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40 Greatest Punisher Stories: #5-1

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In honor of the Punisher debuting on Daredevil’s Netflix series today, we’re counting down your picks for the forty greatest Punisher stories.

You all voted, now here are the final results of what you chose as the 40 Greatest Punisher Stories!

WARNING: Some of these comics spotlighted were originally rated “explicit content,” so there is some “explicit content” here. Occasional profanity mostly.

Here’s #5-1! Enjoy!

5. “Born” (Punisher: Born #1-4)

Born is a clever look back at Frank Castle’s time in Vietnam, as Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson and Tom Palmer deliver a striking tale that is based upon the basic idea that the Punsiher’s darkness was there well before his family was killed. The family being murdered was just his excuse to unleash his darkness. Here, watch him interact with his darkness while he tries to act like a human to his comrade…

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Ennis more or less ignored his Marvel Knights-era work when he began his MAX run. Except for Born. This was basically the first Garth Ennis MAX story and it was so good that it explained why Marvel let him do so much more.

4. “Child’s Play” (Daredevil #183-184)

In a lot of ways, the hook in this story (by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson) is the fact that Matt Murdock’s senses have led him astray. Not knowing that a bad guy has a pacemaker, Matt believes him when he lies about being a drug dealer. So when the Punisher starts hunting the guy down, Daredevil is going out of his way to save the bad guy. In the end, Daredevil realizes the truth but still values life enough to protect the bad guy from the Punisher, leading to an epic showdown – will Daredevil shoot the Punisher to STOP the Punisher?

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This was a controversial two-parter about drugs in schools that was originally supposed to appear before Miller even began his original run on Daredevil, but Marvel held up over fears about the Comics Code.

Go to the next page for #3!

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43 Comments

I think that’s over half a dozen stories now where Frank Castle has a run-in with Matt Murdock. Only approriate with Season 2 of Daredevil this weekend.

Strong list here. For a character who didn’t really get popular as a solo character until that intial Steven Grant/Mike Zeck mini, he’s acquired a lot of good comics from what seems like kinda a limited concept. The fun 80s Mike Baron comics, the 90s Chuck Dixon comics, Remender’s wackier run running alongside Jason Aaron/Steve Dillon’s PunisherMAX, and of course all the quality Garth Ennis wrote over the years. There’s some fun stuff that didn’t make the list, like Matt Fraction’s run on War Journal, specifically the issue with all the rogues at a bar drawn by Mike Deodato Jr, or that team-up with Spidey by Zeb Wells/Paolo Rivera in Amazing Spider-Man.

He’ll never really be a “favorite” character of mine, but at the same time I’ve read literally hundreds of comics starring Frank Castle and enjoyed a great deal of them.

Anyone else have a hard time reading Welcome Back, Frank due to that hideous lettering? I can barely read it. It’s a real shame.

The Slavers is a one-note pony. It is the most obvious Punisher MAX story, one that Ennis (or anyone) could write in their sleep. It has none of the nuance or depth of most of the rest of his run.

The clear best Ennis Punisher arc was Long Cold Dark, followed by Man of Stone…and neither even made the list (in favor of literally the worst arc, Kitchen Irish, and the also-on-autopilot The End). These arcs were the finales to the long-running storylines set up since Mother Russia (with Valley Forge acting more as an extended denouement) and contain the best single moments and single panels in the whole run.

Man of Stone made the list. Eight of the ten stories on my ballot made it. The only two that didn’t were: Welcome to the Bayou and the story in Spectacular Spider-man #81 – 83 where he went crazy punishing people for crimes like littering.

Good list. I really thought #1 would be The Slavers, which I think is more deserved than Welcome Back Frank, but that’s okay. I knew Ennis would dominate the top of the list. I think all of his Punisher Max stories are here except Widowmaker, right? Would that have been like #41, or is it not well regarded?

The big reason I think Slavers should have been #1 is it’s the perfect story to really get behind The Punisher as a character. In most Punisher stories, while they can be entertaining, it’s hard to truly love the degree of slaughter. But in The Slavers, it feels completely and utterly justified, and it’s the one time where you can read a Punisher story and not feel guilty at all about rooting for him.

I was hoping to see a bit more from the early years of his own series, particularly more stuff from Lee and Portacio. I’d like to buy some of their work on the title, but the one story featured by each of them is the only Punisher story of theirs I’ve already read.

I haven’t read most of the non-Ennis stuff on this list, and a lot of it doesn’t really interest me, but I’m definitely gonna have to seek out Franken-Castle, as that looks insanely awesome.

That’s what I love about these lists you do, Brian– not just the arguments and posterity behind it, but the preview pages of the stuff you haven’t seen before. If it was just a description of Franken-Castle, I’m not sure how interested I would have been. But seeing those pages, I know I’m in.

As always, thanks for putting these together.

I get why people bag on The Slavers, but it’s the only Punisher story that made me cry just a little at the end. Just saying.

Also, for anyone that’s started watching DD Season 2-

Episode 3 is just a complete adaptation of the DD appearance in Welcome Back Frank, and it really got me thinking about creator credit.

I understand the entire idea of work for hire is that you no longer own what you create, the company does. However, I think not having the rights to your work doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t do it, or shouldn’t get credit for it.

With this episode of Daredevil, I know Marvel owns Ennis’ stories and intellectual property in that sense, and can use it as they will without paying for it again. But not giving credit is where I have issue and think it’s kind of shitty. Literally that entire episode was adapted from one Ennis/Dillon story. So where is the harm in just having a line in the credits of that episode that says something to the effect of “This episode inspired by the work of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon” ?

It seems like that would just be so respectful to creators and the work they do, without beginning a slippery slope of creator rights and royalties, and it’s frustrating to not see Marvel give that basic level of concession and respect.

Third Man: Don’t get me wrong, I hear you on that, and I agree that in a just world we’d see that. That said, I suspect the Writer’s Guild regulations on how writing credits are given would keep it from ever happening because it instantly muddies the waters. :(

Greg-

I hadn’t considered that, and you definitely might be right, but I also don’t think you are. The WGA definitely regulates whether works are original or adapted, but once something is clearly adapted (as all comic book characters on a screen are), I don’t think the WGA controls how source material is acknowledged. But, I’m not sure, and it would be interesting to look into.

Were the Batman/Punisher crossover comics not eligible, or just not that popular? I never read the one with the stand-in Batman, but the one that was published circa 1994 with Bruce Wayne back as Batman, and Joker and Jigsaw as the bad guys, was a lot of fun. I loved John Romita Junior’s art on it, too. I still reread that story from time to time.

I knew Slavers would be top 3 (even if the plot is obvious and common it’s really good) but instead of so many guest appearances there could have been some more less known gems unearthed in this list.

Were the Batman/Punisher crossover comics not eligible, or just not that popular? I never read the one with the stand-in Batman, but the one that was published circa 1994 with Bruce Wayne back as Batman, and Joker and Jigsaw as the bad guys, was a lot of fun. I loved John Romita Junior’s art on it, too. I still reread that story from time to time.

Eligible. The one you mention did okay. Probably somewhere in the 40s (I don’t know where offhand). Oh, and Third Man, Widowmaker might not have even made the top 50 for whatever reason.

Also, for anyone that’s started watching DD Season 2-

Episode 3 is just a complete adaptation of the DD appearance in Welcome Back Frank, and it really got me thinking about creator credit.

I understand the entire idea of work for hire is that you no longer own what you create, the company does. However, I think not having the rights to your work doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t do it, or shouldn’t get credit for it.

With this episode of Daredevil, I know Marvel owns Ennis’ stories and intellectual property in that sense, and can use it as they will without paying for it again. But not giving credit is where I have issue and think it’s kind of shitty. Literally that entire episode was adapted from one Ennis/Dillon story. So where is the harm in just having a line in the credits of that episode that says something to the effect of “This episode inspired by the work of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon” ?

It seems like that would just be so respectful to creators and the work they do, without beginning a slippery slope of creator rights and royalties, and it’s frustrating to not see Marvel give that basic level of concession and respect.

The catchall “solution” to this issue (quotes because it’s debatable if it really solves anything) is to put “Thanks to Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon” somewhere in the credits. I agree that it is a shame that they didn’t do that.

I honestly thought that the Slavers would be number one, but I can’t deny that Welcome Back, Frank was a good story. Slavers was the high point of MAX for me, and it’s the only trade from the run I own (normally I make a habit of buying all trades of a particular volume if I liked it, but Slavers was so good I had to ignore that rule and skip straight to it). I saw that Marvel are putting out Complete Collections of Ennnis’ MAX, so I’ll probably pick them all up there.

I think only two of my choices didn’t make it. I’m not too surprised that Giant-Size Spider-Man #4 didn’t make it, but I was hoping for In the Blood to show up – it was a great cap to Remender’s run, and did a fantastic job with Henry, Jigsaw, and Rampage.

And man, I’m so glad that Punisher: Nightmare didn’t show up. It’s one of the few comics that I couldn’t get all the way through and returned to the library without finishing.

Had almost all my picks here (alas, no love for Spidey/Nightcrawler/Punisher/Jigsaw).

In this last batch I had Born, Circle of Blood and Child’s Play as #1 (the arc that introduced me to Punisher and was just plain cool).

Circle of Blood was my 2nd choice, mainly on the strength of that first issue. That whole issue had me riveted as a kid, and Zeck’s art never looked better.

Thanks for another great list!

The Slavers stands out for me, for the reasons Third man stated.

Look at that Fernandez art! Castle has never looked more menacing, more badass

I also love Jrjr’s castle.

Its been a long time since i read ennis Max, i think i may so it this weekend.

I do have love for In the Beginning, War Zone, Welcome Back Frank, and Valley Forge. Wish some Fraction made the list but glad to see Remender and Rucka. But the era I loved was centered around Baron, Dixon, Lee, and Potts. Shout out to unsung heroes Eliot Brown and Mike Vosburg.

Also thanks to Brian for making this list. I’m glad we can all celebrate Punisher comics.

Shame Girls with the white dresses didn’t make it the list.
Course the time you did the cal out for this list I’m packed up for a move so couldn’t see my collection to vote.
No worries, solid list otherwise despite my issues with the FrankenCastle. Hated that story line.

Much as I appreciate the list, I wish there had been an agreement to just give “All Garth Ennis Punisher Work” the #1 slot. That would have allowed for a much more interesting and varied selection. I like Ennis, I like his work on the character, but to me most of it feels interchangeable. As many have expressed, I would have liked to see Baron get more love (his arc in which Punisher recruits a small army and goes to war with the Kingpin, drawn by Portacio, is my all-time favorite), and Dixon certainly deserved to be on here more. I would have been curious to hear more about Frank Castle’s appearances in other books: Spider-Man, Moon Knight, New Warriors and The ‘Nam. I guess that’s just the discipline of the voting, can’t really complain…

I was super bummed “Girls in White Dresses” didn’t make the list!! That was one of my favorites, and I thought it was awesome to see Jigsaw enter the MAX universe.

Man, those Mike Zeck covers were really something, weren’t they? Iconic!

When the whole demonic Punisher started with MK, I thought that was really the end of the character. I was so happy when they announced Ennis and Dillon and the way they dismissed that mini in a sentence or two of their first issue was perfect!

When I thought it couldn’t get better, Ennis went and wrote the Max series…perfection to the point that I really don’t care for much that came afterwards.

Would someone please inform Frank Miller that an Uzi is a submachine gun, not an assault rifle? That always bugged me, with the Punisher and in Dark Knight Returns. That wasn’t the silliest Punisher weapon moment (the cover of the first issue of his regular series, where he is firing a rocket launcher into a building, while on the same building’s fire escape, is one of the top ones); but, it’s up there.

It is incredible how powerful those Zeck/Beaty pages are.

How did Jason Aaron’s MAX not make it in the top 5?! And why am I the only one bringing it up? Truly insane.

Jan Robert Andersen

March 19, 2016 at 2:40 am

Also remember the Garth Ennis Punisher game from 2005.
It really had all the story, plot and characters from the comics.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Punisher_(2005_video_game)
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Punisher:_No_Mercy

No love for Up Is Down, Black Is White? Frank’s dream sequence alone in that is utterly haunting and quite disturbing.

“If my world ends, I tell them, so does yours.”

that’s a HUGE Uzi on that Frank Miller, cover. Like cartoonishily big, to the point you might as well just be using an assault rifle.

My only regret here was not buying the hardcover edition of WELCOME BACK, FRANK. Punisher for me a hard sell, though I like the entire Garth Ennis-Punisher run. To some extent, I enjoyed the Remender and Jason Aaron respective series.

That Zeck art is terrific, but did Marvel have some rule against man nipples at that time, or is that an artistic choice?

8 of my picks made it

the remaining 2 consisted of issue 93 The Killing Streets – a Chuck Dixon tale about a kid who tries to get the Punisher to deal with some bad guys and watches the results

and a tale from Ennis guest starring Wolverine which is as sick and twisted as Ennis is allowed to be in such a story…

Man, Jason Aaron only showed up once? As much as I love most of Ennis’ Punisher work, kinds stunned that “Kitchen Irish” and “The End” showed up; and personally I would have dumped the first Barracuda story, too. Ennis was WAY too enamored with that character (though admittedly he was much better in his return appearance and his crossover into the MAX Fury world), to the point that the Punisher barely feels like a supporting character in his own title. Couple it with the corrupt business storyline that plays to Ennis’ worst “comedic” tendencies and I have no idea how that one is so popular.

I guess much of Aaron’s run could be argued as falling prey to the same issue of Castle being a background character in his own title; it’s arguable a Kingpin series just as much as the Punishers. It’s just so damn powerful.

@Kevin
3 of Aaron’s 4 arcs made the top 40
(I imagine Homeless was just outside)

was expecting both welcome back frank which refreshed the punisher as useful again as a character for marvel not to mention proof that the punisher can use any thing he has around him as a weapon not to mention who can forget those bad guys learning the hard way that bears are not real teddy ones. not to mention the slavers i was wondering where in the top five it was going to be had it pegged as the top three or maybe number one mostly how twisted it is.

Any chance of getting how many first place votes, like usual?

Born was up there with Archie as my last ones out. But I voted for most of the rest.

Child’s Play may look like child’s play today after MAX, but that was some really gritty stuff for a comic in its day. Vigilante owes a lot to that story.

Circle of Blood is only harmed by the schedule of the day. Today they’d delay the last issue. I feel bad, because the art in the last issue isn’t bad. It just taints how glorious it was before, and makes any trades seem like not one story. Though that first issue almost is another story. I bet if it was a one shot before a 4 issue mini it might be #1. Killer issue.

And welcome back loses luster because of how much was based on it after, but it was revolutionary in a lot of ways at the time. Funny two of the top three involve “fixing” Frank. Though those Spectacular Spiderman issues are kinda great in a hellzapoppin’ way. Might have had more to do with the writer’s political viewpoint on the Punisher, but a vigilante who shoots jaywalkers is a fun concept to play with.

@John King

Whoops! Completely missed clicking on one of the articles in this countdown, so I only saw “Kingpin.” My mistake.

@Third Man — I read an article about the DD series and apparently Frank tells Matt that “you’re just one bad day away from being me”.

So they probably owe some credit to Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, too…. ;)

Just noticed my list…so did Captain America 241 finish anywhere close or was it just an also ran?

Slavers and Welcome Back deserved their top spots and Ennis’s work did deserve the votes.

Baron and Dixon just never wrote at the Ennis’s level IMHO. It’d take stubborn nostalgia for me to vote for their stories.

I’m kinda suprised Punisher Year One didn’t make the list. THAT is the gem that perhaps got ignored due to Ennis votes.

no Punisher MAX X-mas Special in this whole list. people dropped the ball on that one. By Jason Aaron and deserves a place in this.

I’m glad that ‘Welcome Back, Frank’ made it for all the right reasons: it was taking the Punisher away from the Angel of Vengeance (and before that, the horrible attempt to fit him into the Onslaught-Ravaged Marvel Universe by partnering him up with the friggin X-Cutioner) and bringing him back to basics while have the opportunity to keep what was powerful about the character. So instead of never mentioning it, Ennis has the Punisher admit it and brush it off in a way that fits the character while giving the reader Frank’s current incarnation: it’s no longer about his family, it’s about him, and the family is only a minor part of what really makes him tick in a lot of ways.

All while throwing a guy off of the Empire State Building. Ennis really brought back the Punisher and fleshed him out in a lot of ways that as a former fan I found incredibly fascinating. And in some ways, years later, still do.

Travis –

Admitedly, that line works a lot better for Daredevil and the Punisher than for Batman and the Joker. Actually, the Killing Joke itself disproves the line.

On the subject of top lists:

I know that this year is the Top 100 Comic Runs but what about doing a Top 100 Manga Series at some point?

Before Ennis I was convinced The Punisher was a terrible character – outside of the occasional spot as a villain in someone else’s comic.

Welcome Back Frank made me realise that the ONLY way he could work was as slapstick comedy.

The Ennis did Punishermax and proved me wrong again. That is one of the best runs of all time.

I have since seen that Dave Lapham and Jason Aaron can do him well too.

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