You have to feel a little bit sorry for Charlie Cox. His breathtaking, bone-crunching portrayal of a rebooted Matt Murdock stole the show in Season 1 of Netflix’s ‘Daredevil’. It was a standout portrayal, combining vulnerability and misery with a deep-rooted desire for justice and vengeance, rivaled only by Vincent D’onofrio’s simmering and explosive Kingpin.
It was a performance that automatically earned the young British actor that most desirable second series, and the universal love and acclaim of fans and critics alike. And then….. Somebody decided to cast The Punisher in Season 2. Poor old Charlie. No matter how much advertising and media gumph the showrunners churned out, the Internet was only interested in one vigilante. The one wearing a skull in his body armour.
To a lesser extent, Jon Bernthal’s interpretation of Marvel’s most notorious anti-hero has been a touch divisive. To a minority of Marvel fans, Tom Jane will always be Frank Castle, and Bernthal is the closest thing to a perfect portrayal that we’re going to get, but still essentially ‘Shane from The Walking Dead’. Largely, though, he is The Punisher we deserve. A reward from three botched movies and twenty odd years of getting it wrong.
No matter what DD was getting up to, the majority of the standout moments of this season belonged to Bernthal. Frank putting a 9mm slug straight into the hero’s faceplate. His punishment of a paedophilic pawn shop owner. That tear-jerking speech in the graveyard where he references his slain children. The court room speech. The prison escape.
Thanks largely to brilliant script writing, and a solid lead performance, never has it looked more likely that a solo Punisher project might again be on the cards. God knows, Netflix is perfect for it. The level of violence, the dark and hopeless city the characters inhabit. The endless armies of criminal enemies. Punisher fans, this is your time.
So let’s go down the road. Looking at the thee Netflix seasons that have seen the light of day so far, and combing through The Punisher’s back catalogue, who are the best choices for us to see Jon Bernthal’s version of Frank Castle go up against?
10. The Lizard Kings
Featured in the MAX imprint, this family of spoiled rich kids control a large portion of the city’s drug trade, enjoying useful connections in all of the key precincts and justice departments. As well as having a hit squad of corrupt detectives on their payroll, they’re protected by a PTSD addled Vietnam Vet, and inject Frank with a slow acting poison, in an effort to direct him against their opposition. Needless to say, things don’t quite go as planned.
Having a pampered pair of hedonistic sibling enemies who are surrounded by a think layer of corrupt protection makes this enemy perfect for Netflix.
9. Officer Sammy Stone
This impressionable LA beat cop is saved from brutal Latino gangbangers by The Punisher, and comes to embrace his way of thinking. Unfortunately, her path along the road of vigilantism leads to both her colleagues and her friends being killed, the loss of her job, and a brutal trip to prison. The experience severely scares the former cop, and leaves her as a savage blade-wielding killer named ‘Memento’ determined to punish the man who changed her life. The story-arc for a fallen cop, directly affected by The Punisher’s actions would slot nicely into the Netflix way of doing things, and further question the wider collateral damage of Frank’s actions.
8. The Russian
One of Frank’s most quirky and recurring enemies, and already brilliantly portrayed on film by wrestler Kevin Nash, I would suggest it’s only a matter of time before we see this psychotic hitman reincarnated on Netflix. Obviously, looking at the tone of the project, a certain amount of reinvention would be inevitable, with some of the more oddball and extreme features of the ‘Ma Gnucci’ run removed. However, I can’t see why people wouldn’t want to see a simpleton killer, impervious to pain, who just never gives in, go to toe to toe with Jon Bernthal’s version of The Punisher.
7. The Howling Commandos
Issues with the US army are unfortunately never far away from the news, and remain a hot topic in the modern media. The comics have a proud tradition of Frank challenging corrupt elements within the military, and fighting to uphold the values and beliefs that he held so dear as a member of the USMC.
Be it using their power to deal drugs, illegal arms trading with criminals, or shady super-soldier projects, time and again, rotten apples within the army turn Frank’s fellow servicemen and servicewomen against him, and I’d love to see Bernthal desperately fighting a conspiracy, pursued through the streets of New York by an elite force he can’t bring himself to kill.
If not The Russian, the most likely of the Frank-specific enemies from the comics that we’re likely to see on screen is the wonderfully psychotic Barracuda. Virtually impossible to kill, even a piece at a time, there’s no level this demented murderer won’t stoop to in order to gain an advantage in a gunfight. Part soldier. Part gangster. All attitude. This character screams out for a Netflix imagining, it’s just finding the right MMA or weightlifter to portray him. After all, that .50 Cal is heavy to handle….
It’d be nice to be able to cleanse the memory of Colin Farrell’s bug-eyed version of this nameless assassin from the Daredevil movie, and looking at how Marvel revisit and reboot their properties, his return in some form is highly likely. Indeed, there were delicious Internet rumblings last year that Jason Statham was in provisional talks to play the role, but got scared off. I’m not sure he’s the perfect fit, but he’s pretty much brilliant in everything he’s in, so I’d love for there to be some truth in this rumor.
4. The Exchange
One of Frank’s most recent opposition groups was The Exchange, a criminal cartel whose members comprised exclusively from former agents of other groups, including Hydra and AIM. This would fit perfectly with the ‘Agents Of SHIELD’ storyline where the market is now flooded with surviving Hydra operatives. A group of people who’ve turned their back on organized costumed buffoonery, but retained access to their tech and weapons? Sounds like just the challenge The Punisher needs to take on.
3. Nicky Cavella
Just as the city turns to The Punisher in its hour of need, the Mafia turn to this unhinged Mob Lieutenant, who was responsible for two of the best MAX storylines. His mindless and brutal interactions with rival gangs led to Cavella being cast out of the Mafiosi, only to be recalled in desperation as their numbers were scythed down by Castle. Part assisted by shady CIA operatives, and stooping as low as to dig up and parade the bodies of Frank’s murdered family, Cavella is the perfect antagonist for a Punisher Netflix series.
2. The Slavers
Enjoying a brief cameo in the ‘Warzone’ movie, the Bulat family truly are the definition of ‘human shit’. Born and bred on the fields of the Bosnian civil war, this father and son duo quickly found a way to profit from the large surplus of female ethnic prisoners they had to hand, setting up a vast trafficking empire in the States. Lead by the soulless Tiberiu Bulat, and assisted by various disgusting enforcers, the slow and bloody fall of their empire is a true MAX fan-favourite.
Predictable, I know, but Jigsaw is Frank’s most recurring and venomous of opponents. A direct side-effect of Frank’s self-imposed crusade, he’s every bit as ruthless and effective as The Punisher. Dominic West’s portrayal of him was one of the few highlights of ‘Warzone’, particularly his breast-stroke through a trash compactor full of glass, and I would go as far as to say that WHEN (not if) a Punisher Netflix series is green-lit, casting Billy Russo will be at the top of the show-runners priorities.