When the Punisher makes his first appearance in Daredevil Season 2, actor Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) will actually be the fourth to person to play the character onscreen after Dolph Lundgren in 1989's The Punisher, Thomas Jane in the 2004 reboot, and Ray Stevenson in 2008's Punisher: War Zone. And yet, even given all those different iterations, the Punisher remains a character not many people — outside of Marvel comics fans, of course — know very well; none of those three previous films grossed more than $55 million worldwide, a far cry from the kind of money other Marvel heroes like Iron Man and Captain America are pulling in these days. So before the premiere of the sophomore season of Netflix's superhero drama, let's answer a simple question for the uninitiated: Who is the Punisher?
First introduced in the pages of Marvel comics in 1974 in an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man , the skull-sporting, gun-toting vigilante (real name: Frank Castle) was originally conceived of as a villain for the friendly webslinger. In that storyline, the Punisher, who had a predilection for hunting down and murdering lawbreakers, targeted Spider-Man when the superhero was wanted for murdering Norman Osborn, aka the Green Goblin. Eventually, the Punisher and Spider-Man became unlikely allies and hunted down criminals together — although Peter Parker constantly had to talk Frank Castle out of murdering them when they were caught.
The Punisher became so popular from his interactions with the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man that Marvel eventually gave him his own series, developing him from villain to antihero. In doing so, they fleshed out his backstory: Frank was a former Marine who fought in Vietnam who turned to vigilantism after his wife and two young children were murdered by the mob while vacationing in Central Park. (They accidentally witnessed a shootout and were killed to eliminate witnesses.) Consequently, Frank quit the armed forces and vowed to spend the rest of his life avenging his family's death, adopting the moniker of the Punisher.
In his 42-year comic history, Frank Castle has interacted with more than his fair share of superheroes, including the likes of Captain America and Nightcrawler. But the hero he has tangled with the most frequently is — you guessed it — Daredevil. He first met the Man Without Fear after escaping from Ryker's Island (where he'd been imprisoned by Spider-Man after misbehaving). Castle and Matt Murdock crossed paths when they were both on the trail of a drug dealer who had caused the death of a young girl. Despite both heroes having the same goal, they had wildly different means of accomplishing it; the ensuing conflict ended with Daredevil victorious and the Punisher back in prison.
The hero and the antihero would continue to clash several more times, occasionally teaming up to take down crime syndicates and villains like Kingpin. In one particularly memorable fight, the Punisher used amplified sound to overcome Daredevil's super-hearing and gain the upper hand over the blind fighter. The Punisher then tested Daredevil's moral code by tying him up, giving him a gun, and telling him that if he wanted to save the mob boss that Castle was about to kill, then Murdock would have to shoot him first. Shockingly, Daredevil did pull the trigger — only to find out that the gun was unloaded. The Punisher killed the mob boss anyway and escaped into the night.
Of course, comic books being as multitudinous and convoluted as they are, lots of strange things have happened to Frank Castle over the years; he's died several times, including being sliced into pieces and then having those pieces reassembled as Franken-Castle. (Great pun, by the way.) In the popular crossover storyline "Civil War," the Punisher sided with Captain America and his anti-registration cohorts, even rescuing his old on-again-off-again frenemy Spider-Man after a brutal beating.
It's too bad that Netflix's violent, gritty superhero shows probably won't be overlapping with the glitzy PG-13 Marvel Cinematic Universe anytime soon; it would be great to see Bernthal's Punisher show up on the big screen for this May's Captain America: Civil War. (He and Tom Holland, who is making his debut as Spider-Man in that sequel, reportedly auditioned for their roles together.) But while we wait for the inevitable epic crossover between the big screen Avengers and the small screen Defenders, we'll just have to bide our time with Netflix's adaptation of the biggest, baddest antihero in Marvel history.
One thing is for sure: Daredevil won't be leaving Season 2 unscathed if the Punisher has anything to say about it.
Images: Patrick Harbron/Netflix