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CSBG Archive

I Love Ya But You’re Strange – That Time Punisher Became a Black Guy

Every week, I will spotlight strange but ultimately endearing comic stories (basically, we’re talking lots and lots of Silver Age comic books). Here is the archive of all the installments of this feature.

Today, as suggested by a few different commenters, we take a look at the time that the Punisher had plastic surgery that made him appear as though he was African-American.

In the seven part “The Final Days” storyline by Mike Baron, Hugh Haynes and Jimmy Palmiotti, the Punisher goes through a whole pile of crap. In Punisher #60, by Baron, scripter Marcus McLaurin, penciler Val Mayerik and inker Al Williamson, they recap the whole thing…

Yep, the Punisher is now a black man.

Here’s how Haynes and Palmiotti depicted the same scene at the end of The Final Days…

Now here’s where I think things get even weirder. “Weirder than the Punisher becoming a black man?” you ask. Why yes. For as strange as that idea is, it strikes me as even odder to then take that storyline and just make it an extended backdoor pilot for a new Luke Cage series, which is exactly what happens with Punisher #60-62, scripted by Marcus McLaurin (who would later be the writer on a new Luke Cage ongoing series).

The Punisher heads to Chicago, where he runs afoul of a whoooole bunch of super racist cops…

Luke Cage takes the wounded man home to Chicago where they become friends and the Punisher comes up with the best pseudonym ever…

I am disappointed that he didn’t say “Frank Castl…I mean, Rook! Yeah, Frank Rook is my name!”

Cage and “Rook” team-up to fight crime for awhile, but note that Rook’s skin color is beginning to fade…

Eventually, Kingpin’s men figure out that the Punisher is back as a black man, so they send people to capture him (including capturing the plastic surgeon first). Punisher holds them off for awhile but he is badly outnumbered. Luckily, Cage shows up…

With the resurgence in popularity that Flavor Flav has seen this past decade, Brian Michael Bendis really ought to work “Head’s up, boyeees” into Cage’s standard dialogue.

Anyhow, conveniently enough, the skin treatment wears off just in time for the Punisher to make his dramatic return to being, well, you know, the Punisher.

This signaled the end of Mike Baron’s long run on the Punisher. I tend to doubt that this is how he intended to end his run. I guess I should ask him someday.

49 Comments

I missed almost the entire “The Punisher is a black guy” saga, but I remember reading that last issue and being really, really confused!

Okay, so, Lois Lane & the Punisher. Has anyone else temporarily switched races?

Maybe thats what happened to sammy sosa

I once did a Cover Theme Game with that being the answer, so there has to be a third one. I can’t remember who it was at the moment, though.

I vividly remember this storyline…and not in a good way. I think it was the first time I started questioning exactly how much I was actually ENJOYING all of the Punisher series I was collecting at the time. I didn’t know who Luke Cage was at the time so this was a strange introduction of the character to me. I probably checked out the first issue of the Luke Cage series (I bought anything and everything with a #1 on the cover in those days like many other readers) but I don’t recall it at all.

Great article & summary of the story! As I said, I remember this happening to the Punisher…but not the details…so was great to see this synopsis of a story I’m quite sure I’ll never reread even though I have the issues kicking around somewhere.

This happened way too late for Stan Lee to have written it, so please tell me Frank calling Cage a “cat with bulletproof skin” was part of his disguise or something, daddy-o.

Abner Jenkins aka The Beetle temporarily switched races in Thunderbolts.

That was the one! Thanks, Brian.

Gotta love the “You’re not black anymore? Hey, you’re handsome.” panel. No awkward subtext there.

randypan the goatboy

February 24, 2012 at 8:55 am

dont forget that kirk lazarus had a controversial procedure done so he could play lincoln osiris in Tropic thunder’s movie within the movie

As goofy as that is, it’s only the third goofiest thing to happen to Frank. Numbers 2 and 1 being turned into an undead avenger of Heaven, and the abysmal Franken-Castle saga, respectively.

Kirk lazarus is a real pioneer.

So how exactly does Frank Castle turn black without noticing? Did the doc slip him bronzing pills like the author of “Black Like Me” used? How did his hair get permed?

I was just going to mention the line MBloom quoted, which I found incredibly racist when I first read it as a kid. It’s like “Hey, now that you don’t look black you’re handsome,” Huh?!

Also, I never get comics for their realistic fight choreography, but the fight choreography in those pages are especially bad.

Too bad you left out the “Can’t touch this” panel. :D

While the subtext of the line is definitely iffy, do note that the doctor never saw Frank’s real face, as he came to her horribly disfigured. So when you see the “real” face of a guy who came to you disfigured, I can see it being a bit weird. “Oh, wow, you’re actually good looking.”

During Peter David’s run, the Hulk disguised himself as a very large Black man. The explanation was that darker colors did a better job hiding the green.

The lettering looks as if the pseudonym was first written as “Frank Rock” but then the C was changed to an O. (The second O consistently looks a little bigger and closer to the letter on its right than the first O.) Of course, then we wouldn’t have had the awesome chess pun, just some cross-company tomfoolery..

The Crazed Spruce

February 24, 2012 at 10:52 am

This is pretty much the first story i thought of when you started this column. Good to see it finally show up. :)

IIRC, as far as I recall, Frank became black because the doctor needed a mess of skin grafts to fix his face, and the only viable donors were a bunch of the Kingpin’s thugs that Frank just killed, all of whom happened to be African-American. Doesn’t make it any less goofy, I’m just sayin’….

And hey, for a strung-out junkie hooker, that doctor ain’t half bad looking….

I’m pretty sure plastic surgeons can’t change the skin color over your entire body. And when Castle’s color started fading, what happened to his altered lips, nose, and hair? Did they gradually revert too?

I can’t decide if this plastic surgeon is the best (change a person’s race) or worst (treatment lasts only three days) ever.

Mike Baron’s first 20 issues were great. After that it was a steady decline. What a shame.

Irene Merryweather, Cable’s chronicler and supporting character, was temporarily turned into a black woman too while on the run from the Dark Sisterhood.

i missed the run on the punisher mostly because i am not a fan of the character but interesting to know he might have been made black to test the waters for a new luke cage series. espically since he looked like Luke a little bit.

LOL, this is goofier than the time Lois Lane became a black woman. Frank Rook is the best pseudonym for Frank Castle ever.

i totally second The Crazed Spuce’s comment:

And hey, for a strung-out junkie hooker, that doctor ain’t half bad looking….

i have met a few junkies in my life & none of them looked close to how ‘healthy’ that lady looks. If heroin made women look like that, i can see a run on black tar.

Just sayin….

Also Psylocke, but I suppose that was more of a body swap.

I can’t figure out what is more implausible: Frank Castle becoming a black man or the doctor’s dress successfully preventing her breasts from popping out?

Years ago I found a couple of old issues of Cable in a quarter bin. They were not consecutive, so when I got to one of the latter issues, all of a sudden Irene Merryweather was black. I don’t remember who she was hiding from and why she went through this drastic plastic surgery (Dr. Brewer must’ve been back in business with high recommendations from the Punisher and Latoya Jackson), but just like Frank Castle, Irene was stopped by an officer and her inner dialogue was like “it never happened to me when I was a readhead WASP and of course cops are racist. Geez, never realized that before because I was too white to care.”

Wow, I completely forgot about these issues. Yeah, back when the Punisher had three ongoing titles and Marvel had all those pages of story to fill, they did try some pretty odd stuff from time to time with the character.

Not a superhero comic, but in Locke & Key a number of characters have switched races with the help of the Mirror Key. (Kinsey and Bode Locke did this for sure, but I think others have in flashbacks as well)

The saddest thing is, I recall “Final Days” being one of the better Punisher storylines of the era up until the end. Even to a kid who was willing to forgive an awful lot, this arc was crap.

Rollo, is the late 90s mullet the fourth goofiest thing to happen to the Punisher? :-)

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

This Punisher arc never gets old.

Also Christopher Priest had a DC comics series where a black guys alter-ego was a white guy.

THe whole Punisher in prison and the black guy arc was my first preview into Castle’s own series, before that I had only read about him in Spider-man. While the whole Frank as a black dude, kinda shocked me in a bad way, I did like the prison arc, mostly due to the shock of seeing Frank getting his face scared by Jigsaw.

another example of a race shift; Abner Jenkins (a.k.a. the original Beetle, a.k.a. Mach-1), who had plastic surgery so he could evade prison. Lasted for many years, though.

things like “Frank Rook” make me always remember when they changed USAgents civilian name from Johnny Walker to Jack Daniels.

It’s super minor, but a supporting character from Cable named Irene Merryweather also switched races for a bit. Same with X-Men super-villain Locus (except no explanation was given for that one).

@MBloom: “Gotta love the “You’re not black anymore? Hey, you’re handsome.” panel. No awkward subtext there.”
Yeah, that’s pretty jaw-dropping. Speaking of…

@Lou: “This happened way too late for Stan Lee to have written it, so please tell me Frank calling Cage a “cat with bulletproof skin” was part of his disguise or something, daddy-o.”
Um, please tell me it *wasn’t*.

From Punisher #59- Melinda Brewer “That’s right, you know about my experiments with tissue regeneration and melanin” Pun: “Huh?” MB “Wasn’t that the reason you chose me?” Pun: “Just change me, Doc, change me so my best friend wouldn’t know me.”

Yup, that was very early in my comic book collecting career, and I remember that storyline being just about the last time I liked the Punisher. Would love to hear from Mike Baron about his time writing that too.

While the subtext of the line is definitely iffy, do note that the doctor never saw Frank’s real face, as he came to her horribly disfigured. So when you see the “real” face of a guy who came to you disfigured, I can see it being a bit weird. “Oh, wow, you’re actually good looking.”

Good point. Makes sense.

French bande-dessinée Spirou did a book with a race-changing gimmick, #44 Le Rayon Noir (“The Black Ray”) by Tome and Janry.

The Count of Champignac is always doing experiments with various mushrooms, so in that one, he uses an african type of mushrooms and created a ray that turns people black. Of course it happens by accident to Spirou at first, creating confusion, but then a recurring villain mafiosi wants to use it for crime-related purposes (mainly using it on fellow criminals so they can’t be recognized). Mayhem ensues when a bunch of citizens get turned, causing racially-charged discord in the village. The effects of the ray eventually wear off, thus causing the crowd to realize “hey the milkman has always been black, I guess we’re not really racist after all” which I thought was really tacky. Not the best book in the series, the authors were on a lame streak for a few volumes at that point.

And on the bande-dessinée topic, the Smurfs (Schtroumpfs in French) had a story called Les Schtroumpfs Noirs (“the Black Smurfs”) which is about Smurfs turning black and violent from a contagious disease transmitted first by a bee and then by biting each other on the tail!
Although it was not specifically a race change but simply skin color (they turned ink-black, not ‘brown’ like African skin) it was changed for “The Purple Smurfs” for the cartoon and English translations (and I’m guessing other languages too). Damn PC Smurfs haha!

I’m just trying to deal with the concept of the plastic surgeon/junkie….who can’t even afford a decent dress to wear.

OK, the last I expected was to see someone cite Le Rayon Noir here…

And, yup, that was one of Tome and Janry’s “down” books…

Baron has said that this storyline was forced on him by editor Don Daley; given the stories I’ve heard about Daley, I’m inclined to believe Baron.

Loved that storyline. Did that come before or after the Europe storyline?

Before.

Please Frank, for the love of the Comics Code – stop getting your ya-ya’s out in public!

God, the contrast between those two mirror panels in like night and day…if day were drawn on the back of a Pee-Chee by a 15-year-old. Mayerik and Williamson weren’t noobs – are they just imitating the bad art that was popular in the ’90s?

I recall this story arc. I agree, the7 part arc was interesting until the end, but I admit, I thought it was an interesting departure…until the bad crossover with Cage. Then I realized it was just another cheap early 90’s comic gimmick. I also thought Superman should have stayed dead, Batman should have remained crippled, and Hal, The Green Lantern should never have become Parallax OR Spectre. OK…maybe Spectre.

OK, OK wrong “universe”.

But back to Black Punisher, while disguising yourself as a black man might keep you hidden for a while, it’ll land you back in jail faster than being, say, a very tall Chinese guy. Maybe Microchip could have “programmed” him to change color at will for escape purposes. Was he dead….yet?

Frank Rook was one of his pseudonyms from far earlier than this.

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