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  • Acceptable Targets:
    • Garth Ennis really, hates the IRA. And he wants you to hate them as well. Throughout the Kitchen Irish arc, he has several characters call them out over how stupid and cowardly they are. Understandable, as Ennis grew up in Stroke Country during the height of the violence in the region.
      IRA goon: Ye leave me rottin' in this hole, wonderin' when ye're comin' in to kill me. Every fuckin' moment's like torture. Evil, inhuman bastard. Typical fuckin' brit.
      Yorkie Mitchell: You start a war and then you whine about the way we fight it. Typical fucking paddy.
      • He's also not too fond of the boorish members of the Irish community - specifically, those who are incapable of letting go of petty squabbles and instead bring their personal grievances to the states. In fact, the Kitchen Irish arc is made up entirely of Irish villains.
      • He also dislikes the Irish-Americans who superficially cling to their Irish roots even though they've been American for generations and are basically just obsessed with The Theme Park Version that gives them a reason to get drunk and act like idiots.
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    • He's not too fond of corporations, either; Frank butchers the executives and major investors of an Enron stand-in during the Barracuda arc.
    • If there's anything that Ennis might hate more than the two above, it's human traffickers, if Frank's actions during The Slavers say anything.
    • From what you can take away from the recurring cabal of crooked scheming Generals, high-ranking military officials get no love from Ennis either.
      • Interestingly enough, the lower ranking grunts and common soldiers do not fall into this category; Ennis saves all his rancor for the feeble old men who send young men off to fight and die for them, especially Armchair Generals who coasted through their careers while seeing virtually no combat between Vietnam and the first Gulf War. Even the evil Zakharov gets more respect, despite the horrible things he's done, because of his veteran status.
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    • The Lampshade Hanging may be good at times, but overall if you like superheroes, really, really don't read this series.
    • You can apply this trope to just about any criminal organization: the The Mafia, The Cartel, the Russian Mafia, Gang Bangers, Ruthless Modern Pirates, bikers, white collar criminals...
    • For Jason Aaron, it's elements of the justice system, particularly members of law enforcement who abuse their authority.
  • Alternate Character Interpretation: Frank is usually treated as a absolute moralist who just happens to be fighting a never-ending war on crime. Other interpretations imply he's just as bad as the monsters he fights and is little different from a serial killer. The only thing that stays the same is the reason why he became the Punisher.
  • Anvilicious: Given that this is a series penned mostly by Garth Ennis, it should come as no surprise that the subject material in various story arcs occasionally lapses into this territory. When it comes to The Slavers and Valley Forge, however, such subjects really should be taken seriously.
  • Awesome Art:
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    • This series really couldn't have chosen a better cover artist than Tim Bradstreet. The man's cover art is truly a sight to behold, haunting and mesmerizing at the same time.
    • Interior artist Leandro Fernandez is no slouch either. What's more, his artwork actually improves as the series progresses.
  • Complete Monster: See here.
  • Crazy Awesome: Bullseye is all about this trope. Best exemplified in his introductory scene, where we see him shit out a gun and kill a pair of Russian thugs with it. Not long after, he asks Frank what his favorite color is while the latter is preparing to blow him up with a stick of C4.
  • Crosses the Line Twice: As expected from an adults-only series written primarily by Garth Ennis, it should come as no surprise that the series crosses the boundaries of good taste with every. Single. Arc. Seriously. Even Mark freaking Millar would churn his stomach at some of the more darkly humorous bits in the series.
  • Cult Classic: Years after the series' conclusion, it's still fondly looked backed on by both fans and critics alike, with many of them regarding it as the greatest Punisher run of all time, and a number of the story arcs have even been referenced on Two Best Friends Play.
  • Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: One of the most common criticisms directed at the series. Some of the storylines occasionally fall into this territory for some people, as there are no sympathetic characters to root for - only assholes you are likely to see dead.
  • Designated Villain: Deliberately invoked with the Russians in the Mother Russia arc, which sees a cabal of Army and Air Force generals send Frank Castle and a handpicked Delta operative off to a nuclear missile silo in Siberia to steal a biochemical super virus for them. The Russians who are stationed there are merely responding to what they believe is a legitimate terrorist attack, but that doesn't stop Frank from slaughtering them by the dozens.
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing: Much like his mainstream counterpart, this is another issue that plagues this version of the character. Just about every writer (Garth Ennis, Jason Aaron) who has depicted the character on a long-term basis has established in their works that Frank Castle is a deeply disturbed and damaged man who barely even qualifies as "human" anymore, whose mass murders do nothing to actually improve society (see The Slavers), whose activities only don't cause massive innocent casualties because of extreme authorial favoritism, and who should not be considered a role model by anyone. However, go anywhere in comics fandom and you'll stumble across people who think that Frank Castle is the coolest guy ever and it's a terrible pity that nobody's taking out the bad guys like that in the real world.
  • Drinking Game: Has its very own page now.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Barracuda, obviously. The man proved so popular that Garth Ennis had him somehow survive his near-fatal encounter with the Punisher so he could bring him back for future stories. Hell, Barracuda even got his own mini-series!
    • Yorkie Mitchell, Frank's snarky British contact, build up quite a decent reputation among the fandom, no doubt helped by his status as the Only Sane Man.
    • Bullseye gets plenty of love too, thanks to his Crazy Awesome nature and overall charismatic presence. The man is easily tied in terms of popularity with Barracuda as the most iconic villain in the series.
  • Evil Is Sexy: Elektra, full stop.
  • Fanon Discontinuity: There are some fans who completely disavow any stories that were published after Garth Ennis left, which is usually attributed to the old sentiment that Only the Creator Does It Right.
  • Foe Yay: Bullseye's fanatical obsession with Frank is this. Non. Stop. To the point that it is almost certain this was invoked by the writer.
    Bullseye: Watching you kill is like watching Rembrandt paint, or hear Mozart conduct his 9th symphony. You are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, Frank Castle. I think I'm going to cry.
    • And again.
    Bullseye: I saw him in action. Let me tell you, it was... it was something to behold. I do apologize, but it appears I'm going to pleasure myself now.
  • Genius Bonus: During Garth Ennis' run the series was rife with these. Featuring everything from well researched military history, real world crime, geopolitics, in-depth descriptions of firearms and the damage that the human anatomy takes when under extreme duress. The best example of this would be during the Kitchen Irish arc where one of character gives what is essentially an abridged history of the conflict in Northern Ireland, complete with references to the Good Friday Agreement and so forth.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: In the fourth issue of the MAX series, Frank tells Microchip how he once almost beat his neighbor Bob Garrett to death shortly after the death of Frank's family, because said neighbor had left his wife for another woman. Then, towards the end of the series, it's ultimately revealed that right before his family was killed, Frank had decided to divorce his wife and leave his kids with her.
    • The conversation between Nick Fury and Frank Castle in Valley Forge, Valley Forge, where they talk about the potential fallout from the Iraq war, takes on a whole new meaning with the rise of terrorist organizations like ISIS.
    Nick Fury: Fuck... we invent a war and we invade. And how many of them are dead now? Half a mil or something like that?
    Frank Castle: Depends on who you believe.
    Fury: Leaves a lot of pissed-off people with nothing to lose. I don't know what it'll be. Guy with something in a briefcase wandering into Times Square. A plane again. But we've got something coming, that I know.
  • "Holy Shit!" Quotient: Issue 18 of Jason Aaron's The Punisher MAX kicks things off by having Frank blowing Bullseye's brains out while he's in a coma, then moves on to Kingpin laying waste to his own lieutenants, then proceeding to have sex with Elektra amid the carnage, followed by Elektra and Mrs. Fisk getting it on, and finally, out of nowhere, Frank digs up the remains of Kingpin's eight-year-old son.
  • Love to Hate: It's hard not to find the villains in the series—such as Nicky Cavella, William Rawlins, General Zakharov, Tiberiu Bulat, Barracuda, The Heavy, the Kingpin, and Bullseye—to be entertainingly despicable or extraordinarily badass, even if they are awful people.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Frank Castle, The Punisher, has waged a one man war on crime for decades as a way to punish both the guilty and himself. At one point, Frank even gets himself arrested and sent to Riker's Island, just so he can put into play a scheme to murder the men who killed his family. Constantly demonstrating a wicked intelligence, Frank constantly manipulates criminals into traps and Out-Gambits others who try to get the best of him, before finishing his enemies off, not afraid to expose himself to injury, torture or death in the process. Even when faced with the unexpected, Frank is constantly able to rebound and get the better of his enemies, often tolerated by the police for his inflexible moral standards even as he leaves a mountain of guilty corpses behind him. In the final arc, Frank goes against The Kingpin himself, who now owns the criminal underworld of New York, deprived of much of his own former assets, and ends up completely destroying his operation before finishing him off, remarking only "Your city, my world."
  • Memetic Badass: Frank Castle was already this in the main 616 Universe. This version only amplifies his reputation even further.
    • His Arch-nemesis Barracuda quickly earned this reputation among the fandom.
  • Memetic Mutation: Behold Steve Dillon's everlasting legacy, Frank Face.
  • Misaimed Fandom: If you've read the Punisher's main YMMV page already, then you'll know that the character has become very popular with members of the American armed forces as of late - much to the chagrin of creator Gerry Conway, who was a conscientious objector during The Vietnam War and explicitly wrote the Punisher as a bad guy. How popular has he became? Well, in one scene early on in the controversial war movie, American Sniper, one of the main characters' fellow SEALs can be seen reading a Punisher comic. And if you look closely, you can see that it's issue #1 of The Punisher MAX. Later in the film, the main character and his SEAL platoon go on to call themselves "the Punishers" and spray-paint the skull logo on their gear as they go around laying waste to the enemy. A Vulture article explains in depth how this homage is both eerily perfect and terrifying.
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • Nicky Cavella was at first just a more sadistic and efficient mafiosi than what Frank is used to, then he pissed on Frank's family's grave to cement how tasteless he is and his backstory revealed he killed his whole family at eight, just to show how depraved psychotic he was.
    • General Zakharov in Afghanistan throwing a baby off a cliff.
    • The cabal of generals first introduced in Mother Russia. To provide a smokescreen for an illegal operation in Russia, they have a team of Arab terrorists they secretly trained for taking out targets inside friendly countries hijack a passenger plane and attempt a suicide bombing on Moscow, only for the plane to be shot down by the missile defenses.
    • If William Rawlins didn't cross it when he threw his wife overboard to the Taliban—resulting in her being repeatedly raped—he definitely crossed it when he creates a terrorist cell to create false flag attacks.
    • The Slavers were already far over the horizon, what with kidnapping young girls and beating and gang-raping them to break their spirits, but when Viorica escapes with her baby and seeks refuge with Jen Cooke, they track her down to Cooke's apartment and steal the baby back, then later send an e-mail with a photo of the baby's corpse.
    • Barracuda may have crossed so many times that it's difficult to mention a single example; however, most could agree that his most monstrous actions were during his time in Nicaragua, where the corruption gave him the chance to go completely wild. Other fans believe that he became completely unsympathetic when he kidnapped Frank's infant daughter with the intention of torturing her to death.
    • Kingpin — Faced with his old enemies holding his son at knifepoint and forced to choose between saving his little boy's life and killing the last people standing in his way, he coldly shoots them, not showing a hint of emotion as his rival cuts the boy's throat. He then embraces his wife and tells her "we can have another". Even allowing that Kingpin didn't actually had much of a choice there, Kingpin's reaction to the Sadistic Choice was not I Did What I Had to Do or a Drowning My Sorrows but rather a reflection on how much he didn't really love his son after all.
  • Narm:
    • Ironically enough, Frank's first kill falls into this. Although the scenario is played completely straight, and is treated as a major turning point in Frank's life, the seriousness of the moment is slightly undercut by the fact that Frank's first victim was caught squatting in the bushes, with his pants around his ankles... taking a shit...
    • The already slightly over-the-top Mother Russia (featuring a little girl being used as a living storage container for an artificial virus that can somehow reduce people to skeletons in less time than it takes to blink) eventually has the Punisher fight a silent kung-fu midget assassin in what was presumably some kind of random, bizarre homage to James Bond or something.
  • Nausea Fuel: The series is full of it, but probably the worst instance is what happens to Finn Cooley over the course of the series—his face, already blown off by a bomb of his own design, gets steadily worse. After his scrape with Castle, half of the right side of his face is missing, with most of the teeth yanked out with the flesh.
    • After Pittsy takes a shotgun slug to the face, we are treated to a highly detailed image of of the aftermath. Words do the visual no justice, you'll just have to see it for yourself. Or don't...
  • Older Than They Think: The first Marvel character to get a Darker and Edgier makeover on the MAX imprint wasn't the Punisher, but Nick Fury in the miniseries Fury and War Machine in the maxiseries U.S. War Machine, both of which came out in November 2001.
  • Seasonal Rot: Most fans will admit that the quality of the series took a nosedive after Garth Ennis left at the end of issue #60, with most of the story arcs that followed being either too weird (even by the standards of the series) or just not good enough. The drop in quality was so bad that the series was eventually cancelled after issue #75. Thankfully, the subsequent 2009 relaunch by Jason Aaron and veteran Punisher artist Steve Dillon (who also did the artwork for the 2001 Punisher relaunch) got the series back on track.
  • Signature Scene: This series is without a doubt the definitive Punisher run of all time, so it's easy to see how Frank's most iconic moments originated from this run.
    • From The Slavers, we have Frank throwing one of the ringleaders behind the slavery operation face-first into a shatterproof window multiple times until the window panel finally breaks, causing the ringleader to fall to her death.
    • From Long Cold Dark, Frank Castle torturing Barracuda by hooking up a car battery to his testicles. For an hour.
    Frank: A half hour drive later I had the jump leads clamped to the skin of his balls and I'd been turning the key in the ignition for fifteen minutes and he'd shit all over himself and the world was a beautiful place.
  • Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: Given the dark subject material of the series and most of the story arcs, sometimes being heavy-handed in one's approach is the only way to get an important message across. A few notable examples include.
    • The Slavers, which includes a lot of information — including a lecture, with slides no less — about the sex slave trade. It's also the story wherein Frank is shown to be absolutely brutal and unrelenting, well beyond his normal extremes, exemplified with the line "It had been a long time since I had hated anyone as much as I hated them."
  • Spiritual Successor: To Garth Ennis' previous 2001 Punisher mini-series.
  • Squick:
    • Since it's geared towards a more adult audience, the series shows off deaths in the most graphic ways imaginable.
    • Frank himself feels this when, injured in a gunfight and handcuffed to a bed so he can't stop it from happening, he watches Jenny complete her Roaring Rampage of Revenge: first by beating her sister to death with a baseball bat while naked for marrying her off to an abusive mobster; then screwing him to see if she can find any meaning in life now that the last of her tormentors is dead; and finally, the answer being a resounding "no", shooting herself in the head with Frank's sidearm.
    • In Up is Down and Black is White, we are treated to a flashback to Nicky Cavella's backstory, and while most of what is featured there is easy Nightmare Fuel material, the real creepy part is the sight of Nicky's morbidly obese aunt, "Auntie Mo", forcing herself upon a twelve year old Cavella. Nicolas's mortified expression during the abhorrent act says it all.
  • Too Cool to Live: This being a Darker and Edgier series filled with badass characters where anyone of them can be readily killed off, you know you're going to have quite a few examples.
    • Kathryn O'Brian, the badass CIA chick who's randomly and cruelly killed off just as soon as she and Frank were ready to ride off into the sunset.
    • Yorkie Mitchell gets it even worse. He's killed off AFTER he had just retired from the military. Also counts as a Kick the Dog moment as well.
    • By the end of the series, you can now add Frank Castle himself to the list.
  • Uncanny Valley: Some of the more photo-realistic drawings done by Lewis Larosa can have this effect for some people. Used to great effect in the very first issue with Larosa's ghoulish illustrations of Frank's dead family.
  • Unintentionally Sympathetic: Zakharov is introduced as the Only Sane Man who sees through the "Arab terrorists" deception and is later seen luring Castle to Afghanistan to capture him so the generals' plot can be revealed. He's also seen killing a nosy reporter, is willing to wipe out a village to capture Frank, and we get to see how he earned his Man of Stone nickname... but he displays a lot of Evil Virtues, and of course the fact that he's up against Rawlins automatically makes him look better in comparison. Frank gives him a Mercy Kill when he could just as easily left him to bake to death.
  • Vindicated by History: Back when Ennis started writing the series, conservative reviewers were none to pleased over the comics critical view of the American Government; a key element of "In the Beginning", was Frank refusing to hunt Bin Laden for the CIA. He refers to his Vietnam war days as the last he'd ever waste fighting for the government, but what really set him off was wondering how the CIA could possibly pay for such an operation, let alone do it quietly enough to use a mass-murdering vigilante like himself as a catspaw. Later, Micro confirms Frank's suspicions; when Coalition forces opened up Afghanistan, the military gained access to world's primary opium producing areas — Bethell planned to fund Frank's operations by trafficking Afghan heroin. Ennis based this on historical allegations of CIA_drug trafficking in Vietnam and Nicaragua, and revisited it in Fury: My War Gone By as he felt felt the need to say "Yes, this really did happen!" In The New '10s, he was proven to be prescient; not only did the US military traffic in heroin, by doing so they completely converted the country's economy to its production.
  • What an Idiot!:
    • Robert Bethell, the crooked CIA agent who thought that recruiting one of the most dangerous and unpredictable men alive into his highly secretive and highly illegal unit was a good idea.
    • Nicolas Cavella, a smug mob chump who had the ingenious idea of digging up the remains of Frank's family and urinating on them, then releasing footage of this to the news media in the hopes of infuriating Castle. This goes over about as well as you would imagine. For starters, it doesn't even work: instead of going after Cavella, Frank instead murders the hell out of everyone but Cavella, 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 Cavella, completely calm and utterly vindictive. Cavella 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.
    • The Eight Generals exemplify this trope. Every single decision they make continues to get them in more and more trouble. By the end, they've given up on trying to advance their own self-interests and are just trying to save their own asses.
    • Special mention goes to the Westies/Maginty/River Rats/Cooley for actually believing that their Monstrous old mob 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.
  • The Woobie
    • Galina, the sweet, innocent, little six year girl who is being used as a guinea pig by the Russian government so they can perfect a flesh-eating super virus which exists in her blood stream.
    • Viorica. Dear god, the hell that that poor women endures can take up an entire character page.

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