Sucker for Punishment: 10 times The Punisher took on Marvel characters way out his league

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Mar 7, 2016, 12:50 PM EST

[Editor's Note: March kicks off a season of big-time showdowns, grudge matches and maybe a few team-ups. Infamous as the month when Brutus betrayed Caesar, March will get even more epic because Batman will take on Superman on the big screen, Daredevil will get company in Hell's Kitchen in the form of The Punisher on Netflix, and The Flash shall race on over to CBS to meet Supergirl. And, of course, just a few weeks after this kickoff, we'll see a breakdown in the friendship between Captain America and Iron Man in Marvel's Civil War movie. Because we love seeing a good battle between titans, we've dedicated March to versus. Over the next four weeks, check this space for stories on title fights in superhero stories, horror, science and more!]

The Marvel Universe is an infinitely weird and imaginative place, with all manner of super-beings: destroyers of worlds, sentient planets, invincible embodiments of rage and gods of thunder. In a world of super soldiers, living weapons and webslingers, one man stands apart from all the rest, and he’s just a guy with a gun.

Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, is one of Marvel’s most iconic antiheroes despite having no powers at all. Punisher is the perpetual underdog of the Marvel Universe, his one-man war on crime rendered all the more absurdly futile by the world of wonders he lives in. But that’s never slowed Frank down. From the very beginning, The Punisher has taken some of Marvel’s mightiest head-on, not letting a silly thing like power levels get in the way of justice.

The fan-favorite character is set to enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe on Netflix later this month when Frank Castle — as portrayed byThe Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal — sets his sights on Matt Murdock in the second season of Daredevil. This will finally place him in his proper setting for the first time, after several live-action versions of the character, and allow him to act as dark contrast the Marvel Universe needs. In recognition of the Punisher’s homecoming, lock and load with these 10 classic battles featuring the Punisher taking on Marvel’s more significantly super characters, odds be damned!



(From Amazing Spider-Man #129 by Gerry Conway and Ross Andru)

Punisher’s penchant for clashing with more powerful heroes was on display right from his first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #129, in which he was introduced as an antagonist for the wall-crawler. The grizzly green mad-scientist known as the Jackal — who also made his first appearance in the issue — hired the Punisher to kill Spider-Man, having convinced Frank that he’s a criminal, and he takes to the hunt with great enthusiasm.

Punisher’s strategic preparations, athleticism and tenacity prove to be a decent match for Spidey. The Punisher surprises Spider-Man with a gun that fires concussive explosives, and then dashes across rooftops, baiting him to where he’s hidden a weapon, a gun that shoots titanium wire, which restrains Spider-Man, though only briefly. Spidey frees himself and turns the tides on Frank, but the Jackal attacks from behind and the pair of villains escape. Frank later stumbles upon what appears to be the scene of a recent murder committed by Spider-Man. Punisher holds his own in close-quarters combat against Spider-Man, but only for as long as it takes for him to realize that it was all a set up by the Jackal. Disavowing his employer and declaring his intended revenge against him, Frank part ways with Spider-Man, neither knowing that a long road of future clashes lay ahead of them...



(From Marvel Knights: Punisher #33-37 by Garth Ennis and John McCrea)

Though never one to denounce the importance of a good firearm, Frank Castle wins more fights than any other using his razor-sharp tactical mind. There are few better examples of his wartime wit than when Punisher took on his old sparring partner Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Wolverine, all at the same time, and he began with a baffling move: he threw in the towel and decided to get a burger, instead.

Admitting that he’d surely be bested by the combined forces of the three heroes and sent to prison, Frank decided to get a burger, saying he’s tasted prison food before. The trio is understandably baffled and follow him into the diner, where Castle plays Wolverine like a fiddle, enraging him and causing DD and Spidey to jump in and restrain him. Punisher slips out in the ensuing chaos, and then proceeds to repeatedly beat the heroes by tricking them into traps and avoiding having to fight them entirely, eventually using a recently-backhanded Bruce Banner as a distraction while he goes about his real business of murdering the heck out of a whole lotta criminal scum.

For some reason, the Punisher seemed to take special glee in humiliating Wolveriner, who he obliterated with a rocket launcher, perhaps having leftover aggression from a fight they had earlier in the series when he’d blown Wolverine’s face off with a shotgun, shot him in the groin with an uzi, then flattened him with a steamroller.



(From Punisher #1 by Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña)

Every good soldier knows that no plan survives contact with the enemy, but even the Punisher can’t plan for everything. Following the rise to power of Norman Osborn — the former Green Goblin — after an alien invasion of Earth, Punisher naturally tried to assassinate him from four miles away using an alien sniper rifle. What Frank didn’t count on was the Sentry, a schizophrenic superhero with the power of a million exploding suns, catching the bullet.

The following battle was a showcase of Punisher on the complete defensive, forced to improvise on the fly as he is chased through an abandoned factory by the godlike Avenger. They tear through the building, Sentry ripping through walls and girders like tissue paper while Frank sets off explosives, dumps a vat of acid on his pursuer, and does everything he can to get away, but to no avail. After being effortlessly tossed through the wall of the building, Punisher decides to resort to bluffing, and tells the hero that he has the detonator to a bomb planted in a hospital — bait that Sentry falls for — giving Frank the opening he needs to set a decoy escape van and slink away into the subway tunnels. He may not have won, but by being smart enough to know when he was outmatched, he lived to fight another day.



(From Punisher War Journal #12 by Matt Fraction and Ariel Olivetti)

Frank Castle has fought in plenty of wars, but none of them were quite like World War Hulk. The Hulk had returned to Earth from an extended exile in space in the classic Planet Hulk storyline, and he brought with him an army of alien warriors from the planet Sakaar. The Punisher was right on the front lines of the fight, defending the people of New York from the Hulk-following hordes known as the Warbound.

After massacring a group of the invaders using a pair of chainsaws and a sword that shoots guns, the Punisher came face-to-face with their commander, a massive, four-armed insectoid known as Mung the Inconceivable. Preying on his enemy's arrogance, Frank challenges Mung to meet him in an hour to fight; time which Frank puts to good use. He returns wearing a suit that is a synthetic version of the Venom symbiote, giving him impact resistance and enough strength to eventually tear off one of Mung’s arms and use the sword it was holding to cut the top of the creature’s head off. The slaying of Mung was more than enough to terrify the remainders of the Sakaaran squad, which gave Frank the opening he needed to help a group of civilians evacuate New York on the Staten Island Ferry.



(From Dark Reign: The List—Punisher #1 by Rick Remender and John Romita, Jr.)

Even the Punisher can’t win them all, and his fight against Wolverine’s son, Daken, ranks among his greatest failures. Following his assassination attempt on Norman Osborn, a feud erupted between the two, with Frank waging a one-man war against Osborn’s revamped S.H.I.E.L.D. outfit — now known as H.A.M.M.E.R. — while Osborn hired the Hood’s entire gang of super-villains to hunt Punisher down. The conflict came to a head when Osborn used a helicarrier to conduct an airstrike on the Punisher’s van, which attack Frank only survived thanks to an emergency supply of Pym Particles that allowed him to shrink down to Ant-Man size. But he was not yet out of the woods, as Osborn dispatched a fleet of soldiers on modified versions of his Goblin Glider, who Punisher evades by climbing down into the sewers...where an ambush was waiting for him.

Wolverine’s son Daken was acting as the Wolverine of Osborn’s Dark Avengers at the time, and Frank learned that Daken had all the stabbing tendencies of his father, but with none of the restraint. The ensuing brawl is one of the down-and-dirtiest, knock-down-drag-outiest fights in Marvel history, with the two combatants not afraid to fight dirty: Frank is shot and stabbed in the gut, but he returns by biting off Daken’s lip and blowing him up, and scrambles out of the tunnels and up to a rooftop, where Daken chases him down. The two wrestle in the blood and rain, taking literal pieces off of one another, until Frank can take no more and is beheaded and eviscerated by Daken’s claws. The anti-hero’s remains were then unceremoniously dumped into an alley, where Frank Castle would remain forever…

...just kidding! Moloids found his parts and sewed them back together into a monster-slaying Frankenstein that could only be known as Franken-Castle. But don’t worry; he was back to his old self before too long.




(From Space: Punisher #3 by Frank Tieri and Mark Texeira)

Regardless of which universe’s Frank Castle is donning the skull-shirt, he’ll always find a way to beat the odds and bring down the bad guys. Some versions even do it while wearing a cape. Space: Punisher reimagined the Punisher as a pulpy space-faring adventurer, and just like his more grounded version, he had a burning desire to vaporize some villains.

The galactic crime organization known as the Six-Fingered Hand was responsible for the killing of Space Punisher’s family, so this version of Frank travels the galaxy aboard Starship Marie, hunting down their organization’s top enforcers alongside his trusty robot companion, Chip. His cosmic quest leads him to Skullworld, a planet ruled by this universe’s Red Skull and his army of mutant Hitlers. Frank allows the alien Hitlers to take him to their führer, where he finds Skull joined by the remainder of the Six-Fingered Hand’s members, Ultron, Magneto and Green Goblin. Space Punisher delivers the body of their ally Dr. Octopus to them, which Chip bursts out of at just the right moment, putting a bullet through Magneto’s head and reaching down Ultron’s throat and pulling out his core while Frank puts a few shots in the Green Goblin and takes one of his pumpkin bombs, which he then shoves into Red Skull’s mouth, blowing his head off.

This Punisher had a far easier time taking these A-list villains down than the classic version. Maybe O.G. Frank should get a cape.



(From Thunderbolts #27-31 by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker and Kim Jacinto)

Every once in a while, the Punisher does something wildly out of character, like becoming an angel, or joining a team, the latter of which he did when Thunderbolts was reimagined for the Marvel NOW relaunch. Frank joined up with Marvel’s other greatest antiheroes who wear red and/or black, such as Red Hulk, Deadpool, Elektra, Ghost Rider and Venom. Frank never trusted one of the dysfunctional team’s recruits — Red Leader, a gamma-powered mastermind — and, unsurprisingly, his suspicions turned out to be justified; the Punisher just realized it a little too late.

Leader was planning on destroying the team all along, and began by framing the Red Hulk for an explosive attempt on Punisher’s life. Frank took the bait enthusiastically, and began systematically hunting down his former teammates.

He started with Deadpool, who he chopped up and put into separate vibranium canisters, rendering him unable to regenerate and interfere. He stole Mephisto’s sword from the fallen angel Zadkiel to use against Ghost Rider, but ended up just popping his skull off with his own chains. He was romantically involved with Elektra at the time, so their fight was more of an especially violent break-up. Frank’s finishing touch was a giant skull-chested mech suit that he used to attack Red Hulk, which didn’t go well, but one vibranium knife and a timely intervention by the Avengers later and Frank came out on top. The team, itself, however, was permanently shattered.



(From Punisher: War Zone #1-5 by Greg Rucka and Carmine Di Giandomenico)

When the Punisher used a stolen web-shooter to hit one of his targets — reportedly killing two cops in the process — Peter Parker reads about it in the Daily Bugle and takes it personally. Spider-Man makes a plea to his Avengers teammates to take down the Punisher, who he says has been allowed to run free for far too long. They agree to help and, over the course of the series, take turns at trying to bring Castle in.

Wolverine finds him first, and simply asks if he killed the cops, which he didn’t, so Logan simply warns him the Avengers are coming and leaves. Black Widow tracks him down next, deep in the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo, but after a brief skirmish, he evades her by leading her to the impoverished village he was defending, where she stays, deeming it more important. He pulls a similar trick on Thor in Indonesia, leading the god of thunder into the midst of the terrorists he was hunting. Thor does his work for him, and then they have a beer together.

Frank’s greatest weapon in this series is his ability to force the Avengers to question themselves and whether they think he’s actually wrong. He’s able to convince several Avengers to let him go without a fight.

The Punisher eventually returns to Manhattan and steals one of Iron Man’s suits to break out his partner, Rachel Cole-Alves, who was about to be sentenced for the murder of the police officers. He ditches the armor and Rachel and goes toe-to-toe with the assembled team in a hopeless fight which ends with him incarcerated, but he achieved his real goal of buying Rachel enough time to flee the country.



(From The Punisher Kills The Marvel Universe #1 by Garth Ennis and Doug Braithwaite)

In this legendary 1995 one-shot — not to be confused with the 2010 series Marvel Universe vs. The Punisher — the family of an alternate universe’s Frank Castle is spared a death by criminals, and instead suffers a death by superhero. A family trip to Central Park leads to them becoming collateral damage in a battle between the Avengers, X-Men and the Brood, and when S.W.A.T. officer Frank Castle arrives to see his wife and children’s bodies, he wastes no time getting to work.

Cyclops took a couple of shots to the face first, and Frank’s war on superhumanity had begun. After a clandestine group broke him out on his way to life in prison for the murder, he finds out that they are all survivors of super-powered accidents that have left them scarred and broken. They fund his war on super-people, which Frank jumps into with gusto. Spider-Man and Venom get zapped, then Bruce Banner is shot in his sleep, Kingpin killed and Doctor Doom destroyed. The Punisher uses Doom’s nuclear arsenal to wipe out the mutants, and goes on to kill over five hundred superhumans in all. His final battle is with Daredevil, who he is crushed to find out is actually his childhood friend, Matt Murdock. Ashamed of what he’s done, Frank turns the gun on himself and kills one last costumed vigilante.



(From Runaways #26 by Joss Whedon and Michael Ryan)

No matter who you are, if you’re working for the Kingpin, you’ll soon find yourself in the Punisher’s crosshairs. Unfortunately, the super-powered teen team the Runaways decided to steal a magic artifact for Kingpin in exchange for protection and lodging and found the Punisher waiting for them.

Unfortunately for the Punisher, that is, because when the Punisher finally tracked the kids down again after they initially slipped away, the conflict is ended decisively with a single punch. 

Molly Hayes, a.k.a. Princess Powerful, delivered a super-strong pre-teen sucker punch to Frank’s gut, knocking him unconscious. He tried valiantly to get back into the fight once he woke up, but he was barely able to stand, let alone stop the Runaways from doing what they do best.

Keep fighting the good fight, Frank! Even if it is sometimes against 11 year-old girls...