In the land of comic books, there’s never just one world. With parallel worlds, multiverses, alternate timelines, and Marvel’s notorious What If series, there are plenty of versions of heroes and villains out there that are completely different than the one you know and love. The same is true of The Punisher.
In his original continuity, Frank Castle, created by Gerry Conway in 1974, was a veteran of the Vietnam war who lost his family. He began as an antagonist for Spider-Man, but was so popular that he shifted to anti-hero status over the years, teaming up with the hero on occasion before popping up in other heroes’ books as well. Eventually, he got his own comic series, and now, he has his own Netflix series after playing a supporting role in Daredevil’s second season.
Frank Castle’s “Punisher” code name derives from his quest to punish members of organized crime for their lifestyle. He wanted revenge for the deaths of his family, who were killed for being witnesses to a crime, but his focus became larger as he sought to prevent what happened to his family from happening to others.
Depending on the continuity, though, Frank wasn’t always a vigilante. Sometimes, he was a cowboy, a member of the media, and even Captain America. Sometimes, Frank Castle wasn’t even the Punisher, as that role went to someone else.
Check out the 16 Craziest Alternate Versions Of The Punisher to see some of the most interesting!
16 Pastor Castle
Given that the Punisher’s one-man mission to rid his neck of the woods of crime leans itself so well to the Western genre, it shouldn’t be too surprising that more than one Western Punisher lands on this list.
In the series 1872, Frank Castle appears not as a family man with a farm like he did in A Man Named Frank, but instead he’s a pastor. Like the usual take on the character though, this pastor doesn’t have any qualms when it comes to exacting revenge through violent means -- he’s a firm believer in “an eye for an eye.”
Pastor Castle travels with the mercenary Wade Wilson in order to track down the men whom they believed murdered Sheriff Steve Rogers. While the two are actually tracking the wrong group, they set their sights on the Sinister Six, and don’t look back.
This particular version of the Punisher didn’t have a huge presence in the story arc that featured him, but he certainly made an impression,
The second volume of Uncanny X-Force featured the rise of “Deathlok Nation,” as a timeline was revealed in which everyone became a Deathlok. Mechanical parts and a connection to a supreme leader united the population and created a utopia - at least, that’s what the Captain America Deathlok sent from the future revealed.
X-Men, Avengers, and numerous other heroes became Deathloks in a distant future. The Deathlok version of the Punisher, complete with an arm that actually was his gun, was shown as Captain America told his story to the X-Factor group around him.
The group had to battle numerous beings sent from the future in order to protect Fantomex - the person the Deathloks were sent to kill.
It’s not just Frank Castle who wants revenge on his enemies; Logan Howlett felt a need for revenge in the 1920s as well. Logan, in the primary continuity, would go on to become the Wolverine and an X-Man. However, in What If: Wolverine #1, he took on the Punisher’s skull insignia and sought revenge.
Though he was living in a small Canadian town, Logan’s wife and child were unexpectedly killed, so he made his way to Chicago to take on the mob members who were responsible. Much like Frank Castle, Logan wielded his share of guns and took no prisoners.
This What If played with the idea of whether one event could have prevented him from becoming the Wolverine, or if the claws and yellow uniform were always meant for him.
13 Punisher Family
Marvel’s classic What If one-shots have provided fascinating alternate timelines for characters for decades. In one memorable issue in 1992, Frank Castle never becomes the Punisher -- because he dies instead of his family.
It was the deaths of his wife and children that pushed Frank to become a vigilante in the first place, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that when their roles are reversed, his wife takes up the cause as well. Of course, it’s not just Maria who wears the skull and sports some serious skills. The kids even get in on the action too!
Maria, the two kids, and even their dog, become a family of vigilantes, seeking to put an end to the same organized crime that cost Frank his life.
12 Captain America
A lot of Marvel characters have wielded Captain America’s shield over the years. Some of the most famous include Bucky Barnes, Sam Wilson, and Sharon Carter because they’re all known for their connections to Steve Rogers already. However, Frank Castle has become Captain America in two different timelines for the What If comics!
In What If The Punisher Became Captain America, Frank Castle simply replaced Steve Rogers in the star spangled suit. However, in the Age of Ultron What If series, the idea was taken a bit further as Frank Castle was still the Punisher, acting out vengeance on criminals because of the deaths of his family members, but he was later chosen as the successor to Steve Rogers by Iron Man himself.
Frank Castle became a proud member of the Avengers, finding a purpose for his life, and even inspiring a little girl named Ava, who grew up to take on the Captain America mantle as well.
11 Punisher Noir
What if it wasn’t Frank Castle who became the Punisher, but his son? That was the question posed in the Punisher Noir series released in 2009. Of course, there were a few minor differences as well, like the series being set not long after the events of World War I, and the younger Castle being a member of a gang to start with.
In this version of the story, the younger Frank was taught how to defend himself against trouble by his father. Frank’s morality eventually overcame his gang ties and he refused to participate in the burglary of a church.
He returned home to find his father had been murdered in retaliation. Frank took inspiration from the hero of a radio show when he chose the name Punisher, and he targeted his old gang as he set out to clean up crime.
Reflecting the era in which the story is set, Punisher Noir is probably the least crazy version of the anti-hero you’ll see here.
10 The Last Gun On Earth
In an apocalyptic version of the Marvel comic book universe, an unknown pathogen caused heroes and villains alike to lose their higher reasoning skills and develop a need to consume human flesh. The Punisher remained one of the only people not affected.
Truthfully, the version of Frank Castle in Marvel Universe vs The Punisher isn’t all that different from his normal self, but what’s so crazy about this version of the character is that he can channel his usual violent tendencies into killing zombie-like people because he’s immune to the same pathogen that is turning them.
It’s revealed that Frank actually caused the outbreak when he went after criminals smuggling what he thought was a bomb. It turned out they were smuggling vials of a pathogen meant to allow humans to live in a more hostile environment -- one which allowed them to eat anything to stay alive.
Exposed to high doses when he shot them, Frank was immune, but the pathogen leaked into the world.
9 Jake Gallows
In Marvel’s 2099 universe, Frank Castle did exist as the Punisher for a time, but he’s not the anti-hero who got the focus in the books. Instead, it was Jake Gallows.
Jake, just like Frank, lost family members to criminals, but he got a bit of a push in the vigilante direction when he found the journal of Frank Castle, who detailed many of the tragedies he’d been through. He ended his journal with, “You who find this, I charge you to carry on my work.” Jake did just that -- but with a bit more flair.
Jake didn’t just paint a skull on his body armor and shoot the bad guys. He also set himself up with his own personal prison to house his victims, called the Punishment Hotel and used a device that disintegrated bad guys at a molecular level, so they could never hurt anyone again.
8 A Man Named Frank
The Punisher’s brand of vigilante justice -- hunting down bad guys on his own, going around the law when needed -- isn’t unlike the justice meted out in the Old West. Writer Chuck Dixon and artist John Buscema decided to draw on those similarities to create a new take on the character -- A Man Named Frank.
In this version of the story, Frank was still a soldier returning home from war, and he still lost his family, but the circumstances weren’t exactly the same. Instead of members of an organized crime syndicate killing his family, it’s desperados who killed them, setting fire to the farm his family owned as well, and then leaving him in the desert to die.
Frank decided to get vengeance on those men, but he had to grab a horse and make his way across the undeveloped West to do it.
7 FBI Agent
During the House of M alternate universe storyline, Frank Castle didn’t become a vigilante after the deaths of his wife and children because they didn’t die. Instead, he was recruited to become a member of the FBI.
In this universe, the FBI had a special group of agents known as the Brotherhood. Led by John Proudstar (aka the X-Men’s Thunderbird), the group was responsible for cracking down on organized crime. The majority of the task force were mutants, but John personally recruited Frank to become the only “normal” human member.
Frank eventually realized that the group was just as heavy into crime as the people they were after. As the Brotherhood targeted average humans more often than not, he looked for a way out. With the help of Luke Cage, he left the Brotherhood and got his family to safety by escaping to Wakanda.
6 General Frank Castle
In the Age of X comics, Frank Castle went from being an anti-hero to an actual villain. He wasn’t a vigilante, but a military man who hunted down mutants.
In this version of reality, mutants aren’t just persecuted while trying to live normal lives, but are hunted down and killed by the military for being dangerous. General Castle creates the team of Avengers to do just that. His goal is genocide.
The General finds himself without a team though as the members of the Avengers (Captain America, Iron Man, Invisible Woman, and more) discover that he sent them on a suicide mission to kill mutant children at the center of the story. They defy his orders and decide to fight for the lives of the children instead, most of them dying in the process.
While the comics have so often pitted the X-Men and related mutants against the Avengers, this one is definitely a darker take on the idea with Frank Castle calling the shots.
5 Demon Hunter
In the late '90s, the Marvel Knights imprint of Marvel comics delved into the supernatural side of things. For Frank Castle, that meant becoming a demon hunter.
In Punisher: Purgatory, Frank died, but he didn’t move on into the afterlife. Instead, he was resurrected with the instructions for becoming a demon hunter. His guns became a little more magical, and he walked around with a brand in the middle of his forehead that let everyone know he had been brought back to life.
Interestingly, Frank didn’t know all of that when he started. Parts of his memory were blank after he was brought back to life, and he spent much of his resurrection hunting the usual bad guys until an angel told him the truth.
It was the same one that was supposed to be the guardian angel for Frank’s family (and let them die) that made Frank into a demon hunter, giving him a chance at redemption.
The Punisher got his very own classic monster story when Franken-Castle was created, and it’s certainly one of the most memorable twists on the character.
Frank was killed by one of his villains, but the villain went a step farther and ripped him apart. An underground group of monsters who had long been rejected by society put Frank back together again, hooking him up to machinery he had to carry around to keep him “alive.” It was a callback to the story of Frankenstein, except this time, the monster got to be a hero instead of a victim.
Franken-Castle became the protector of the monster community, going up against the people hunting them. While it could have read as Frank paying off a debt for being brought back to life, it was evident that Frank would have identified with these “monsters,” the werewolves and Man-Things of the world, long before becoming Franken-Castle.
3 Brother Frank
The Age of Apocalypse story arc turned the entire world of Marvel comics upside down. In it, Apocalypse rose to power and the heroes and villains readers knew so well were all cast into new roles, including Frank Castle.
This version of Frank Castle still lost his family, but this time, it wasn’t to an organized crime syndicate or drug dealers. Instead, it was during the culling of humanity by Apocalypse’s followers.
Frank Castle traveled far from the home he knew to join up with a pacifist group. The group just happened to be monks offering sanctuary to humans and mutants trying to outrun Apocalypse and his forces. We can’t be the only ones who have a hard time imagining Frank Castle living a peaceful life as a monk!
Unfortunately for the group, they’re killed by Apocalypse’s followers, and only appear in the arc as part of a set of secret files.
2 Vampire Slayer
Marvel comic fans know that it isn’t all spandex and super soldiers on the page. The comic book publisher also has its share of magical and demonic forces at work.
The publishing company has turned many beloved characters into vampires over the years, and even had its own version of Dracula for heroes to go up against. One memorable What If story saw vampires at the forefront as well.
Wolverine became “Lord of the Vampires” in one issue, making him a formidable foe for any hero who wanted to cross his path. Frank Castle was chosen by Doctor Strange to fight the vampires as a force of good. (Of course, it wasn’t just Doctor Strange who chose him, but Doctor Strange’s spirit from the afterlife that did it, even leaving him his cloak and amulet.)
Over the course of the story, Frank Castle kills several prominent X-Men characters including Storm, Cyclops, Colossus, and Nightcrawler, before being killed by the Lord of the Vampires himself.
1 The Bleeding Heart
One of the hallmarks of the Punisher is that he has no sympathy for the criminals he hunts down and dispenses justice to. If a person contributes to society’s crime, they’re an obstacle to peace in his eyes. That all changed in an issue of Wha… Huh?
Instead of a violent man out for vengeance, Frank was described as a “bleeding heart,” someone who empathized with everyone, no matter what. Instead of advocating harsh punishment or death for criminals, Frank was quick to determine that criminals were a product of the environment in which they were raised. He felt sorry for them instead of hunting them down.
That version of the Punisher was so out of left field for the comics that he didn’t last long. He ended up shot and killed over the course of the story.
Which version of the Punisher is your favorite? Are you partial to Franken-Castle, or maybe the Western version of the anti-hero? For some, the original will always be the best. Let us know in the comments!