Daredevil is officially back for a second season of morally murky crime-fighting. But while it's the man without fear's name on the poster, it's someone else entirely who has been grabbing the pre-release hype. Season 2 sees the introduction of Frank Castle - aka The Punisher - played by Jon Bernthal. Chances are you've heard the character's name, but maybe you don't know who he is, or what he wants. Fear not, we're going to break it down for you. And let's just say, life is about to get... complicated for Matt Murdock.
Comic book origins
The backstory goes like this: Francis Castiglione was studying to become a Catholic priest, but found that he wasn't too good at the forgiveness part of the job. Taking the name Frank Castle, he joined the marines, served in Vietnam (this has been retconned to Iraq for the TV show) and was decorated with numerous medals. Alas, fate intervened when his wife Maria and their children were murdered by gangsters. With the justice system unable to deal with his family's killers, Castle painted a skull on his body armour and decided to take the fight to them.
Unlike most Marvel characters, Punisher doesn’t have powers. He does, however, have a lot of weapons. Guns, knives, grenades - you name it, and Frank Castle will use it.
Originally created by writer Gerry Conway and artist John Romita, Sr (with Stan Lee providing the name), Punisher made his debut in The Amazing Spider-Man #129 (February 1974), with Spidey as his target. He fails to kill him, of course, but the character was a hit and became a recurring presence in the series. There was something about this guy that gave him an edge; with his itchy trigger finger, he felt more like a Charles Bronson character than a superhero. It wasn’t long before he was starring in an array of Punisher-themed mini-series and his own monthly title.
The Punisher vs Daredevil
While he may have come from the Spider-Man comics, Punisher has a long history with Matt Murdock. Often portrayed as uneasy allies, rather than friends, the two have crossed paths - and come to blows - on many occasions. The most notable of these is the Daredevil vs Punisher: Means and Ends miniseries from 2005, by Eisner award-winning writer David Lapham.
Set in the aftermath of Wilson Fisk's defeat, the series finds the two clashing over how to stem the tide of crime in Hell's Kitchen. Daredevil believes that he can rule with fear, but Punisher plans on taking a more direct, shotgun-assisted route. With Fisk caught at the end of season one of the TV show, we may well see elements of this acclaimed run in year two.
From the silver screen
This is not the first time that Castle has been brought to life on screen. 1989's The Punisher, starring '80s action beefcake Dolph Lundgren, kicked things off badly by jettisoning much of what makes the character appealing – including his signature look.
The series was rebooted in 2004, with Thomas Jane now playing a more familiar version of the character, in a story that riffed on several of the comic's stories, most notably The Punisher: Year One and Welcome Back, Frank. It's not great – a dreary throwback action flick dressed up in a skull suit, but Jane is pretty good in the lead. A sequel was planned, but abandoned.
The third and final film, Punisher: War Zone featured Thor's Ray Stevenson in the title role. It's a slickly made film for sure, and Stevenson looked the part, but there's was no escaping its bland story. The only way is up for the TV show!
To the small screen
There's talk about an army in town…” goes the line. “It's one man.” With those words, Matt Murdock gets a hint at the trouble that's coming his way. Jon Bernthal will be donning Frank's body armour for Daredevil season 2 – and he looks like an inspired choice. For all his weapons and Judge Dredd-like attitude, you need to believe in Castle as a human being with real emotions. Bernthal is more than up to that task, as he proved on The Walking Dead as the deadly but emotionally vulnerable Shane.
When we meet him, Frank has just lost his family and is consumed with grief. “This is going to be a bit of an origin story, and we find this guy still absolutely reeling and his world has been completely flipped upside down," Bernthal told USA Today. That means that we're likely to be seeing a man with just one thought on his mind: revenge. But the Punisher is no spree killer. As one early scene points out, “He knows exactly who he wants to hit.”
That will, naturally, bring him into conflict with Daredevil. Matt Murdock is no pushover and he's certainly not averse to breaking a few bones, but he's no killer. Castle, on the other hand, is willing to go all the way. “His superpower is his rage,” Bernthal told Rotten Tomatoes. “His superpower is that he is not going to quit, and he is going to go forward no matter what.” Season 2, then, will probe even further into the murky ethics of life as a vigilante than season 1.
Will the TV show see them eventually come together as allies to take on a bigger threat? That seems likely. We know this season will see the Yakuza rising in power and an army of blade-wielding ninjas loose in the city, not to mention the ambiguous presence of Elektra (Élodie Yung). With Netflix said to be considering a Punisher TV show, it seems certain that Frank will survive the season. The question is, will anyone else?
Intrigued? There are hundreds of Punisher comics out there. We've selected five essentials to help you get to grips with the character.
The Amazing Spider-Man #129: The issue that started it all. Peter Parker has been framed for the apparent murder of Norman Osborne and that puts him in the Punisher's firing line.
The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank: After the doldrums of the '90s superhero scene, this 12-issue miniseries was a refreshing return to the character's urban roots, with Frank moving back to NYC and taking on a crime syndicate. Blackly-comic in tone, and hugely bloody, it also features a scene where Frank decks a polar bear.
The Slavers: Marvel's MAX line could be extreme. This story sees Frank take on a sex trafficking ring. But this is more than just a revenge fantasy, with Garth Ennis finding real depth and humanity in his characters.
Punisher MAX: Kingpin: The Punisher encounters Daredevil's big bad in a surprising retooling of Wilson Fisk's origin story that sees Castle manipulated into assisting the crime boss's rise to power.
Born: Comics rarely get better than this. Born hones in on Castle's time in Vietnam. With his friends and comrades dying around him, Castle accepts a bargain that will change his life forever – leading to an utterly chilling climax.