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The Punisher’s bloody history is full of great stories. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 Punisher stories ever written.
For this list, we're looking at the best outings from Marvel’s gun-toting anti-hero. Since we’ll be getting into the gritty details of these plotlines, a spoiler alert and mature content warning are in effect.
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#10: “Child’s Play” (1988)
Daredevil and Punisher both believe in taking down criminals, but majorly disagree on what to do with them. In “Child’s Play”, Daredevil wants to use the legal system to bring down drug dealers that sell to kids. The Punisher, however, wants to kill the guilty without a trial. Their opposing views lead to brutal fights and escalating tension. Ultimately, Daredevil has to shoot the Punisher just to prevent him from killing a criminal. “Child’s Play” does a great job of balancing physical clashes and a battle of ideals. Daredevil and Punisher get equal time in the spotlight, leaving readers wondering which vigilante is truly right.
#9: “Valley Forge, Valley Forge” (2008)
The Punisher threatens to expose a group of corrupt military generals. The generals answer his threat by painting him as a murderer and sending U.S. soldiers to pursue him. Frank’s reluctance to kill his fellow military men leads to his capture and near execution. In the end, he is freed by an army General he rescued back in Vietnam. The Valley Forge storyline excels at creating a new challenge for the Punisher. Instead of killing purely evil henchmen, he struggles to reason with men following orders and a deeply conflicted General. The Punisher may be a lethal vigilante now, but he’s a soldier first.
#8: “The Cell” (2005)
“The Cell” opens with Frank going to jail… on purpose. His real goal is to get close to the imprisoned members of the Drago crime family. Throughout the story, he stirs up glorious mayhem by pitting prisoners and corrupt guards against each other. When Frank reaches the Drago family, he reveals that they were personally responsible for his family’s death. He then proceeds to kill them in the exact same ways his wife and children died. The genius twist adds a layer of menace and calculation you can’t get by reading it just once. We’re more than happy to dive right back into this bloody tale.
#7: “In the Beginning” (2004)
This gripping story is about a betrayal. The Punisher’s old ally Micro helps a C.I.A. team capture Frank so he can kill for them. After the anti-hero “politely” refuses their offer, he’s attacked by mafia members looking for revenge. In the crossfire, the CIA and Mafia end up decimating each other. But it’s Frank that finishes his friend Micro for good. “In the beginning” places an uncompromising Punisher in a despicable world. It also takes time to explore why Frank is still wearing the skull. With an interesting premise and some really messed up humor, this beginning is a great start for any new reader.
#6: “Frank” (2011)
The “Frank” storyline opens with an injured and imprisoned Punisher. As he recovers, we see flashbacks of Frank’s life and family up until their untimely death. The arc effortlessly flows between the past and present. Frank’s jail scenes often mirror his time before prison, giving the impression that he felt trapped long before being placed behind bars. The storylines also mirror one another as well. As Frank makes the decisions that lead him to become a vigilante in the past he makes the choice to continue to his dark quest in the present. It’s a tale so detailed you’ll feel like you’re getting two great stories at once.
#5: “Circle of Blood” (1986)
Frank Castle just can’t stay out of jail. In this mini-series, he’s sprung loose by a mysterious group named “The Trust” after saving the warden. With their support, Frank seemingly topples the Kingpin and sends organized crime into chaos. During the all-out turf war, The Trust reveals their secret program to create more Punishers by brainwashing criminals. This wild mini-series pushed the boundaries with its mature content when it premiered in 1986. But audiences loved the gritty story so much that it got the anti-hero his own monthly series. “Circle of Blood” is fun and dark tale that marks a significant moment in Punisher history.
#4: “Punisher: Year One” (1994-95)
“Punisher: Year One” takes us to the moment Frank’s family was gunned down. We see Frank struggle to cope with his loss and find justice. But when the shooters get off scot-free and he’s nearly blown up, he decides to take matters into his own hands and become The Punisher. The story’s tragedy comes from Frank’s attempts to move on. He doesn’t become a murderous vigilante from his trauma alone, but rather the failures that followed his family’s death. With vivid illustrations, sharp writing and the origins of the villain Jigsaw, “Year One” is one of the best and heartbreaking retellings of how the Punisher came to be.
#3: “The Slavers” (2005-06)
One of the Punisher’s darkest storylines was Garth Ennis’ “Slavers” arc. Frank discovers an underground organization that kidnaps women and forces them into prostitution. Filled with outrage, he vows to kill the ringleaders by any means necessary. While the comic has the gore and violence you’d expect from a Punisher story, there’s a strong undercurrent of social commentary. The issue of forced prostitution is recognized as a global problem with no easy solution. The story constantly reminds readers that even the Punisher won’t be enough to end the issue for good. It’s a sobering message that’s bound to stick with readers beyond the last panel.
#2: “Born” (2003)
Garth Ennis strikes again with the “Born” series. The story takes place during Frank’s last days in Vietnam. Although he serves his country as an upstanding Marine Captain, there’s a constant sense of something darker growing within Frank. And as Frank punishes fellow military men for their unspeakable crimes, the dark presence only seems to get louder. Frank’s desperation to cling to the war as the conflict crumbles around him builds excellent tension as the conflict heats up. It all culminates to a gruesome ambush that leaves Frank as the sole survivor. The fantastic “Born” series shows us that Punisher wasn’t created the day his family died, he was just waiting to break loose.
#1: “Welcome Back, Frank” (2000-01)
“Welcome Back Frank” gave The Punisher his most influential story. The Punisher returns to New York City after some time away. His first mission is to dismantle the Gnucci crime family. But when the vicious Ma Gnucci discovers he murdered her sons, she stops at nothing to kill him. The arc gave us many iconic moments, like the Daredevil in chains, the clash against the Russian and The Punisher punching a polar bear in the face. “Welcome Back Frank” is yet another Ennis classic that helped define the character and paved the way for more great stories.