God Made the Punisher Even More Dangerous

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

Punisher Vol 4, Issue #1

Even the most casual Marvel fans know The Punisher’s whole deal: he’s a former Marine whose family is brutally killed, causing Frank Castle to become a brutal vigilante feared just as much by the heroes he reluctantly works with as the villains that he brutally hunts down. In other words, The Punisher is a street-level superhero who has only his guns, gear, and gumption…a far cry from heroes like Spider-Man, who command fabulous superpowers. But that all changed in a bonkers storyline where Big Pun made a deal with Heaven and received spiritual powers in order to cleanse the Earth of evil. 

The Punisher is a simple concept, he’s a man out to kill criminals to avenge his family, but Marvel made it weird by making him an agent of Heaven.

If that sounds completely insane, trust us: it really was. Starting in Punisher Vol. 4, angels in Heaven decided that they needed a kind of holy warrior on Earth who was uniquely suited to cleanse the planet of the various forces of evil. The Punisher would be an ideal warrior for this purpose, but there was just one problem…the vigilante had committed suicide because he was manipulated into doing so by a bunch of demons that, to make things even weirder, were involved with the original criminals who mowed down Frank Castle’s family back in the day.

The Punisher Vol. 4

However, when you have divine power on your side, a little thing like your chosen warrior being dead isn’t going to hold you back. To this end, the angel Gabriel resurrects The Punisher, and the antihero is understandably dazed after coming back to life. Zombie-like, he wandered back to his base of operations, remembering all the deaths he had previously dealt out with all the guns lining the walls.

For once, though, The Punisher decided not to use any of the firearms that had made him into Marvel’s most famous killing machine. Instead, he realized on a seemingly unconscious level that he no longer needed to use such earthly weapons because he now had access to spiritual weapons. Conveniently, the new weapons were also guns…they had an eerie glow and were often drawn more like alien weapons you’d expect to see in a Halo game rather than the firearms The Punisher had always relied on.

In addition to becoming an angel, The Punisher was once turned into Frankenstein’s Monster, in another storyline fans want to forget.

Weirdly enough, The Punisher is tasked with a mission from Heaven that he can’t turn down: after angels tell Frank Castle that his family ended up in Heaven and that the only way he will ever see them again is to cleanse his soul by taking out the people down on Earth who are on the angels’ hit list. On paper, this was a win/win for The Punisher…he still gets to wipe out the kind of scum he was killing before, but with the added knowledge that he had the literal mandate of Heaven and was on track to see his wife and kids again.

Thomas Jane in The Punisher

Things actually got even stranger from there, including a bizarre retcon that The Punisher’s family was originally killed as part of a plot to get Frank Castle to do the bidding of hell. This is doubly insane because The Punisher’s deal with Heaven has him doing the exact same thing, and it was never clear what made one set of brutal killings sinful and another set righteous. Still, that didn’t keep Marvel from making another trip to the well: this Heaven-sent version of The Punisher would later tangle with (and then team up) with Wolverine, and only his newfound heavenly powers kept him alive during their fight.

Legendary writer Garth Ennis was brought in to undo the Warrior of Heaven era, writing one of the greatest stories in the process, which influenced Thomas Jane’s The Punisher.

Critics and fans alike were nearly unanimous in their hatred for this version of The Punisher, and that’s why comics legend Garth Ennis gave up on it entirely when he began writing The Punisher vol. 5. In the first issue, the vigilante mentions his time working for Heaven, claiming that he walked away from the work and that the angels punished him by showing him his family in Heaven and then casting him back down to Earth to torment him. The end of that issue cements the idea that Frank really is back: “The angels thought it would be hell for me…but they were WRONG.”

At this point, The Punisher thinks to himself that New York City is saying, “Welcome back, Frank.” And after all that angel and demon nonsense (and especially after he tosses a mafia thug off a skyscraper), this is exactly what Marvel fans said once Frank Castle returned to being the street-level, gun-toting maniac that we all know and love.