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The Punisher finally returns with new Marvel Comics solo series - but does he ditch the skull logo?
Where does The Punisher go next in the modern world?
Outside of a few scattered out-of-continuity appearances, the Punisher has been MIA within the pages of Marvel Comics for more than a year. That will change in March as the publisher announced Frank Castle will return in Punisher, a brand new prestige 13-issue limited series by writer Jason Aaron, pencilers Jesús Saiz and Paul Azaceta and colorist Dave Stewart. Each issue will be oversized and present a story that Marvel promises will be “the definitive culmination of Frank Castle’s journey in the Marvel Universe.”
Marvel’s press release revealed that Castle, the haunted vigilante who has waged a bloodthirsty war on crime since his debut in 1974’s Amazing Spider-Man #129, will become the warlord of the Hand, the ancient ninja clan created by Frank Miller in the pages of Daredevil. The story appears to hinge on a big secret that presumably will be revealed at some point in the series, which leads Castle to pick up the sword in service of the Beast, the demonic being who commands the Hand.
Frank Castle has become the most accomplished killer the world has ever seen. After a shocking secret pushes him to become the warlord of the Hand, he now serves the Beast, a role that may be his ultimate destiny. The story will traverse from the present day to the past, with Azaceta handling the art chores on the flashbacks. Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief C.B. Cebulski said Aaron shared his pitch for his Frank Castle story at one of Marvel’s creative retreats., and it left everyone in attendance gobsmacked.
“The story Jason is telling – a truly epic tale about darkness, violence, and choices – can only be told with the Punisher at its core,” Cebulski said in the press release. “This series will build on Frank’s legacy while introducing us to a side of him we’ve never seen before, setting the stage for an evolution that we’ll find was inevitable.”
Aaron, who had previously written the character in Punisher MAX, says Castle’s tragic origin, in which his family was killed in a gangland execution, will weigh heavily on this new tale. “This story is the destined next step in the dark and tragic evolution of Frank Castle, from troubled kid to heroic soldier to revenge-driven vigilante…to the duly anointed King of Killers,” Aaron said in a statement. “Believe me when I say, I am as excited about this story as anything I’ve ever written for Marvel.”
Of course, the legacy of the Punisher is something Marvel has been struggling with for quite some time.
The character, while no longer the mega-popular hero who headlined multiple ongoing comics and inspired a trio of increasingly high-body count movies, still retains great value to the publisher and to its film/television division. The Jon Bernthal-led TV series on Netflix was a big hit with fans during its two seasons. But the Punisher, at least in the comics, has essentially been on the shelf since 2020. Speculation has been that the character was taken out of play because Marvel wanted to put some distance between it and its own character due to the fact that his entire existence revolves around killing as many criminals as he can find. Another concern is that the famous Punisher skull logo has in recent years been co-opted by a number of fascist groups and even some law enforcement organizations.
As SYFY WIRE wrote last January, a number of the people who took part in the January 6 siege at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. were spotted wearing the distinctive symbol. In that editorial, we wrote that the way for Marvel to reclaim its character from those who have hijacked his symbol could be to get rid of the skull. Now, we don’t know what will happen at the end of Punisher, but check out Castle’s uniform in one of the images Marvel sent out to press outlets.
Is that a permanent change? Is that how Marvel intends to sever connections with a symbol that has now come to represent something else entirely from what the Punisher's original creators intended?
It seems unlikely that we would learn of a new Punisher symbol like this, so this could be a red herring of sorts. What is certain is that page definitely shows off a new look. And Aaron himself seems eager to show that what makes Frank Castle a fascinating character goes far beyond his clothing choices.
“So many different groups have tried to appropriate the Punisher's symbol and write their own story of what that symbol means, to match whatever their agenda,” Aaron said in a separate statement sent out by Marvel. “But they don't get to define the story of this character. And it's the character of Frank Castle that I'm interested in. His story has always been a dark and twisted tragedy, about a man consumed by war, for better or worse, no matter what sort of shirt he wears. And that's exactly the kind of story we're telling here.”
Punisher #1 will go on sale in March 2022.