In the Garth Ennis story, Welcome Back, Frank, a character asks, "Why do you kill criminals?" The Punisher replies, "Because I hate them."
He's a cold-blooded killer with one goal in life: to eliminate as many bad guys as he can. He's not in it for justice, or to make the world a better place. He's a broken man who sees injustice as an opportunity to kill bad people because killing is the only thing he knows how to do, the only outlet he has for communicating with the world.
Across various media since his introduction in 1974, Frank Castle has killed thousands of people. With knives, guns, bombs, the occasional sledgehammer, and even his bare hands, The Punisher has dispensed his unique brand of violent retribution on countless scores of pimps, drug dealers, mobsters, and other criminals.
Frank Castle is not a hero, but he does have a code. He protects the weak from the strong and cruel who prey on those who can't defend themselves. He is a monster who hunts worse monsters, and he's the best there is at what he does.
Let's take a look at some of his most violent moments across comic books, his numerous cinematic incarnations, and appearances on Netflix's corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Here are The Punisher's 15 Most Brutal Kills.
15 Carlo Gnucci
Welcome Back, Frank is one of the most iconic Punisher stories ever written. After a poorly-received arc which saw Castle turned into an angelic dispenser of supernatural justice, writer Garth Ennis brought the character back to his roots, killing gangster scum on the streets of New York City.
To mark his triumphant return to street-level vigilante violence, the first issue of the 2000 series begins with The Punisher announcing his long-awaited return with murderous gravitas. Setting his sights on the Gnucci crime family, he begins by targeting the children of matriarch Ma Gnucci.
How does The Punisher grab the attention of an entire city's worth of criminals? It's easy-- he follows Carlo on a date at the Empire State Building, captures him, ties him up like a sweaty hog, and throws him off the roof of one of the tallest buildings in the world. Welcome Back, indeed.
14 Vera Konstantin
After killing Cristu, Frank goes after his girlfriend, and the real brains behind the slavery ring, Vera Konstantin.
Her death is one of the most violent ever printed in the pages of any comic book. Frank knows that she is the person who mentally breaks the girls, and he taunts her by telling her that he is going to kill her.
He slams Vera against the window of her high-rise Midtown office building. He calmly explains that the glass is so thick, it won't shatter. However, with enough hits, the metal frame will eventually bend and break, and the whole window will fall out.
After an untold amount of punishment, his hypothesis is confirmed-- the window finally breaks off from the building – along with Vera – onto the street below.
The 2004 film, The Punisher, starring Thomas Jane as Frank Castle, has its fair share of grim violence, from the opening massacre which kills off Frank's entire extended family to his grueling brawl with The Russian.
It also includes a handful of viciously efficient takedowns on mafia goons, but one stands out as particularly memorable, in part due to its impressive special effects work.
One of the recurring villains throughout the film is the blonde-haired Lincoln, played by Tom Nowicki. In the climactic battle of the film, he puts a couple of shotgun shells in Punisher's body armor, but is ultimately dispatched by a knife attack from Castle.
The kill is captured on camera, in grisly close-up, and the matter-of-fact display of Castle's cold implementation of efficient and sadistic violence is gruesomely cringe-worthy.
Later on in Punisher: Born, Castle's squad captures a Vietnamese sniper, a woman. One of the soldiers, McDonald, begins assaulting her, but Frank intervenes by executing her on the spot. Castle coldly says, "we're here to kill the enemy."
McDonald goes to a nearby stream to wash the victim's remains off himself, falling to his hands and knees and splashing water on his face. Suddenly, and unbeknownst to most of his unit, Castle sneaks up on him and stomps on his head, forcing him underwater and causing him to drown. Without a word, he returns to his squad and they continue on as if nothing happened.
Garth Ennis's version of Frank Castle was seen as a child in the one-shot, The Tyger, and played a role in Fury: My War Gone By, but his first tour of duty in Vietnam will be fully explored in the new six-issue miniseries, Punisher: The Platoon. The first part released in October, and a paperback collection is due out in May.
11 Finn Cooley (Daredevil)
In the comics, Finn Cooley is an Irish mobster who accidentally blew off his own face during a premature bomb detonation. The mad bomber is subsequently forced to wear a mask to keep his face from literally falling apart. Needless to say, it's really gross.
The second season of Daredevil on Netflix features a different version of Finn, whose death plays grim homage to his comic book disfigurement. Finn has Castle tied to a chair and tortures him, and when Frank finally breaks free, he isn't in the mood for mercy.
Finn is incapacitated on the ground, looking up at The Punisher, who blasts him in the face at with a heavy-duty shotgun. The impact is displayed on-camera, rendering his visage a bloody mess, not unlike his comic book counterpart... only dead.
10 Ma Gnucci
As mentioned before, Welcome Back, Frank deals with The Punisher taking on the Gnucci crime family. After drawing the attention of the matriarch, Isabella Carmella Magdalena, or "Ma" for short.
In one of the comic's most well-remembered sequences, he engages the gangsters at a zoo, where he uses the animals to kill villains in crazy over-the-top ways, like feeding them to piranhas and snakes.
To stir up a docile polar bear, he punches it in the face and then runs away. By the time Ma and her bodyguards show up, the angry bear is ready for a fight, and he tears her apart.
Ma survives, but loses her arms and legs. That doesn't stop her from antagonizing The Punisher, and she is finally killed when she is thrown into the burning ruins of her own manor.
9 Gaitano Cesare
The opening scene of 2008's underrated Punisher: War Zone, starring Ray Stevenson, is an adaptation of the opening scene of the first issue of In The Beginning, but somehow even more violent.
In the comic, he executes Massimo Cesare at his 100th birthday party with a gory headshot before mowing down the numerous party guests with an M60 machine gun.
In the movie, the circumstances of the party are a bit different (it's for his acquittal on numerous murder charges, and the character is renamed Gaitano), but the results are similar; a slew of mobsters are having a fancy dinner and Frank Castle crashes the party.
He cuts the lights and ignites a flare, its dark red light illuminating the skull on his chest. Before anyone can react, Castle charges the old mob boss and decapitates him. When the mobster's new widow reaches for a gun, The Punisher swiftly kills her before taking on the entire room full of gangsters.
It's a shocking scene which plays out like a slasher movie, with the protagonist in the role of the ruthless killer.
8 The Larsens
The Punisher generally operates in New York City, but the opening scene of the Widowmaker"arc of Punisher MAX sees Frank traveling to idyllic suburbia to put a stop to an operation that deals with inappropriate child content. As if that industry weren't depraved enough already, this operation involves three siblings being filmed by their parents.
Rather than busting through a window with all guns blazing, Frank calmly knocks on the door and quietly forces the parents, Ann and Carl, to the basement. He then kills them with a silenced pistol, imploring them to remain silent-- it's the only good thing they'll ever do for their offspring.
Upon returning upstairs, he briefly reflects on the children. He reasons to himself that maybe the girl is young enough to eventually overcome her trauma, but the boys... he thinks he might be seeing the boys again in a few years.
It's a relatively low-key killing for Frank Castle, devoid of spectacle and explosions, but it's a moment which lingers long after the pages have been turned, haunting the reader with dark thoughts of the unspeakable evil which may reside just next door.
7 General Padden
Frank was in love with war long before his family was killed as collateral damage in a mob hit. In Garth Ennis's Punisher: Born, which details Frank Castle's last days in Vietnam, General Padden arrives to inspect the base, and it's clear that he intends to close it down, blocking off Castle from the combat he so desperately craves.
He reasons that it also has military value, but it's made clear to the reader that Castle is really only in it to feed his unhinged bloodlust.
In a highly controversial moment, Castle persuades the general to take a look over a particular ridge, which happens to be a volatile sniper zone. Padden is immediately killed by sniper fire, but Frank is one who truly murdered him by tricking him into walking right into it. He wouldn't let anyone take his war away from him.
Because of his "Shoot First, Shoot Later, Ask Questions Never" policy of dealing with bad guys, The Punisher generally doesn't have many recurring villains, especially in Garth Ennis's MAX series. However, there was one villain who returned after what seemed like a definitive death.
Barracuda is a monster. He's a gigantic brute, but an intelligent sadist who uses his imposing stature and intimidating persona to get what he wants-- and all he wants is money, girls, and to cause as much pain as possible to others.
At the end of his eponymous story arc, he's fed to a great white shark, but miraculously survives to return in the later storyline, Long Cold Dark. In that story, he finally meets his fate, but only after a stomach churning brawl in which he gets his arm (and his nose) ripped off. He's finally put down for good with a point-blank burst of AK-47 fire.
Even that didn't stop Barracuda from making prequel appearances in his own miniseries, as well as Ennis's magnum opus of historical fiction, Fury: My War Gone By.
5 A Room Full Of Sword-Wielding Yakuza
The first cinematic adaptation of The Punisher came in his eponymous 1989 film, starring Dolph Lundgren as New York's most brutal vigilante.
Overall, the film is a pretty standard 1980s action flick, rife with ham-handed machismo and massive gun battles galore. The climax of the film has Castle (temporarily) team up with an Italian mob boss, Gianni Franco, to take down a well-defended Yakuza headquarters.
At one point, the two men come up on a dojo-type room filled with sword-wielding Yakuza members clad in samurai gear. With nary a hesitation, Castle and Franco both open fire on the unprepared group, mowing down dozens of thugs before they can even react.
Although the Yakuza have swords and murderous intent – they are unrepentant bad guys, after all – there's still something unsettling about watching the helpless mob get blown away without even getting the chance to defend themselves.
4 CIA/ANVIL Death Squad Member
The first episode of The Punisher on Netflix sees Frank Castle burning his body armor and casting aside his vigilante ways.
Of course, all it takes is a time skip and a Tom Waits song to drag him back into a life of violence, but Castle refrains from wearing his iconic skull logo until episode 11, "Danger Close". A CIA/ANVIL hit squad is bearing down on his and Micro's secret base, but The Punisher has time to prepare, and prepare he does.
After placing a selection of armaments at key locations in the HQ, Frank goes about stealthily taking out members of the hit squad.
Then, he decapitates one of his victims (off-camera, thankfully) and tapes a grenade to the head before throwing it at a group of bad guys, beginning the full-on firefight portion of the sequence with one heck of a bang.
3 William Rawlins
Jon Bernthal's version of The Punisher is an unrepentant killer, but the lingering question around this iteration of the character remains – which does he love more: his family or his war?
In episode 12, "Home", he makes his decision. After being tied to a chair and brutally beaten by CIA boss William Rawlins, played by Paul Schulze.
During his prolonged torture, Frank experiences visions/hallucinations of his dead wife, Maria, and and she offers him the chance to be with her forever; he only needs to die. She offers him the chance to come home. He says, "I am home."
Frank breaks free from his zip ties (earlier loosened by Billy Russo) and attack Rawlins with the ferocity of a rabid animal, and stabs him multiple times before prodding his eyes.
He then fades back out of consciousness, returning to the void, but Maria isn't there. She gave him the chance, but he chose vengeance, and now he's doomed to a life of violence.
2 Cristu Bulat
Some stories, like Welcome Back, Frank, are outrageous black comedies. On the other side of the spectrum lies The Slavers, one of the darkest and most disturbing Punisher stories ever written. As Frank does battle with modern day slave traders, he remarks, "It had been a long, long time since I hated anyone the way I hated them."
Even in the world of The Punisher, where life is cheap and death is frequent, he sees slavery as a particularly unconscionable form of evil. It triggers him in a way that enables him to be even more violent, more sadistic, more dangerously righteous than ever before.
He proves this point when he kills Cristu Bulat, one of the group's ringleaders. He doesn't just murder him outright since he needs information.
He captures him, drags him out to the woods, and cuts him open. Then he wakes him up, interrogates him, and watches him die a slow, painful death.
When it comes to writing for The Punisher, nobody does it better than Garth Ennis. His stories run the gamut from black comedy to outright nihilism, and he truly understands the grim pathos of New York's most virtuous mass murderer.
His 2004-2008 series, simply called The Punisher (or sometimes Punisher MAX), ran for 60 issues across ten violent storylines.
The first arc, In The Beginning, features a particularly graphic kill from Castle. The mob enforcer, Pittsy, is eerily resistant to damage, even by the standards of this series, and, after he gets impaled on a wrought iron fence, he takes a shotgun to the face and manages to walk two steps before finally collapsing for good.
The art for this moment, by Lewis Larosa, is disturbingly detailed, and a far cry from the stylistic and glamorous violence which so often permeates this type of action-packed story.
Can you think of any other brutal Punisher kills that we forgot to mention? Sound off in the comments!