Reward and Punishment
There’s no doubt the Punisher is one of Marvel’s most popular characters despite a reduced demographic for the character because of its stories’ trademark violent themes. And although we cannot at all say that Frank Castle is the first antihero to ever be published in comics, he’s definitely one who personified the core of the subgenre.
Starting out as a foil for Spider-man in the mid-70’s – he wasn’t initially even meant to be a major player in the whole fictional universe of Marvel –, the Punisher first appeared in Amazing Spider-man #129 as a vigilante without any compunctions when it comes to killing the criminal element. Since then, he would go on as supporting cast for other Marvel titles. However, it wasn’t until the mid-80’s onward that the character would be firmly placed as a key player in the Marvel universe.
Prior to 1984, the Punisher had only appeared in titles headlined by other Marvel properties, most notable of which is Frank Miller’s acclaimed run on Daredevil. However, by that time Marvel editorial had been scouting their bullpen for a miniseries to publish. The Punisher, though, was not on top of the pile for one of these 4 or 5-issue engagements. Thanks to the efforts of writer Steven grant and artist Michael J. Zeck, though, editorial eventually acceded and Frank Castle was given his very first solo title.
Now, this point in the skull-bearing death dealer is very important. First of all, the 5-issue project would go down in mainstream comic book history as Zeck’s defining work; it will eventually be the character most associated with him. And If in case you think it’s his work on Secret Wars that did this for him, though, then you’d be wrong. Secret Wars was the project where he gained widespread recognition. The Punisher limited series, on the other hand, was the one that cemented his status as a star. If you look closely, what Zeck did in Secret Wars was launch an iconic costume for Spider-man; for the Punisher, he helped usher in an entire publication line. After the conclusion of the mini-series, which was very well-received by fans, The Punisher moved on to star in his own ongoing series, which in turn would then lead to 3 spin-offs based on his corner of the Marvel U.
But perhaps what’s most notable is what came after the Punisher had broken into the mainstream: he opened the floodgates for stories that have a darker, grittier tone. In a way, you could look at the character as the culmination of Frank Miller’s efforts in the 80’s. This shift in storytelling sensibilities would go on to inspire and influence mainstream comic books in the next decade, especially during the infancy years of Image Comics. All of this is great, if you think about it.
As we said, the shift in the tone of mainstream comics in the late 80’s and most of the 90’s gave us the infancy years of Image Comics, which was an era marked by high sales and middling quality at best. Then again, we all have to start somewhere, and we won’t have the Image we know and love today without all those titles that came out then.The point is, the Punisher has an obvious influence on the whole history of the medium, and we’re all thankful for that.