The Punisher is a great niche character and I’m a person who doesn’t view niche as a bad word. However, I do view the Punisher is being too limited by fans, critiques, and writers. The majority of people seem to say that Frank is obsessed with vengeance due to the death of his family, completely emotionally closed off, incapable of having friends, and even going as far as to say that he is suppose to be unlikeable. I want to challenge these prevalent schools of thought about Frank Castle.
First let’s look what has been written about his past before the death of his family. Punisher Intruder talked about Frank leaving the clergy before going off to Vietnam, stating that he wished people dead and showed he had a serious problem with the concept of forgiveness.
Garth Ennis later on decided to write about Castle’s history before his family was killed in both Punisher Born and Punisher Tyger. In Punisher Tyger we see Frank Castle as a boy growing up in the 1950’s in a mafia controlled neighborhood. We see him after learning what a mafia boss did to some of his friends grab his father’s gun and decide to go after the boy planning on killing him for what he did only to be beaten to the punch. Later on in Vietnam we see the Frank Castle hearing a voice whether it was his own darker side or death itself is debatable but we see him become the Punisher before his family died.
Which Jason Aaron has explored more writing his PunisherMAX series. So Frank’s family being killed obviously isn’t the only reason he became the Punisher and it doesn’t explain his continued war against crime that has lasted decades and the fact that he has killed 48,502 people and counting. So the whole line of thought of he is only about vengeance really doesn’t add up since he has already gotten revenge. What Frank Castle does is actually beyond vengeance. Since he doesn’t try to avenge the deaths of others but just hunts those who commit crimes with the goal of driving them to extinction.
Next looking at the claim that Frank is emotionally closed off if you read his comics you can tell that certainly isn’t the case. In “Welcome back Frank” it is very clear that Frank cared about his neighbors with him leaving them money he got after killing Ma Gnucci. We see Frank Castle obviously caring about Kathryn O’Brien with him asking Yorkie Mitchell to spare her life and with previous interactions between the two is obvious they did have feelings for each other. Or when Frank found out he had a daughter he did everything he could to save her and was selfless giving her back to Kathryn O’Brien’s sister knowing that her raising his daughter was the best thing for her. During Rick Remender’s Punisher run we see the Punisher actually cared about his hacker Henry Russo not forgetting his birthday by getting him a present. While Frank is definitely not someone who just automatically opens up to people he can open up to people over time, and care about them so the emotionally closed off argument doesn’t match the character’s history.
As far as him not being able to have friends argument goes I could just refer back to what I just stated about him not being emotionally closed off. Yet, I want to go a bit further to prove my point. It is painfully obvious that Yorkie Mitchell and Frank Castle were friends. In both the main marvel universe and MAX Yorkie and Frank did favors for each other. Frank going to Northern Ireland to help Yorkie out and Yorkie sparing Kathryn O’Brien’s life and helping them go after Rawlins. We see the two sitting down having a drink talking about their past and things going on around them in Afghanistan the same way old friends would. We see the Punisher going after enemies of Kathryn O’Brien even though she was dead. We also see him staying with her until she passed away and him being hurt by her death. Later on reflecting on his relationship with her during the “Long Cold Dark story” arc when talking to her sister.
As far the not likeable argument goes I have to call BS. We see Frank as the straight man in a crazy world being a very rational character compared to who he deals with. We see Frank in the “Mother Russia” story arc defending a little girl and showing a very human side to him going as far as to not allow anyone to put a needle in her after what all happened to her even though doing so caused his mission to fail. We see Frank Castle helping out war veterans on several occasions. One was putting an old friend who saved his life out of his misery in “Don’t Fall in New York City” and again in “Mother Russia” by giving an old Russian soldier who moved to the U.S. a bottle of Vodka from his home country and getting the bartender and others not to bother the old man. Frank even helped out his rival daredevil by deliberately getting himself thrown in prison to come to his aid. Obviously we are supposed to like Frank Castle. If no one liked the character he wouldn’t sell any comics.
Now with all of this said it does raise a question about Frank Castle. Could he ever fall in love? I’m going to go against popular opinion and here and say yes. The reason why I say yes is because it’s quite obvious from his relationship with O’Brien that if she didn’t die those two were going to end up being together. Now let me be clear, if the Punisher fell in love it wouldn’t be in one story arc. It wouldn’t be in 12 comics it would be over the course of dozens of comics over several years for it to actually work, I would call BS if marvel tried to have a single story arc where the Punisher feel in love. Now do I see him falling in love with a female character and them having a normal relationship? No, it would definitely not be normal. The relationship would have serious issues. Since Frank would still be the Punisher and will never settle down. I do see it as possible Frank finding some joy instead of just being depressed like many have written him over the years and him finding happiness he hasn’t known since before Maria and the kids died.
I wrote this thinking that the character gets too pigeonholed by everyone looking at the surface and not what’s beneath it. Which is understandable after Matt Fraction’s run, FrankenCastle, and Garth Ennis stopped writing the Punisher. I do believe Frank can be opened up somewhat without the character being broken which is what Rick Remender did and was not enjoyed by Punisher fans. This is something I think Greg Rucka is essentially terrified of trying to do so instead we get Punisher as this almost specter of death in his current run like we saw in the 2007 Punisher Annual. He’s doing this because he thinks he’ll fail at it and/or he doesn’t feel comfortable at all writing stories going in depth about Frank and this is his way out while giving us enjoyable Punisher comics (the first issue was great) without having to get to inside of Frank Castle's head.
Anyway those are my thoughts or maybe just rants about Frank Castle.