof Human Shield: Punisher took advantage of it at the morgue.
    Punisher: Gunfight in the morgue, rule one: Don't hide behind the thin guy.
  • The Can Kicked Him: The Russian very nearly manages to kill the Punisher with his own toilet!
  • Car Fu: The mafia hires a former Desert Storm sniper to kill Punisher. Frank just runs the guy over with an SUV, then backs up.
  • Carnival of Killers: Deconstructed. A gangster employs three badass killers to take out the Punisher. The first guy is some kind of Neo-Cowboy Gunslinger, famous for a firefight with four State Troopers, where he ducked the last bullet fired at him, and shot the last cop dead. The Punisher riddles him with an UZI. note  The second guy is a Martial Arts expert "with a black belt in anything you care to name." Punisher says that he knows "a little myself", but settles on simply shoving the guy onto a subway track. Lastly we have an ex-Marine sniper and Desert Storm veteran. Punisher runs him over with a car, then backs up on him for good measure.
  • Catchphrase: Elite likes to mention that "This is a nice neighborhood."
  • Cheated Death, Died Anyway: Frank Castle interrogates a mafioso in his car on the freeway, before telling him to get out (while the car is still moving). The man does so, miraculously survives... only to get run over by a food truck. A truck from Frank's Tasty Franks no less.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: All three new vigilantes watch the same broadcast about them and the Punisher, and say "This gives me an idea!" at the same time.
  • Comically Missing the Point: When Ma Gnucci says she wants to kill the one who crippled her, one of her mooks says, "You want us to put a hit on the bear?".
  • Combat Pragmatism:
    • One of the hitmen sent against Punisher was a black belt in all disciplines. Castle followed him in secret, stood behind him at the subway station when the subway was coming, and used his own martial art: Splat-fu.
    • Referenced by Frank when he kills an ex-Desert Storm sniper, now a mob hitman, by repeatedly running him over.
      Frank: When you're on your own — behind enemy lines — no artillery, no air strikes, no hope of an evac — you don't fight dirty. You do things that make dirty look good.
  • Covert Pervert: Benny, a nebbish and a strait-laced Gnucci goon, is on familiar terms with an adult bookshop clerk although he claims he only visits the place to use the phone.
  • Cultural Translation: Where one of the hitmen is said to shoot "quick as lightning", the French translation went with "shoots faster than his own shadow".
  • Cultured Badass: Elite enjoys fine wine and trips to the theater in between his acts of extreme violence as a masked vigilante. Ultimately a Subverted Trope as the Punisher points out he's nothing but a vile neo-Nazi who mostly targets harmless people.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The Russian is introduced when a squad of elite commandos called Bravo Force, hired as mercenaries to kill him, invade his house... only to be brutally slaughtered down to a man, whom the Russian sends running away in the nude (and with his assault rifle wrapped around his neck) to tell his superiors that he's getting annoyed at their attempts on his life.
  • Decapitation Presentation: Frank holds the Russian's severed head at the gate of Ma Gnucci's mansion. That's enough to make every mobster just walk away.
  • Dented Iron: The Punisher doesn't make it through all his fights unscathed. Two of his battles lead to injuries that become major plot points. When he takes two hits from a mook with an SMG while he's trailing Ma Gnucci it allows a nosy neighbor to identify him as he limps home. When a mob hit team attacks him as a result, the Punisher gets shot so many times he's incapacitated which make him a sitting duck for the Russian.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Elite's Establishing Character Moment, after killing a small drug dealing gang, is shooting a dog dead because the dog is pissing on the sidewalk, and in a later issue he drops a grenade into a hot dog cart (luckily, the vendor ran away). All in the name of a "nice neighborhood".
  • Driven to Suicide: The criminal profiler Buddy Plugg hangs himself after receiving disparaging comments from Soap (there's also his pretty crappy childhood and his own name).
  • Dumb Muscle: The Russian.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • The first thing Frank does is toss a mafia goon off a building.
    • Elite kills drug dealers, dogs doing their necessities on the sidewalk and threatens hot dog vendors by blowing up their businesses, for a "nice neighborhood".
    • The first we (sort of) see the Russian do is completely and utterly destroy a special ops team sent to kill him, sending the leader running naked, with his rifle bent around his neck, and crying "I want my Mommeeee...!".
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • Rapist and mobster Bobby Gnucci visits the morgue to see the body of his brother Eddie and is upset by the scene.
    • Carlo Gnucci shows concern and fear when he thinks his girlfriend has fallen out a window (really, the Punisher just intimidated her into leaving the room as he prepares to kill Carlo).
    • Fascistic murderer the Elite has a brief friendly conversation with his son about what their family is having for dinner.
    • One of the drug dealers Elite kills has a sister who is upset enough about his death that an acquaintance promised her he would kill the Elite. He tries, but it goes poorly for him.
    • Downplayed or averted with Ma Gnucci. She does hire assassins to kill the Punisher after he kills her sons (and later her brother), but barely acknowledges their existence and seems more determined to avenge the physical injuries he inflicts on her.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Mr. Payback is utterly appalled by Elite's blatant racism and and classism, and calls him a fascist to his face. He still tries to work with him, though.
  • Everyone Has Standards: For all of Frank's brutality in dealing with his chosen targets, he always makes sure that he goes after people who have committed actual crimes and is careful to avoid harming innocents. This is the main reason he rejects the "Vigilante Squad"; Mr Payback in particular is called out for causing collateral damage and the Elite is dismissed as a Nazi who just goes after certain social groups of people he doesn't like, while the Holy is basically crazy.
  • Evil Cripple: Ma Gnucci is left a brutal quadruple amputee following the incident with the polar bears.
  • Evil Is One Big, Happy Family: No, it is not, as the Vigilante Squad shows. They all have differing motivations, which leads them to constantly bicker with each other. In fact, they're so awful at working together that as soon as they join forces, they completely stop killing people because they're too busy arguing about plans to actually get out on the street.
  • Evil Old Folks: Ma Gnucci. Calling her an old hag would be kind.
  • Expy:
    • Detective Soap for Detective Paul Bridges, a similarly unlucky cop from an early arc of Preacher.
    • Ma Gnucci also has distinct similarities to Jesse's grandmother, Marie L'Angelle, in Preacher.
  • Eye Am Watching You: Punisher killed two rival gangs, but spared a guy who said that he was just an addict. He told him that he would be watching, and left. The guy called a friend, to come and retrieve the fortune in drugs that was lying there... and Punisher came out of the shadow, and killed the guy.
  • Facial Horror: Ma Gnucci's goons interrogate Spacker Dave by pulling out his piercings.
  • The Faceless: Elite is never seen without his mask. When he takes it off, we only see the back of his head.
  • Familial Foe: The Punisher kills the three Gnucci brothers in the opening issue. The rest of that arc (and a few other comics) feature him clashing with the brothers' mother, uncle, and cousins.
  • Fanboy: The Russian is a superhero fan and, according to himself, a founding member of the Daredevil Man Without Fear-fan club in Smolensk. He also expresses a hope of getting Spider-Man's autograph while in New York.
  • Fat Comic Relief: Frank's neighbor, Mr. Nathaniel Bumpo, is very big and fat and it's a running gag that almost every time Frank sees him that he's in some comedic situation because of his weight. First he was stuck on his door and had to be pulled through. Then he had to get his toilet replaced again because he keeps breaking his, this time with plate steel with some skepticism that would even be enough, with him asking if they come in adamantium.
  • Friend on the Force: Frank uses Soap as an informant, since the latter has figured out he's never going to actually catch Frank.
  • Funny Background Event:
    • On a filing cabinet in the police station, there is a stuffed pig in a policeman's uniform. Those cops must have a good sense of humor.
    • When Ma Gnucci is in the hospital after being mauled by polar bears, there's a get well card on the bed with a picture of a teddy bear on it.
  • Give Chase with Angry Natives: Frank runs through a cage of sleeping polar bears. The pursuing Mafia runs through a cage of pissed-off, very much awake polar bears.
  • Give Me a Sign: While burying his latest victim, The Holy begs for God to give him a sign on how he should confront his madness. A newspaper blows into his face, and on the front page is a news story about The Punisher.
  • Grievous Harm with a Body: Frank uses the morbidly obese Mr. Bumpo to smother the Russian to death.
  • Hate Sink: Elite of the Vigilante Squad. Mr. Payback targets corrupt corporate types responsible for enough death and misery that even one of them admits they probably have it coming, and The Holy is at least somewhat tragic as he clearly suffers from some kind of mental illness. Meanwhile, all of Elite's appearances only further show what a massive piece of garbage he is.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Elite uses guns with unrealistically effective suppressors. This is most obvious when Elite snipes a car full of vengeful gangsters one by one without his son in the next room hearing anything.
  • I Let You Win: The Punisher lets Daredevil beat him down because he feels bad about the trap he's set that the latter doesn't have a chance against.
  • Implacable Man: The Russian, albeit a much more jovial version than is typically encountered.
  • Insistent Terminology:
    • Dave.
      Spacker Dave!
    • Subverted when Frank finally uses the name right ("Spac— Hey! Mr. Smith, dude! You got it!").
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Mr. Payback showed up at a corporate room, accused the people in there of several corporate crimes, and killed them. One guy was complaining later about those horrible things he said... but the CEO corrected him: he was right, they DID commit those crimes, and managed to conceal them.
    • Interestingly, the Punisher himself is fully aware of this, and brings it up when he confronts Payback. The Punisher tells him he's killed four innocent people, one of them being a cleaning lady who died when one of Payback's bullets went through a wall and hit her. Not only does this show Frank's contempt for vigilantes who don't properly plan ahead to prevent innocent people from getting killed, but it also shows that Frank had no problem whatsoever with Payback killing corrupt corporate execs; it was Payback's sloppiness in being a vigilante that signed his death warrant.
  • Karma Houdini: A porn shop clerk accidentally catches the Punisher limping back to his hideout after the fight at the zoo, and rats him out to Ma Gnucci, and gets a $10,000 dollar reward for it. He gets off completely scot-free with the money and is never seen again.
  • Kicked Upstairs: Hey, Soap! Now you have an important case to lead, and your office, and your own special operations team! Yes, it was too good for that loser to be true...
  • Laughably Evil: The Russian's every other line is a joke.
  • Morality Pet: The Punisher's interactions with his hapeless neighbors at his current hideout show he's not totally ruthless and antisocial.
  • More Dakka: Mr. Payback's modus operandi. When a bullet hits and kills an innocent cleaning lady behind a wall, Payback gets put on Frank's list.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Ma Gnucci's boys have plenty of these moments throughout the comic when face-to-face with the Punisher, but none more emblematic than when he walks up to her mansion with the decapitated head of the Russian. Every last one of her goons drops their guns and walks away, leaving her to face her fate alone.
    • Frank's reaction when he notices the Russian has torn a toilet loose from the fixtures and is coming after him.
      Frank: No...
  • "Oh, Crap!" Smile: A perfect one from Ma Gnucci's last surviving gunman when he realizes the polar bears in the enclosure they're in are awake and angry.
  • Pet the Dog: Frank sneaks back into his abandoned apartment and leaves behind huge piles of cash (taken from the safe of a crime boss he'd just killed) for his three neighbors to find. Each of them had helped him several times during the arc, and he felt obligated. The last panel shows him standing on the street outside, listening to them laughing with joy and planning on improving their lives with the money. Frank walks away, thinking: "Best I can do. Maybe I am damned. But I'm not dragging you good people down with me."
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The Elite shows extreme disdain towards poor people and minorities, and settles for insulting them when he isn't actively killing them.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: The Russian. His guileless expression and easygoing attitude make everything about him more frightening.
  • Rasputinian Death: After the burnings, beatings and stabbings, it takes being suffocated under a tremendously obese man and the Punisher to take out the Russian. And even then his head gets cut off. And even that didn't completely finish him, as the story arc after this one showed.
  • Reluctant Psycho: The Holy is a genuinely insane man who kills people in a rage, only to regain control of himself afterwards and be horrified of what he has done. He's tormented by this until he sees a newspaper article about The Punisher, which encourages him to embrace his insanity.
  • Revisiting the Roots: No surveillance, no weird ammo or strange technology, no partners or backup... this is a return to the basics. The Punisher, guns and petty criminals. The story immediately removes his shortlived magical powers and returns him to his Badass Normal status quo.
  • Sadistic Choice: In issue #3, the Punisher puts Daredevil through the "choice between ideals" version. The Punisher is out to snipe a vicious mob figure; Daredevil attempts to stop him, insisting that the mob boss needs to be taken out legally, through the justice system. The Punisher manages to incapacitate Daredevil and bind him up with a gun with one bullet in his hands pointed at the Punisher's own head, such that the only way Daredevil could stop the Punisher's vigilante justice would be to violate his own ideals by fatally shooting Punisher himself. Daredevil chooses to pull the trigger, at which point it is revealed that the setup was also a false dilemma: the gun had no firing pin.
    Frank: "If you don't shoot you've got a death on your conscience. A death you could have prevented. If you do shoot, you're a killer."
    Matt: "What kind of choice is that...?"
    Frank: "The one I make every time I pull the trigger. The one I'm making now."
  • Scatterbrained Senior: Mrs. Pearse, the cleaning lady at the church, is zealous about her duties, but forgetful (she can't seem to get cleaning day right) and nearly blind and deaf, so much so that Father Redondo can say out loud that he killed the criminals who went to confess with him and she still won't listen. And she cleans up all the blood nicely and without reservations, because she thinks it's spilt communion wine.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: When Frank shows up at Ma Gnucci's house with The Russian's head, he stares down her remaining thugs. They all throw their guns on the ground and leave Ma to her fate.
  • Shadow Archetype: Each member of the 'Vigilante Squad' highlights common criticisms of the Punisher as a character.
    • Elite is the Punisher if he really did shoot people for jaywalking. Elite also highlights the racist and xenophobic aspects of the Punisher's frequent wars on a Generic Ethnic Crime Gang.
    • The Holy can be viewed as a parody of the Punisher's Heaven story-arc, his absolute moral certainty, and the criticism that his character is little more than a homicidal psychopath.
    • Mr. Payback can be seen as a critique of the Punisher's murderous methods. While Payback's grievances are legitimate, gunning down the nearest bad guys is unlikely to solve complex international socioeconomic problems (such as the inhumane Taiwanese labor practices he mentions in his Motive Rant). Payback also highlights the amount of collateral damage and innocent victims the Punisher's violence would cause if he wasn't hypercompetent and Crazy-Prepared.
  • Shout-Out: A mook walking in on Ma Gnucci from behind and getting startled by the sight of machines lowering the wig onto her scarred head is a clear homage to ''The Empire Strikes Back''.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: The Punisher gives fatal ones to Ma Gnucci and the Vigilante Squad when they try to lecture him on his moral failings.
  • Sinister Minister: Father Redondo, a.k.a. The Holy, who is ready to axe murder you in his confessional the second you gleefully confess to crimes with zero remorse and every intent of going out to commit more.
  • Slobs vs. Snobs: Elite is on a mission to violently remove anything and anyone he deems low-class from his neighborhood.
  • Something We Forgot: With Ma Gnucci keeping him busy, the Punisher did not have the time to locate and deal with the "Vigilante Squad" until at the end.
  • Spare a Messenger: The Russian's Establishing Character Moment has him killing an elite hit squad and letting one man run away (stripped naked) to tell their bosses not to try again.
  • Straw Loser: Detective Soap and Lieutenant Molly Von Richthofen are stuck in the dead-end assignment of stopping The Punisher because of their personal actions (Soap is a screw-up who due to circumstances outside his control always had cases blow up in his face; Von Richtofen is a lesbian who vocally called out her superiors sexual harassment) and do not have the slightest hope of doing anything to the Punisher or Ma Gnucci (nor were the police expecting them to, considering that the cops like the Punisher's methods and Ma Gnucci had the NYPD on her payroll, so it's a catch-22 anyway). The best plan they can come up with was just to let things happen and let the whole crisis solve itself. Which it eventually does, leaving them both in far better circumstances than they began.
  • Take Our Word for It: We never get to see Spacker Dave's face after his piercings are torn out. What little we see of his ear looks like fried plastic. Even after he heals, he decides to keep the bandages on because they make him stand out.
  • Title Drop: At the end of the first issue. "Welcome back, Frank. Says New York City".
  • Toilet Humour: Officer Soap is promoted to Commissioner at the end of the series, proudly looks out of his office to the Golden Sunset of New York... only to have a passing pigeon defecate on his head. Nevertheless, he warmly says "I love this town," for compared to all the hardships he endured trying to catch The Punisher, he is not going to let something as trivial as bird poop rain on his parade.
  • The Unreveal: The true identities of Elite and Mr. Payback are never revealed.
  • Weapon-Based Characterization: Of the various vigilantes Mr. Payback, Elite, and the Punisher himself all use a variety of guns and explosives. The Holy on the other hand kills exclusively with a simple hand-axe which emphasizes that he's a madman who puts no planning into his violence.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: The various mob goons are frequently upset about the deaths of their friends (at the hands of both the Punisher and Bad Boss Ma) and many are terrified about having to go after the Punisher but are forced into it. One is also shown eating a candy bar and reading The Bridges of Madison County right before Frank dispatches him. However, this overlaps with Bait the Dog for Benny and Billy, who get a few scenes where they act as comic relief or seem appalled by how ruthless Ma is, only for them to brutally torture Spacker Dave in their final appearance.
  • White Mask of Doom: The Elite wears a creepy white mask.
  • Within Arm's Reach: During a scene where Frank is getting the absolute shit beaten out of him by the Russian, he notices a gun he dropped lying under a piece of furniture. Averted in that Frank does manage to pick up the gun, but the Russian easily takes it away from him and breaks off the barrel, then proceeds with beating down Frank. Frank finally killed the Russian by throwing a piping hot, freshly delivered pizza in his face and then suffocating him by pushing his morbidly obese neighbor on his face and then piling on so the Russian couldn't get away. Played straight because both the pizza and Mr. Bumpo were within Frank's reach.

Alternative Title(s): Welcome Back Frank, The Punisher 2000