Kinker Korner is back back back back number one! (jeez that’s an esoteric reference) This time we are counting down my favourite stories involving the violent symbol of vengeance, the skull clad purveyor or justice. Some hate him and don’t consider him a good guy at all, others think he is great and live vicariously through him wishing that there were a real life version who could clean up the streets from criminal scum. Whatever your thoughts on the character, it’s undeniable that certain writers have scribed some excellent stories about him. So, inspired by my boy Richard Watt, here they are.
24. The Punisher Strikes Twice: Year-1974
I’m not someone who feels the need to put the debut of a character in my lists just because of it’s importance. Importance doesn’t equate to my favourites but I’m more than happy to put big Pun’s debut at number 24 as it’s actually good and very different for fans who don’t know how he started out in the Marvel universe. Like most character debuts, this one wasn’t the most fleshed out and not too much was disclosed of the mysterious villain (as he started out) other than he was an ex military man and he was out to kill Spider-Man. Spidey was being blamed for the death of Norman Osborne by The Bugle and big Pun is out for blood…..without any evidence….hmm I can see how he started out as a villain. That said he does contemplate what the right thing to do is, and gets furious at the also debuting Jackal for killing in what he perceives as a non honourable way. Gerry Conway and John Romita sr with help from Ross Andru. Looking for a place to begin? Why not at the start.
23. Archie Meets The Punisher: Year-1994
The Punisher mistakes A…..what? shhhhh yes I’m serious….listen. The Punisher and Archie get mixed up in a genuinely hilarious case of mistaken identity. Archie,for those who don’t know (and this is a Scottish site so there’s more than likely a lot of you) is essentially the comic book manifestation of Americana focusing on a gang of buddies and their exploits set in the town of Riverdale (There’s a good punk band called The Riverdales based on this, check them out). So what the hell is The Punisher doing in this quaint, gentle town? Well, he’s on the trail of a drug-lord known as “Red” who looks like Archie. It all ends up leading to a brilliant confrontation and a climactic battle at the high school dance. Surprisingly awesome stuff written by Batton Lash with brilliant art from the legendary John Buscema who drew The Punisher and Archie regular Stan Goldberg taking care of the rest.
22. The Tyger: Year-2006
With a title taken from a William Blake poem you would expect some kind of deep philosophical writing and in the case of this Garth Ennis (surprise) penned one shot and you’d be right to assume that. One of Ennis’ more serious stories without his trademark darker than black humour, this was some serious shenanigans, delving into existential philosophy and the loss of innocence in childhood. Something of a rarity, this story looks back at at Frank’s childhood, now I’m quite well read in terms of Punisher comics and I can’t think of another time when we got to see into his youth. His parents, his life before Nam and how organised crime ruled the city back in the 60s too. This was something of an event as comic book legend John Severin drew the book and he very rarely works in comics anymore. It’s well drawn, well written and emotionally investing.
21. Girls In White Dresses: Year-2008
Throughout this list I will wax on about the work Garth Ennis did on The Punisher and though some might call it sacrilege when I say his run equals the work that Frank Miller did with Daredevil in the 80s. Coincidentally they are two characters who would be integral to each others timeline and have two of the best comic book runs of all time. I feel as time goes on more and more people will agree with me as it’s difficult to look at recent runs as classics and you always want to elevate the runs that came before them. So when Ennis run ended, many thought that would be the end of the series….not so. Gregg Hurwitz was the brave soul who took on the Herculean challenge of following up on the Ennis run and the more cynical types in the world (not me no no no…..) were looking in with interest to see if it was going to be a train wreck. Well, in your face cynical types!! hahaha not me not me no no, I knew all along it was going to be great. Hurwitz managed to keep the tone originally set by Ennis but firmly put his own stamp on things. It felt like a new writer and that’s exactly what we wanted, we got his voice and he wasn’t trying to bow to pressure and copy Ennis. That took a lot of balls and he should be applauded for it. ……I’ve blethered for ages without talking about the plot haven’t I? Ah well you’ll have to find out for yourselves. I’m Swing Kinker and I approve this comic.
20. The Creep/The Bully: Year-1988
The sad thing about Ann Nocenti’s run on Daredevil is that it has been drowned out by ridiculously epic runs from the likes of Frank Miller, Ed Brubaker and Brian Michael Bendis (check out the daredevil kinker-korner in the columns section). Nocenti had some really good stuff with this two-parter being a stand out. A drug story involving a very 80s weightlifter, a cool DD/Punisher fight and someone who is killing people with poisoned aspirin aptly named the aspirin killer. It’s a nice showcase of the difference in the two reluctant buddy’s philosophy on how to administer justice. Something that would be explored many times throughout the years. Mike Baron wrote The Punisher issue “The Creep” with art from Whilce Portacio and John Romita Jr took care of the art for the Daredevil issue.
19. Valley Forge, Valley Forge: Year-2008
As stated before, Garth Ennis is a writer who you will be seeing quite a lot on this list. His run on The Punisher pretty much defined the character and added depth that had been missing from past runs…..with the exception of some classics that will be in this list. The MAX imprint is where Ennis found the character’s true voice. The Punisher was always held back from being the violent, bloodthirsty vengeance machine he was meant to be by the fact that Marvel comics are very much aimed at the entire family and even stories that most fans would consider tame have garnered complaints for Marvel to deal with. So they created the MAX imprint where there were no rules and writers had no boundaries. If you know Garth Ennis’ work then this is right up his alley as he is a scribe who likes to shock and take things to the edge of decency…..then throw a defiled corpse over said line. I find him to be a little one note at times (we get it….superheroes are bad etc) but when he’s on….boy is he on. This is absolutely the case for his entire Punisher run, it was a marriage made in heaven for fans. Such is the case in this modern classic that ended Ennis’ run on the character, pitting him against an enemy that may be too powerful even for him. Ennis is at his best when he is telling war stories, he’s done some excellent work on the indie scene with all different types of war epics and he is just sublime at nailing the gritty, brutal truth of battle. So this series played up Frank’s military past (Vietnam mainly) and sent the forces after him. An enemy that he respects, would once have called brothers and have the same skill set as him. A perfect way to end a once in a lifetime run.
18. Child’s Play: Year-1982
As seen above, this little doozy was written by the king of the 80s Frank Miller and the lord of gothic art Klaus Janson and is actually a Daredevil story but it heavily involves Big Pun so I’m counting it. As is often the case, the two vigilantes come into conflict with each other over a misunderstanding. In this case it’s a rather clever one as Daredevil, who relies on heartbeats to detect liars, is tricked by a drug dealer with a pacemaker keeping his heart steady. The Punisher knows that he is the dealer and hunts him down while Daredevil defends the dealer having believed his cries of innocence. Frank hadn’t been a character for very long at this point and this gave him some meaty storyline to flesh him out. A great, inventive take on a basic premise from a writer who was starting to catch fire.
17. Welcome Back Frank: Year-2000-2001
Part of the Marvel Knights imprint, this was the first proper run Garth Ennis had on the character and it was so popular that the 2004 movie is pretty much based on this 12 issue arc. Some would say that’s to it’s detriment but I’ve come to love that movie over the years. So this came at a time when Frankie boy was in real limbo, with awful, cheap tie ins and laughably bad stories involving Frank becoming a legit guardian angel…..I mean, of all the characters to pull that nonsense on!. Anyway Ennis really did drag the title out of the doldrums and back into the hearts of readers with crazy violence, gallows humour and mobster after mobster being turned into a fine claret paste. Steve Dillon provides the art and he’s derisive with fans, some believing all his characters look the same and others thinking he’s unique and uses a successful, minimalist technique. I fall somewhere in the middle…if I had to sum it up I would say….meh. He always seems to be involved in very good projects though and that can’t be looked over. Inking is by the always stellar Jimmy Palmiotti. This maxi series had a fantastic mid level boss called The Russian, played by Big Sexy Kevin Nash. If you don’t play games or watch wrestling (and if you don’t like wrestling then you’re a loser…..this is scientific fact) then the last sentence will make no sense. Ask a buddy.
16. War Zone 1-6: Year-1992
War Zone started off with bang as writer Chuck Dixon pays homage to the action movies of the 80s, a decade that had not long passed and it’s action heroes were now involved in nothing but lame comedy movies. Dixon was keeping the flag flying for mindless, one man army nonsense that everyone either loves….or is wrong. Frank infiltrates a crime family with the intention of imploding it from the inside. He reluctantly accepts help from an in the know street hood which leads to some amusing banter. There’s a very surprising scene involving Frank’s friend and arms dealer Microchip as he bails when the going gets tough. I really enjoy Dixon’s take on the character and would be interested to see him return in 2015 seeing as the character is in limbo just now. John Romita Jr is a very apt partner for Dixon as his gritty style matches the violent script. A great start to the series that would run for 41 issues.
15. Punisher Max v2: Year-2010
When Garth Ennis left the Max series it ended shortly after (not by the fault of the replacement writers it has to be said) and after that the character was in a kind of limbo with Marvel seemingly having no clue what to do with him. Oh apart from that wee while where Daken had Killed Frank in a brutal fight and …sigh….he was put back together and named Frankencastle……yup. Out of a creative slump came the realisation that The Punisher works best when the shackles are off and so a second series of Marvel Max was born. Just to confuse fans the title of the series was….Punisher Max….no series 2, no differentiating discrepancies….just Punisher Max. Thankfully the entire series, written by the talented Jason Aaron with art from a returning Steve Dillon was excellent all the way through it’s 22 issue run. It was a much shorter series than the original Max run which is why it makes it onto the list in it’s entirety. This also has the single greatest version of Bullseye ever, even better than Jim Bowen’s portrayal. The Kingpin arc is a particular highlight, watching his rise from mythical figure to genuine crime lord is insanely engaging.
14. The Punisher Kills The Marvel Universe: Year-1995
A gimmicky one shot in the style of the popular “What If” series in which The Punisher….well….takes on the entire Marvel Universe. In this reality his family are collateral damage in a fight between the X-Men, Avengers and The Brood rather than being caught in a gangland crossfire. As Cyclops comes to apologise, Pun flips out and blows his head off. That sets him off on a mission to take out every villain and hero in the entire Marvel universe. Some excellent kills in here like putting a tracker on the Hulk and following him until he turns back into Dr Banner, lying asleep in an alleyway Frank simply follows the tracker and kills him in his sleep. It all comes to a head when he is confronted by Daredevil, his childhood friend and what follows is a surprisingly heart wrenching ending for a short one shot comic. This was written by Garth Ennis a few years before he would go on to redefine the character with an amazing run. This wee gem is well worth a read.
13. Return To Big Nothing: Year-1988
Steven Grant, the writer behind the first solo Punisher tale returned to write this violent story that relates back to his days in Nam. It seems that one of Frank’s old higher ups, Sergeant Gorman from his military days may be connected to a gunrunning plan linking up with Asian gangs and generally just being naughty. Between bouts of blowing away thugs and minions Frank finds out the true depths of Gorman’s naughtiness and it isn’t pretty. A very cunning and tactically astute enemy with a powerful connection to Frank’s history and he does that incredibly difficult task of being actually detestable as a villain. Most villains these days are considered cool and people love them and the art of the genuine bad guy has been lost a little. I blame franchise horror for having such awesome characters. Excellent artist, average writer Mike Zeck does a nice job on pencils.
12. Mother Russia: Year-2005
Frank is visited by Nick Fury, one of the only men that he respects (this has been somewhat played down since the early days) in an attempt to persuade him to infiltrate a Russian nuclear facility to bring back an incredibly powerful weapon so Fury can get S.H.I.E.L.D back (long story). Once there, Frank is informed that the weapon is actually a little girl who has been infected with a weapons grade virus and the anti-virus which is keeping her alive. It’s quite a plot heavy arc with a lot going on and it’s all the better for it as it keeps a rip roaring pace up. Also we get to see an…interesting or hilarious fight between Big Pun and The Mongolian, a 3ft tall martial arts expert . Part of Garth Ennis Max run with nice art from Doug Braithwaite (now billing himself as Dougie for some reason).
11. Year One: Year-1994-1995
The thing about an origin story like The Punisher’s is that it’s painfully relatable. It’s not about accident’s in space or mutations during puberty that give you wings. It’s simply about his family being in the wrong place at the wrong time and being gunned down by dueling gangs. I imagine we would all want to go postal on the people who did it and Frank took it upon himself to take that rage further and try to wipe out the entire criminal underworld in the hope that nobody would have to go through what he did. The interesting thing about this story written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning is it shows a period of Frank’s life that we very rarely see. It’s the period just after all of this went down. We see him begging the police to help, only to discover that corruption runs rife within the NYPD and we see that the only thing keeping him sane after his service in the Vietnam war, a war based on a lie, was his family. Dale Eaglesham provides the solid sequential art but his covers are emotive and beautiful. We see the beginning of his relationship with Jigsaw among others within the story which is interesting to see.
So that’s part one done and dusted. Thanks again to Richard Watt for the suggestion, I’m having a blast with it so far but numbering things is one of the most difficult tasks I’ve had since Kinker-Korner started. Come back soon to see what makes the top 10. Contact me @swing_kinker or @BigGlasgowComic Cheers folks, love yooouu.