Barring a very unique and specific skill-set, the Netflix version of Frank Castle doesn’t possess any wonderful abilities or superhuman powers. He isn’t equipped with any cutting-edge technology. He doesn’t associate with the Avengers or any of their supporting characters. Add to that an intense media backlash in the wake of a number of recent firearms incidents, and some particularly poor previous onscreen depictions, then giving him a television show of his own really seemed like a bit of a gamble. In an already overcrowded Marvel Cinematic Universe, and with the existing Netflix shows now starting to come apart at the seams, surely there was no real chance of success for the project? And yet, the biggest talking point of last year was undoubtedly Season One of Marvel’s The Punisher.
Somehow successfully ramping up the already visceral level of violence audiences had seen in the other Defenders shows, and managing to finally harness the tortured soul of the iconic character, the show’s creators managed to totally own 2017. The narrative attacked a whole host of social and political issues that are still worryingly relevant to modern-day America, painfully inflicting these on a series of lovingly crafted characters. Again and again, Jon Bernthal’s near-perfect incarnation of Frank Castle was attacked, betrayed and forced to re-live the tragic loss of his family, seemingly unable to make anyway headway against both his mental and physical demons.
Having laid the ghosts of previous cinematic Punisher outings to rest, the show’s debut season ended with its conflicted protagonist having somehow managed to settle all the scores he knew needed addressing, now apparently attempting to make some effort to try and reintegrate back into society. Other than a potential love interest on the horizon (A fact that caused no small amount of outrage amongst the character’s more fervent followers), and a future nemesis lying comatose in a hospital bed, there’s no real indication of where the planned second season will choose to take Frank Castle. So does the source material give us any indication of what lies ahead for him?
The show’s storyline borrowed heavily from the Punisher MAX series. This was an attempt by Marvel to extend the character’s fanbase back in the latter half of the noughties, by removing it from the more eccentric and outrageous constraints of the 616 universe and transplanting it to a new universe where superpowers did not exist. With his more recognizable and grounded opponents retconned into the new series, as well as a small number of other non-powered heroes such as Nick Fury and Deadpool, this new Punisher (possessing more than a passing resemblance to Clint Eastwood) now faced far more realistic enemies and situations. These were not only more relevant and easy for more mature readers to relate to, but also allowed the writers and artists to pursue deeply graphic themes of violence and sex than they would normally have been allowed.
The opening run of the imprint is titled In The Beginning, and sees the CIA using Micro to try and persuade Frank to turn his attentions towards the war on terror, rather than domestic criminals. At the same time, desperation forces the mafia to turn to a psychotic and disgraced former lieutenant, unaware that he also is in bed with the same people behind the CIA’s operation. The results are absolute carnage, further damaging Castle, and giving him a new gallery of targets that he would spend the rest of the series pursuing. There are very marked differences between what happens in the comics and the TV show, but the core concept of Rawlins and a corrupted CIA agenda with links to Afghanistan are a common theme.
Other elements from the MAX imprint were rather clumsily adapted for the Punisher: War Zone movie back in 2008, and would be perfect for the expanding Netflix corner of the MCU. So we scoured the comics, and selected five of the storylines that we felt would be best suited for the show in future seasons. Here’s what we came up with:
5. Up Is Down And Black Is White
Of all Frank’s enemies during the MAX run, Mob Enforcer Nicky Cavella is undoubtedly the most repellent. The dictionary definition of a cold and unfeeling psychopath, Cavella’s backstory was that he had achieved notoriety via the unsanctioned murder of a number of children belonging to prominent Yakuza gangsters. The resultant turf war saw him exiled to the East Coast, only to be unexpectedly recalled with his equally unhinged lieutenants when Frank Castle decimated the entire leadership of New York City’s mafia families. Defenceless, and in their hour of need, the mob gave Cavella all their remaining resources in an effort to try and kill The Punisher. This was the last mistake they would ever make.
Having been sidelined by his own people, Cavella had instead become embroiled with Rawlins. Whilst most criminals would have seen the CIA being in town to capture Castle as a sign to sit tight and see what happened, Cavella saw it as a golden opportunity. His subsequent attempt to snatch the vigilante from his black ops captors resulted in a complete bloodbath, wiping out the remaining mafia resources in the process. Undeterred, Cavella persevered, digging up Castle’s family and desecrating their bodies in an effort to force Castle out of hiding. It was a move that did not end well.
Over in the MCU, with Billy Russo currently out of the picture, and the CIA trying desperately to cover its tracks, Jon Bernthal’s version of Castle is now badly in need to a new villain to face off against. His massacre of the bikers, Irish mafia and Cartel has left a huge void to be filled, one that the Cavella character could easily fill. Cavella comes complete with links to Will Rawlins that can be examined, as well as a gallery of equally repugnant mafia characters to accompany him.
4. Man Of Stone
Another common theme that the comics share with the show is that of Afghanistan, which ends up as the scene of a desperate running battle between Frank and a disgraced Spetznaz unit led by a ruthless and vengeful Russian officer nicknamed ‘The Man Of Stone’. The story is the culmination of a series of other events that have occurred which served to disrupt a criminal network of drugs and money that connects the CIA, the US Army, the Russian Mafia and the Russian army. Each time Frank takes down one link in this chain, he manages to incur the wrath of the other three, culminating in a bloody showdown that results in a terrible personal sacrifice for him.
The collection contains a number of very colourful characters, but is best known for the reappearance of conflicted agency operator Kathryn O’Brien, who shares more than a little DNA with the Dinah Madani character from the Netflix show. A woman as damaged by life as Frank himself, the two form a grudging but enduring friendship, which eventually boils over into a tragic and flawed form of romance between the two. Filled with a whole array of military weaponry, equipment and vehicles, and containing shootouts that would put the Expendables movies to shame, this storyline would be a huge hit with the fans. Though though a little on the expensive side for Netflix to consider.
Whilst Nicky Cavella may be the most truly repellent enemy that Frank faces during the MAX run (Well, him and Finn Cooley), the most likable and memorable has to be ‘Cuda. Sharing Frank’s military background and training, he’s a twisted criminal doppelganger of The Punisher. He inflicts just as much pain and suffering on the criminal community as Frank does, the difference being that he gets muthaf*ckin’ paid in the process.
The encounters between the two are amongst the most physical and uncomfortable in the series. Both sustain a truly unsettling series of injuries at the hands of their opponent, to the extent that Barracuda goes into their final battle missing a significant number of eyes, teeth and fingers. Having killed Frank’s old military buddies and abducted his only surviving baby daughter, ‘Cuda checks out of the series feeling the full and horrendous fury of the Punisher. So popular was the character, that he actually then went on to earn a solo series and an appearance in the Fury MAX run, both of which examined his colorful backstory.
Showrunner Steve Lightfoot even said the character is one he’d like to see:
“I haven’t even thought about Season 2…but one of the villains I love is Barracuda. I think he’s great fun. I also really like O’Brien. I thought she was always really cool. Certainly those two jump out at me initially, but there are so many great characters there. It’s a very fun sandbox to play in.”
It’s highly likely that Barracuda will be introduced quite quickly as an antagonist in the TV show, and in fact the seeds for his arrival may have already been sown. The squad photo that Karen sees in Season 2 of Marvel’s Daredevil contains a rather physically imposing soldier standing at the rear of the shot, behind Frank. This character doesn’t feature in the subsequent flashbacks we see in season one of The Punisher, suggesting that the character may have been a placeholder, and circumstances meant that Barracuda survived the Afghanistan tour, in order make a future appearance in the wake of Russo’s removal.
2. Girls In White Dresses
Recent media reports have suggested that production for the show’s second season will be remaining in New York, but if the show-runners do feel like letting Jon Bernthal take the character out on the road, maybe a trip back down to the border might be a good idea. Across all the Punisher stories, MAX or otherwise, the decadent and persistent level of criminality that oozes across Into America from Mexico means that the character is repeatedly drawn down to the region, resulting in some very memorable adventures.
The Earth-616 Universe has seen Frank clashing with both Electro and Crossbones, as the cartels turn to ever more desperate measures in their bids to survive their encounters with The Punisher. He has also teamed up with Moon Knight (now wouldn’t that be something to see), but it’s the MAX adventure Girls In White Dresses that remains the most poignant. Asked to help a border town which is seeing it’s daughters mysteriously abducted and slain, Frank uncovers a sinister drug smuggling enterprise. This in turn leads to his first encounter with a ruthless and physically imposing drugs baron, who turns out to be Jigsaw.
The Netflix version of the character already has links to mexico given his little trip down there to wipe out the remaining cartel members responsible for his family’s deaths, so it would prove no difficutly to link him back to the region. The themes of exploitation and corruption contained in the ‘Girls In White Dresses’ storyline are still very relevant to the modern political landscape, which would fit in nicely with the narrative techniques used to make Season One such a success.
1. Into The War-Zone
Our last selection sees us step outside the MAX universe, and back into the 616-verse in order to introduce one of the most popular Punisher allies of recent times, Rachel Cole Alves. This is one of the best written Punisher characters of all time, as lethal and uncompromising as Frank Castle, but also very different in terms of the raw emotion and guilt she feels. With Dinah Madani’s story-arc tidily closed off at the end of Season One, Alves would be the perfect candidate to replace her moving forwards.
Returning from an overseas tour with the military to marry her doctor fiancé, Alves is gunned down along with her entire bridal party when a gang fight spills into their reception. The only survivor, against all odds, she slowly recovers, and then pursues her attackers with military precision and unholy vengeance. As her vendetta takes her further and further up the ranks of a criminal organisation that recruits former operatives of various other Marvel villains (HYDRA, AIM…), she collided with Frank Castle coming at the gang from the opposite direction.
There’s no romance between the two, but a deep and unwanted sense of responsibility for Castle, who allows the wounded solider into his life, and then has to deal with the tragic consequences. The series is the closest thing to the MAX version that you’ll ever see in the mainstream Marvel Comics, and is filled with genuine heartbreak, and some epic set-pieces when the Avengers finally decide that Frank has gone too far. The material is absolutely perfect for a Netflix adaptation, and if Marvel were brave enough to push it up into the MCU movies, you’d also get to see Frank and Wolverine hijacking one of Tony’s suits in a truly epic Punisher Kills The Marvel Universe finale!
Are you looking forward to Season Two of Marvel’s The Punisher? Be sure to tell us your thoughts in the comments!