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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Happy 40th Birthday To The Punisher!

When it comes to comic characters that grabbed my attention and imagination in my early comic collecting days as a kid, The Punisher is definitely of them. He's actually one of the first characters I really started following. 

The Punisher #1 Unlimited Series coverEvery day I would skateboard to the tiny hole-in-the-wall comic shop downtown after school as a kid and wade through the comics on the rack, looking for comic covers that would catch my eye. And then my eyes locked on a cover that just popped out at me amongst the clutter. It wasn't really the art style that caught my attention. It wasn't flashy or anything and neither was the cover really. What blew me away was the character on the cover just wasn't holding a gun at some criminals, the bad ass was holding a bazooka! 

As a kid, that visual completely blew me away. A gun would've been cool, but a bazooka is extreme. Plus, this wasn't some army comic where the character was in some jungle or battlefield about to blow up a tank or platoon. He was aiming that bazooka in the window of an apartment in some city (I'd later find out it was New York). I'd never seen that before, and the cover alone made my imagination run wild.

Amazing Spider-Man #129 cover image
Of course, that comic was the very first issue of the very first Punisher unlimited series. And, of course, I got it. You bet your ass I became a fan after the first issue. I loved the grittiness and extremity of the character in his relentless and single minded goal to not only wage war on crime but completely extinguish it. To be perfectly honest, he reminded of the Death Wish movies, and I loved those movies. Little did I know then that his first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #129 came out the same year as the movie Death Wish.

That year was 1974, and the month was February when Frank Castle exploded into the comic world as an antagonist to our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, later becoming one of the best anti-heroes in the world of comics ever. So this year and month marks the character's 40th birthday, and I'm pretty certain his version of a Happy Birthday is snuffing out criminals instead of candles!

The Punisher artwork
Then again, wouldn't you have an obsession of punishing criminals if you saw your wife and daughters brutally slain by the mob before your eyes and the law couldn't punish those who did it but you knew you had the skills to do so? Maybe, maybe not, but one thing is for certain: We can sympathize with the guy.

Frank Castle, born Frank Castiglione, is of Italian descent and a native of Queens, New York. Because he had a hard time forgiving those who committed evil, Frank abandoned the path of becoming a Catholic priest and enlisted in the U.S. Marines. Prior to being sent to Basic Training, Frank married his wife Maria, who was pregnant with their first child.

In the Marine Corps, Frank Castle was sent to Infantry School shortly after Basic, and then to Reconnaissance and Sniper Schools. Being the bad ass that he is, he also attained dockets to go through U.S. Army Airborne School, and became qualified as a Navy Seal after receiving U.S. Navy Underwater Demolition Team training. Frank served in a special forces unit as a point man in Vietnam and was decorated with many medals including the Purple Heart. 

It was shortly after his tour in Vietnam when his family was slain, and he opted not to return to military service, instead becoming the vigilante we've all been fascinated with for 40 years. Envisioned by Gerry Conway, The Punisher started out as a script with a character that he wanted to become a hero later on. The Punisher's first name was The Assassin, but Conway believed the name was too negative. Stan Lee suggested the name of one of Galactus' robots called The Punisher to use for the character Conway was writing.

As for the look of The Punisher, Conway usually drew crude sketches for the characters he created to give to artists. In this first initial sketch, The Punisher had a small death's head skull on one breast of his costume. John Romita Sr. blew up the famous skull and designed a cartridge bandolier to form the skull's teeth. Ross Andru would be the first comic artist to draw the character for publication. The rest is comic book history, and the character would go through various titles and spin-off titles in his career as a Marvel comic hero.

The Punisher has been in cartoons, video games, as well as three movies. Dolph Lundgren, Thomas Jane, and Ray Stevenson have had the honor of portraying the dark vigilante and one of the most iconic and important comic book characters of the bronze age. Actually, Thomas Jane portrayed the character twice, the last was in a fan made film called "Dirty Laundry" by Adi Shankar Brand. This was recommended to me by L.K, and it's pretty friggin' awesome.

As for notable issues concerning The Punisher's origin that any fan should be adding to their collection? Here they are, some are investment comic worthy and some aren't, but all are good reads for any Punisher fans out there.

Marvel Preview #2
  • First origin of Punisher told

If we're talking about one of the most important elements that drives the character of Frank Castle than it's right here in this issue. This issue is the first telling of The Punisher origin in character's comic book career, and came out in August, 1975. 

It's also the first appearances of his wife Maria and Frank's kids, and are seen in flashback. This origin would later be retold in many other comics as well, but this issue is a pretty sought out one already. Guide has this issue at $210 at a low NM. A VF copy is still guided below $100 bucks. 

There are a few copies of Marvel Preview #2 on eBay you can check out if you're gunning for this issue. Just click on the blue eBay link above to be brought to eBay's search results for the comic. I did see a CGC 9.4 for sale for this issue.

NewKadia also has two copies of Marvel Preview #2. Highest is a low VF. The blue link will take you to their selection.

The 'Nam #52
  • Frank Castle Vietnam story
  • Origin of how he adopts the death head skull
This issue details an adventure of The Punisher, before his family's inevitable ill-fate, during his tour in Vietnam as Sgt. Frank Castle. In this story, we learn how the character adopts the famous skull that he would later wear on his chest as the dark and obsessed crusader of vengeance!

The Punisher Year One #1-4

More insights to the Punisher's background concerning how he becomes the single minded vigilante. The Punisher Year One is a 4 part limited series, and explains in more detail the range of emotions Frank Castle goes through, and his descent into madness days after the murder of his family. The series leads up to his ultimate decision in becoming the brutal character we all love to this day. These comics aren't really investment comics, but it's a must-read if you love The Punisher and are interested in a more in-depth story about how the character began.

Time surely does fly by, and it seems like only yesterday when that Punisher cover caught my eye as a kid. Since then, the character has always been one of my favorites, and probably some of yours too. Happy 40th, Frank!

"They laugh at the law. The rich ones who buy it and twist it to their whims. The other ones, who have nothing to lose, who don't care about themselves, or other people. All the ones who think they're above the law, or outside it, or beyond it. They know all the law is good for is to keep good people in line. And they all laugh. They laugh at the law. But they don't laugh at me".  -- Punisher

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