Upon the introduction of Marvel Comics’ Frank Castle, also known as the Punisher, it was difficult to not see the character as a thinly-disguised Batman pastiche. The two characters shared achingly similar motives and methods: family killed by criminals; self-declared life-long war on crime; a dark, brooding intensity; a proclivity for a fashionable five o’clock shadow. Save for the fact that the Punisher actually killed his targets instead of turning them over to the law, the two characters were fairly indistinguishable.
None of this affected the popularity of Marvel’s army of one. By the early 1990s, the Punisher was featured as a guest star in many books that lagged in sales, on the covers of everything from Terror, Inc. to Guardians of the Galaxy. Perhaps it was this stretching of an already thinly developed character that led to all three Punisher titles being cancelled in the mid-‘90s.
Enter Garth Ennis.
The Ireland-born writer had made many waves in the industry throughout the ‘90s, particularly for his work at DC/Vertigo on their flagship Hellblazer title as well as his and artist Steve Dillon’s Preacher. So excitement was high when it was announced that the year 2000 would see the creative team of Ennis and Dillon taking on the Punisher in a twelve-issue maxi-series, a story-arc known as “Welcome Back, Frank”.
Indeed, readers welcomed Castle back with open (and fully automatic) arms. Not only did this series mark the return of the beloved gritty, solo Frank Castle, with nary a ponytail or demonic possession in sight as in previous ill-advised incarnations, but Ennis and Dillon further stripped down the story to fit their style, creating a lean noir tale. This was combined with a biting satire on vigilantism in a sub-plot featuring Mr. Payback, The Holy, and Elite, three men who took it upon themselves to assist Castle in his war, to very grisly ends.
Here we see where Ennis has truly signed his name to the character. Though he would seek to imbue the character of Frank Castle itself with greater depth—particularly in the four-issue mini-series Born—Ennis also wrote for Castle many adversaries and allies to act as foils, to distinguish just what it was that made Frank Castle the Punisher and not just another gruesome vigilante. In this week’s Iconographies, we discuss the three story-arcs that focus on one of Castle’s most monstrous and debased foes, and thereby best showcase this talent of Ennis’.
This is the man they call Barracuda.