Now that The Punisher has finally arrived on Netflix, the full extent of Frank Castle’s origin has finally been told. When Jon Bernthal joined season 2 of Daredevil as The Punisher, fans immediately began speculating that a solo series was on the way. Once the show arrived, critics and fans alike were over the moon with the new interpretation of the character. Though all of Frank Castle’s core attributes remained, his prolonged arc on Daredevil offered a deeper look at his motivations and questioned just how much of a hero he really was. The story also took his comic book origin and added a new layer to it.
The Punisher debuted way back in 1974’s Amazing Spider-Man #129 as a former Marine who served in Vietnam. Upon returning home, Castle takes his family to Central Park for a picnic. There, the Castle family is caught between a gang shootout that only Frank survives. He then vows to spend the rest of his life enacting vengeance on criminals as The Punisher. The origin serves as a sort of inversion of the backstory for Batman and Spider-Man, as the death of Frank’s loved ones causes him to become just as violent as their killers. While Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker have a strict no-kill rule, The Punisher operates a lot like a villain in his efforts to destroy the criminal underworld.
Daredevil and The Punisher don’t undo any of this, but they add a wrinkle that creates a lot more complex journey for Castle. When we first encounter Frank in season 2 of Daredevil, we learn that he and his family were caught between the Dogs of Hell, the Mexican Cartel, and the Kitchen Irish. At first, the only real change is that Frank served in Iraq and Afghanistan and the gangs who kill his family are a bit more fleshed out. His next two arcs in the show, however, prove that something more complicated took place.
Eventually, Frank learns that the mob shootout was part of a sting operation to draw out a drug lord called the Blacksmith. When he didn’t show, the gangs began shooting and Castle’s family was caught in the crosshairs. Things get more intriguing, though, when it’s revealed that the Blacksmith is Colonel Schoonover, Frank’s former commanding officer. Schoonover has spent his years running heroin alongside some of Frank’s old comrades, but even that’s not the full story.
The Punisher opens with Frank finishing off the various gangs responsible for his family’s death, but there’s a bigger plot afoot. Micro, a hacker and whistleblower who revealed details of an off-the-books hit squad within the US military, pulls Castle back into his war when he reveals that more people were involved in his family’s death. Alongside Schoonover was a man nicknamed Agent Orange, who in reality is William Rawlins of the CIA.
Introduced in 2005’s Punisher #14, Rawlins retains his despicable personality and CIA ties but is tweaked to be part of Frank’s new backstory. Along with a few other government officials, Rawlins and Schoonover used an illegal heroin trade—smuggled in the bodies of dead soldiers—to fund their black ops group. After a failed mission that nearly kills Frank and the rest of Project Cerberus, Castle attacks Rawlins and damages his eye. Years later, this slight along with the release of footage by Micro leads Schoonover, Rawlins, and the higher-ups of Cerberus to tie up loose ends and sanction the killing of Frank Castle.
Playing out across two seasons of two different shows, the origin of The Punisher in the MCU is markedly more intricate than in the comics. It does, however, provide the Marvel-Netflix corner of the universe with yet another dark and nuanced vigilante. If The Punisher gets a second season, it will finally be able to move beyond the search for who killed Frank’s family. But like on the page, the death of Castle’s loved ones will forever drive him.
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