Written by Evan Liss
The Noob is a new column here on AFJ where I, being afflicted with a bad case Millennialism, am tasked to read, watch, or do something for the first time and explain my experience with it. All too often at AFJ East HQ others will mention a movie or a comic and I will eventually have to admit that I have not seen it, which is met with a mixture of surprise and disappointment. Every Tuesday I will have something new to share with you, and if you have any suggestions, let me know (and try not to be too disappointed when I comment saying I have not done that thing).
In a Marvel’s world of superheroes and gods, like Captain America and Thor, it is hard to find a character like the Punisher very interesting. If you take him at face value, he is just a regular human with guns and military training. Sure, he has a tragic backstory, but that is about it. When you are looking for the escape that comic books bring, something so grounded like a man in the world of superheroes, the Punisher can seem dull. Couple that with the past attempts to bring the character to the mainstream and you could see why someone would not really be too interested in the character.
Then Daredevil season two came out and brought John Bernthal’s portrayal to Marvel’s Extended Universe. Though the show did not change that much of his backstory, the Punisher became so much more than the gun-toting vigilante. The character was tortured; his grief and rage came across on screen in a powerful way. Granted Marvel has stepped up its game since its 2004 version of the Punisher, but with that aside, the Punisher on Netflix seemed like it was crafted with more finesse than his previous iterations on the screen.
When Marvel’s: The Punisher debuted on Netflix last week, I wanted to know what the Punisher was like in the comics. After asking my local comic book shop for a definitive story for the Punisher, I was handed Welcome Back, Frank, written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by Steve Dillon from way back in 2000 (I was 7 back then).
There are many things I thought that the Punisher was, but I was pleasantly surprised while reading this book that I was not entirely correct. There was heart and comedy in a place I had assumed was full of just gore and bullets. The Punisher, while clearly a killer with no mercy for criminals, is just like Daredevil in the sense that he wants to protect everyday people and make them feel safe in a dangerous world. The difference is that Frank Castle kills people.
Ennis shows Frank’s humanity and heart when he deals with the other tenants of his apartment building. It is simple, but he knows their names and even acts kind knowing he will eventually leave them all behind. A character like Frank could easily be removed and not care, especially with his past, but he isn’t. He gives courage to the people around him to live the life they want despite their fears, like a real hero, eventually helping a woman (Joan) who is afraid of everything to finally leave New York after dreaming about it for so long.The thing that I assumed about the Punisher is that he was all about killing. Blood, guts, bullets, you know, punishing. However, it is more than that, it is about protecting, making New York better for the defenseless. I never thought of him as a hero. Nevertheless, he is, in his own murdery way.
Even his murdering is set to another level from other vigilantes in the book. Seeing Frank’s return on the news, three copycats emerge: one targeting sinners in his confessional, one targeting poor people in his upper-class neighborhood, and one targeting business elites for their unethical behavior. Frank makes a distinction between himself and these people by pointing out that he is not crazy, he is not a Nazi, and he acts with precision that aims to keep innocent people out of harm’s way. It makes the Punisher/Daredevil debate on killing less black and white.
While the book’s themes elevate it, it is still a comic book. Because it is a comic book, it can get away with a scene where Frank punches a polar bear in the face to make it chase him into his enemies. That is a thing you are allowed to do (and I won’t even get into Space Punisher and Frankencastle). It does not detract from the book, but it is a tiny bit ridiculous when you stop and think about it. Nevertheless, that is what comic books are sometimes and I had to mention it.
It is hard to bring up all the good things about Welcome Back, Frank because it is full of good things. From the media discussion on the Punisher to the villains (the Gnucci family, which may sound familiar if you have watched any of the new series), everything is written with purpose and gives a great voice to the issues and strengths of a character like the Punisher. When I was told to read this book I was pointed in the right direction, and I would recommend it to anyone looking to read The Punisher before they watch the Netflix series.
Let me know in the comments below what you thought of Welcome Back, Frank and we will discuss! #AFJ4LIFE
Hey! One last thing! Evan is a new writer for AFJ, and this is his third article. Evan writes from a diner at the edge of the universe with surprisingly good wi-fi. Tweet at him @Indiecomicblog and look out for more of his articles here on AFJ.