Given that the character has already starred in three feature films — not to mention 42 years of history on the page of Marvel comics — most people tuning into Season 2 of Netflix's Daredevil are likely at least passingly familiar with the origin story of the Punisher. The antihero, who originated in a 1974 issue of The Amazing Spider-Man before getting his own series (and frequently clashing with the Devil of Hell's Kitchen), was driven to punish criminals with a bloody vengeance thanks to the tragic deaths of his own family. So how closely does the Netflix series hew to the source material in this regard? What exactly happened to Frank Castle's family on Daredevil ?
The show certainly took its time filling viewers in on this particular piece of the character's backstory. Granted, with 13 hours of TV to fill, the writers aren't going to reveal every detail in the first episode or two. So even though Matt Murdock and Frank Castle first encountered one another at the end of the Season 2 premiere, and continued to violently grapple with each other for the next few episodes, it wasn't until the Punisher was in custody that Nelson & Murdock — and resourceful assistant Karen Page, in particular — began piecing together the story of the flesh-and-blood man behind the terrifying sobriquet.
It was about halfway through the season, in the sixth episode, "Regrets Only," that Frank Castle really completed his transition from invincible bogey man to real live human being. While lying in his hospital bed recuperating from his kidnapping by the Irish mob, the stoic soldier finally opened up emotionally to Karen about his tragic past. And sure enough, that past involves a family — a beautiful wife and two innocent young children — gunned down when unexpectedly caught in the crossfire of a gang war in Central Park. In response, Frank, himself a former decorated Marine, committed himself to a one-man war against all crime in New York City… but in particular, the three gangs involved in that fateful shootout: the Irish, the bikers, and the cartel.
On the surface, this is all a pretty straightforward adaptation of the Punisher's comic book origins. But there have been hints dropped throughout the first half of Season 2 that there is more to this story than even Frank knows. First of all, Karen is unable to find pretty much any record of Castle's family's murders in the papers; you would think a juicy story like an innocent family being slaughtered in a gang war would make the front page, but for some reason the truth seems to have been covered up. There's also Frank's war record, which has apparently either been wiped or classified.
And then there's District Attorney Reyes' personal involvement in the case, which includes issuing a shoot-to-kill order on the vigilante, ordering a DNR be placed on him when he was admitted to the hospital, actively pursuing the death penalty for him even if it means extraditing him to another state where capital punishment is legal, and pretty much just doing everything she can to obstruct our heroes in their attempts to learn the truth and defend the Punisher.
Why is Reyes so determined to see Frank Castle dead and the truth buried with him? Was she somehow involved in the events that led up to the massacre of his family? And if not her personally, then is she perhaps helping to cover up for someone even more powerful? How high does this conspiracy go? Did Frank's family even die the way he thinks they did? Or were their deaths simply blamed on a conveniently-timed shootout? What really happened to the Castle family that day?
Undoubtedly the second half of the season will hold the answers to this lingering mystery. But leave it to the increasingly-complex Marvel Cinematic Universe to take a story every casual fan thinks they already know, faithfully adapt it to the screen… and then subvert it in some way that will surprise even the most die hard comic book reader. I think it's safe to say that Daredevil still has plenty of surprises in store for us.
Images: Patrick Harbron/Netflix; Giphy (3)