Ghosts from the past. Nefarious government agents. Shadowy corporations. These are staples of Netflix's extension of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as heroes grapple at street level with the forces trying to take control of New York City. But what is ANVIL in The Punisher? Spoilers for Episodes 1-6. The newest corporate entity to threaten the Big Apple somehow manages to combine all three of those aforementioned staples — and with a vaguely sinister name like that, you wonder why anyone's surprised when it turns out to be run by bad guys.
ANVIL is a private military contractor much like the real-life Blackwater, providing its elite services to whoever can afford them. It's run by former Marine Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) — who's also a former friend to none other than Frank Castle himself. When they were both stationed in Afghanistan, they served together on a covert ops team code named Cerberus; after returning home, Billy founded ANVIL while Frank returned to his family… for one blessed day before they were brutally murdered, of course.
On the surface, ANVIL isn't such a bad thing. It provides a purpose and a structure to veterans who feel lost after returning home from the war; since the government often fails to provide adequate mental or health care, ANVIL is filling a basic need that these former soldiers are otherwise lacking. But beneath the altruistic gloss lurks a darkness that could mean very bad things for the Punisher.
That's because his friend Billy isn't much of a friend after all. It's soon revealed that Billy is in league with Agent Orange — aka William Rawlins, the CIA agent in charge of Cerberus, who used the team as a front for building his own drug empire. If Billy is working with Rawlins, there's no telling what nefarious deeds they plan to use ANVIL for.
In fact, there's really no way to tell, since ANVIL is an original creation for the show and not an organization pulled from Marvel Comics; but there may be some hints lying in other corners of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you remember all the way back to 2010's Iron Man 2, you may recall that one of the villains of that film (Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer) ran a corporation called Hammer Industries. Hammer — a weapons manufacturer — and ANVIL — a private military contractor. Coincidence? I think not.
This is either meant to merely be an Easter egg for die-hard Marvel fans or it could be a hint at what is to come for ANVIL. Could The Punisher Season 1 actually be building up to Hammer and ANVIL joining forces to create one formidable threat, with the most advanced weapons and best-trained soldiers at its disposal? That would certainly throw a wrench in Frank's plans for simple and efficient vengeance.
The real question about ANVIL is: how bad is Billy Russo, really? While his clandestine meeting with Rawlins proves that he's not entirely on the up-and-up, he does seem to genuinely care about the wellbeing of his employees. He was concerned enough for young Lewis' mental health to not put him back into a situation that would trigger his PTSD. (Although his dismissal tragically served as a trigger of its own anyway.) And Billy genuinely seemed to care about Frank back when they were serving together.
Was Billy never really Frank's friend, having been in on Rawlins' corruption all along? Or has he been seduced to the dark side since Frank's "death," with perhaps a hope for redemption once his friend comes back from the dead? The Punisher Season 1 may turn into a battle for Billy's soul… but even if he redeems himself, it's entirely possible that ANVIL will have grown out of his control by then.