Some notable replacements include Lynn Michaels, Billy Russo, and Rachel Cole-Alves, who have all proven themselves to be capable and lethal in their own right.
Despite the introduction of new Punishers, Frank Castle remains the iconic and formidable character that sets the standard for the role.
When the Punisher first debuted in the pages of Gerry Conway and Ross Andru’s Amazing Spider-Man #129 in 1973, few probably imagined the grizzled gunman would one day be among Marvel’s most storied properties. Frank Castle has been shooting, stabbing, exploding, and otherwise creatively killing criminals in the pages of Marvel ever since, though recent events have lead to him vacating the role. With Castle in self-exposed exile on Weirdworld, the door has opened for someone else to claim the mantle of Punisher. Enter Joe Garrison, the next man slated to take up Castle’s war. While the forthcoming Garrison may be Marvel’s newest Punisher, he isn’t the first to take Castle’s place.
With the introduction of a new Punisher looming, now is a good time to reflect on the previous Punishers throughout Marvel history. Not only has Frank Castle’s approach to “punishing” taken some wild departures over the years, but a number of individuals have attempted to invoke the infamous skull emblem as their own to varying degrees of success. Below is every iteration the Punisher to play a role in Marvel’s primary timeline – starting with the pathetic upstarts who should have stayed off the streets and culminating with the deadliest killers to ever grace the pages of Marvel Comics.
18 Desmond Kline
The 1993-94 crossover event Suicide Run features the “death” of Frank Castle and the emergence of several individuals with the potential to be the new Punisher. Punisher: War Journal #62 introduces one such hopeful: Desmond Kline, an out-of-shape postal worker who idolizes the Punisher. Devastated by the news of the Punisher’s apparent demise, Kline gathers his own firearms and cobbles together a crude costume. Desmond Kline’s time as the Punisher would be short-lived – in his very first attempt to “punish,” Kline confronts a trio of car thieves. After declaring himself the new Punisher, Desmond slips off the roof of a car, falls to the pavement below, and is shot to death.
17 Dean Swaybrick
Suicide Run also introduces Dean Swaybrick in Punisher #86. A rich conservative with no combat experience, Swaybrick uses his family wealth to purchase high-end military gear and hire a squad of goons for him to command, hoping to use his role as the Punisher to leverage future political influence. Swaybrick’s very first bust is “ruined” when fellow would-be Punisher Jimmy Pierce beats him to the punch. To his credit, Dean does manage to survive the ensuing gun battle and executes a single thug who has surrendered. Enraged at Pierce for stealing his thunder, Swaybrick tracks his rival down, only for Pierce to shoot him in the head in self-defense.
16 Carlos Cruz
With Frank Castle’s sanity slipping, longtime Punisher ally Microchip decides to continue the war without him. Micro handpicks Carlos “C.C.” Cruz, an ex-Navy SEAL with extensive combat and law enforcement experience, to serve as the new Punisher starting in Punisher #97. While Cruz is adequate for Micro’s purposes as a replacement Punisher, he is, as Bullseye describes him, “No Frank Castle.” Despite his promising resume and aptitude for violence, Cruz never fully emerges from Castle’s shadow. Early optimism that Cruz could replace Castle quickly fades after Microchip’s death, and Cruz would be gunned down by rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Stone Cold half a year after donning the skull.
15 The Adjudicator
There’s a cyclical nature to Marvel’s timeline, and a number of modern characters have existed in one form or another across past decades (or will again in the future). In the early 1900s New York City of Runaways (2005), the cobbled streets are patrolled by the Punisher of a previous century, the Adjudicator. Little is known about the Adjudicator, other than that he fills a similar role to the Punisher, dispensing his own brand of revolver-induced, lethal justice while documenting his war in a personal journal. Though lacking any powers of his own, the Adjudicator is more than capable of facing off with the meta-humans of the Edwardian Age.
14 James Pierce
The ironically nicknamed “Hitman,” James “Jimmy” Pierce is an anomaly among Punishers: he abhors unnecessary killing. Jimmy was born into the “Black” Cullens crime family, but bailed in his youth to join the US Army’s Special Forces and become a Golden Gloves boxer. Along with his phenomenal boxing skills, Pierce possesses a natural talent for wielding guns akimbo-style. In the wake of Frank’s “death” during Suicide Run, the Cullens Family extorts Jimmy into serving as their own, mob-aligned Punisher. After ending the homicidal dreams of fellow pretender Dean Swaybrick, Pierce eventually teams up with Frank Castle to destroy the Black Cullens’ criminal empire throughout Punisher: War Journal #67-72.
13 Edward Dyson
As a rookie cop with the NYPD, Eddie Dyson enters into an alliance with the Punisher early in his career, culminating with Dyson helping to take down corrupt elements in his own police department. The resulting mob blowback results in the deaths of Dyson’s entire family, leading him further down the road of vigilantism – he takes on the name Payback as he seeks revenge against the Punisher. Dyson’s skills are honed through bloody grit and experience, and he’s survived in the Punisher’s world (including facing off with Frank) ever since. Perhaps his greatest recognition comes from Tony Stark, who considered Dyson a potential recruit for the 50-State Initiative in Civil War: Battle Damage Report #1.
12 A Man Named Frank
Featured in Punisher: A Man Named Frank, Frank is another past Punisher who is active in the twilight years of the Old West. Following the murder of his family by bandits, this Frank embarks on a familiar path, donning a skull emblem as he seeks his revenge. Unlike the modern Frank, his vigilantism is a form of legal employment: he serves as both a hired gun and a bounty hunter, delivering “punishment” to criminals in exchange for money. Frank is hardly hindered by his reliance on firearms of a bygone era, mowing down entire gangs of outlaws (and a battalion of Mexican revolutionaries) with efficient brutality.
11 Lynn Michaels
The original “Lady Punisher,” Lynn Michaels was originally a police officer with the NYPD who steadily became disillusioned with the justice system. Lynn works closely with the Punisher, ultimately leaving the police force and styling herself after Frank. She’s shown herself to be every bit as capable (and lethal) as Frank in his war, and is arguably the most deserving of the replacements put forth during Suicide Run. Michaels’ talents do not go unnoticed – her combat and deep-cover skills lead to her recruitment by S.H.I.E.L.D. before the events of Punisher: War Journal (2006) #11. She’s currently incarcerated, having used her position with S.H.I.E.L.D. to help kill Jigsaw.
10 Billy Russo
Better known as the supervillain Jigsaw, Billy Russo is better known as the Punisher’s arch-nemesis who has gone as far as to dress as a sort of “anti-Punisher.” However, in 1986’s Punisher #4 the mutilated mobster is brainwashed into serving in the Punishment Squad and believes himself to be his hated enemy. Russo’s hatred for Frank is so great it breaks his conditioning, and he (very briefly) takes on the Punisher moniker as his own as he leads the other Squad members in an ill-fated attempt on Frank’s life. Russo is undeniably a proficient combatant and marksman – combined with his underworld connections, he’s distinguished himself by facing off with the Punisher with incredible frequency while dying comparatively rarely in the process.
9 Nigel Higgins
Originally serving as Frank Castle’s contact in the UK when the Kingpin began expanding his empire into Europe, Nigel Higgins (aka Outlaw) would eventually take up the mantle as Britain’s very own Punisher. As the British Punisher, Higgins’ style is most reminiscent of what fans have seen from the upcoming Joe Garrison: he prefers speed, martial arts flair, and smaller firearms. Nigel comes to regret his tenure as a Punisher, but in 2015’s Contest of Champions #1, Nigel is pulled out of retirement to face off against various superhuman opponents. In a unique twist, his prize for winning the contest is the chance to resurrect every person he’s killed during his time as a vigilante.
8 Rachel Cole-Alves
An ex-Marine who tragically saw her family cut down in the crossfire of gang warfare, Rachel Cole-Alves’s story mirrors that of Frank Castle. However, Rachel is never a replacement or a rival for the original Punisher: instead, she has the distinction of often serving as his partner. Cole is every bit as deadly as Castle, even at times surpassing him in bullet-riddled body counts. Perhaps her only failing is overzealousness and a lack of experience, which leads to her inadvertently killing a cop in 2012’s Punisher #15. Cole has grown to become one of Marvel’s most steady, if underrated, elements of its street-level world, and has emerged from Frank’s shadow enough to have her own run-ins with Daredevil, Spider-Man, and even the Avengers.
7 Frank Castle
For all intents and purposes, Frank Castle isthe Punisher, and every iteration since has been modeled after him. An ex-Marine and war hero, Castle was born with a natural talent for violence, which he’s only honed and justified over the years. A man without superpowers in a world of superheroes, Castle has steadfastly held his own through sheer determination and firepower. While Castle is often out of his league against supernatural or cosmic threats, he’s pushed the envelope as far as any non-powered human could ever hope. In 2015’sSecret Wars, Castle crashes the Kingpin’s supervillain-laden end-of-the-world party: when the dust settles, only Castle remains standing.
6 Frank Castle, Angel of Vengeance
The 1998 Punisher series marks the first of several efforts to re-imagine Frank Castle as something more. Castle commits suicide off-panel, only to be saved from his due damnation by literal divine intervention. Castle is resurrected by the angel, Gadriel, and imbued with the might of Heaven itself. The Punisher’s war becomes his purgatory as he fights to redeem his immortal soul. As an Angel of Vengeance, Frank is functionally immortal, gains a degree of precognition, and procures holy firearms from Heaven that can kill mortals and supernatural entities. Within a year, Frank drops the angelic connections and returns to his more grounded roots.
A decade later, in 2009’s Punisher #11, Frank Castle returns from death yet again with a supernatural upgrade. Having previously been dismembered by Wolverine’s son Daken during the Dark Reign saga, Castle is stitched together as a shambling, undead Frankenstein’s monster-like creation. Franken-Castle’s patchwork form is nearly indestructible and grants Frank nearly limitless strength, which he promptly uses to wield mini-guns and high-caliber ballistic weapons with ease. Leading the Legion of Monsters, Franken-Castle slaughters entire armies of monster hunters, Hitler’s horde of a million undead Nazis, and takes his revenge against Daken in a brutal rematch on the rooftops of Tokyo.
4 Jake Gallows
Marvel’s alternate universe of 2099 is home to its own Punisher: Jacob Gallows. In the dystopian future of 2099 A.D., Gallows is raised as a devotee in the Church of Thor and comes to serve as the weapons specialist for the Public Eye Police Force. Disenchanted with the justice system following his family’s brutal murder, Gallows discovers the war journal left behind by Frank Castle and vows to continue his work. Gallows himself lacks true superpowers, but his access to futuristic weaponry makes him far deadlier than the Punishers previously limited by the technology of their time. Additionally, his exo-muscular undersuit provides him with superhuman attributes and the ability to learn new combat techniques on the fly.
3 Iron Punisher
While patrolling a national park, a squad of Sentinels are the “victims” of an “unprovoked” attack by mutants. A lone machine survives, its brush with the Scarlet Witch inadvertently granting it self-awareness and human emotions. Fueled by rage for its fallen “family,” the Iron Punisher embarks on a crusade to punish all super-humans for this transgression. In 2016’s Howard the Duck #10-11, the Iron Punisher launches an assault on New York City. The combined efforts of Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, and several lesser heroes are too little to stop the multi-story tall, mutant-hunting machine. Its lone weakness proves to be cats, and its crusade comes to an end once it is gifted a “kitty” to call his own.
2 Frank Castle: War Machine
In 2017’s Punisher #218, Frank Castle receives a gift courtesy of Nick Fury Jr.: his own set of War Machine armor. Rendered an invulnerable, walking weapons platform of unfathomable firepower, Castle is tasked with taking down General Petrov, the despot of the small Eastern European nation of Chernaya. Castle uses the armor to ruthless effect, crushing the Chernayan army single-handedly before killing Petrov. Frank then takes his new armor to New York, and proceeds to put down supervillains previously above his power level. Castle faces off with a combined force of more than a dozen Avengers, holding his own against the most powerful heroes in Marvel before finally relinquishing the War Machine armor.
1 Frank Castle, High Slayer of The Hand
Frank Castle has always been a killer, and under the tutelage of the Hand he becomes the king of them. Blessed by the demonic god known only as The Beast, Castle slowly becomes the avatar of the Hand’s vile deity. Frank uses his leadership of the Hand ninjas to “punish” on a global, industrialized scale while the Beast’s powers manifest, granting him flight, immortality, clairvoyance, and the ability to exude an aura of lethal energy. The Punisher eventually faces off with Ares the God of War – in an ultimate testament to his newfound power, Castle slays the approving god in single-combat in 2023’s Punisher #9, cementing his status as the most dangerous Punisher of them all.
Every Punisher, from most harmless to most lethal. Read More