The Punisher is simultaneously one of the most popular anti-heroes in the entire Marvel Universe, and strangely difficult to follow.
This is increasingly common in the Marvel Universe, but the Punisher’s modern continuity is endlessly chopped up into new titles and series relaunches, meaning you can’t sit and read a Punisher series on Marvel Unlimited for more than 30 some issues at a time. Meanwhile, noobs like Deadpool have sustained runs of over 60 issues!
Nonetheless, there are loads of great Punisher comics in the modern Marvel era, with creative giants like Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon (Preacher), Rick Remender, Matt Fraction, and Jason Aaron all devoting time to Frank Castle. Much of this is across Marvel’s MAX line, meaning 1) These issues aren’t available on Marvel Unlimited and 2) They’re properly bloody and messy for a Punisher story.
So enjoy the comics, and always remember: Get a damn haircut.
0) Before the 2000’s: Solo Punisher
Collects: Amazing Spider-Man (1963) 129, 134-135, 161-162, 174-175, 201-202, Annual (1964) 15; Marvel Preview (1975) 2; Marvel Super Action (1975) 1; Captain America (1968) 241; Daredevil (1964) 182-184; Spectacular Spider-Man (1976) 81-83; Punisher (1986) 1-5
I was quite disappointed at the apparent lack of this classic Punisher story in Marvel Unlimited. Then I did a little research (see also: read some Punisher), and it turns out Circle of Blood is totally in Marvel Unlimited! Just look for:
Punisher (1986) #1 to #5
Punisher War Journal #1 to #19
Only the first 8 issues are included in Marvel Unlimited as of 6.16.16.
The first 6 issues from Chuck Dixon and John Romita Jr are included in Marvel Unlimited as:
The Punisher: War Zone (1992) #1 to #6
Collects: The ‘Nam 52-53, 67-69; Punisher Invades The ‘Nam: Final Invasion 1; Punisher War Journal (1988) 52-53; Punisher War Zone (1992) 26-30
The next available issues in MU are covered as:
The Punisher: War Zone (1992) #26 to #30
The War Zone continues with:
The Punisher: War Zone (1992) #31 to #36
Collects: Punisher (1987) 63-75, Punisher: G-Force, Punisher: Die Hard In The Big Easy, Punisher/Black Widow: Spinning Doomsday’s Web
Collects: Punisher (1987) 85-88, Punisher War Journal (1987) 61-64, Punisher War Zone (1992) 23-25
I) Where to Start With Garth Ennis Punisher Comics
Of all the Punisher comics in the 2000’s the Garth Ennis stories are without a doubt the most definitive, and the most confusing to read in the proper order. Here’s what you need:
Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank — Issues (2000 to 2001 series) #1 to #12
The Punisher Vol. 2 (Marvel Knights – 2001 to 2003) – Issues #1 to #37
Punisher MAX (2004 reboot – over 60 issues).
Collects: Punisher Kills The Marvel Universe, Amazing Spider-Man (1963) 161-162, Heroes For Hire (1997) 9, Punisher (2001) 33-37, Punisher War Zone (2012) 1-5, Marvel Universe Vs. Punisher 1-4
And just like that, you’ve enjoyed yourself some Garth Ennis Punisher.
While you certainly could skip Punisher in Space, you have to ask yourself: Punisher in Space?
Personally, I think the decision is easy.
II) Matt Fraction Punisher
Following the end of the Ennis era, Punisher’s War Journal was relaunched, just in time for his major role in Marvel’s Civil War.
Matt Fraction launched the series, and pens some instant classics, including an unforgettable lesson from Frank attending a funeral for a villain.
III) Jason Aaron Punisher
Not to pigeonhole the man, but Jason Aaron gets violence. His work on titles like Wolverine, Southern Bastards, and Thor: The God Butcher offer an impressive resume, and all the right kinds of credentials you want from a Punisher writer.
Aaron takes up the mantle of Punisher MAX from Ennis, and largely succeeds at a nearly impossible follow up challenge.
Issues: Punisher Max #1 to #22
IV) Rick Remender Punisher
There are essentially two parts to Rick Remender’s four year stint on The Punisher.
The first is a great, emotionally-wrought story of Frank Castle reacting to Norman Osborne’s Dark Reign in gleefully non-negotiable fashion (you think he’s just gonna let the Green Goblin turn around and run the world’s security?).
The second, is an untouched creative flourish, in which a broken Frank Castle returns to the Marvel Universe as a literal Frankenstein’s Monster. It’s the type of insane approach to a well-established character that is bound to either go down as one of the worst comics of all time, or a wildly fun and exciting experience. Fortunately, Frankencastle features significantly more of the latter.
Issues: Punisher (2008) #1 to #10, Punisher #11 to #16, Frankencastle #17 to #21
Punisher: In the Blood #1 to #5
V) Greg Rucka Punisher
Punisher by Greg Rucka Vol. 1 #1 to #5 (MU: The Punisher: 2011-2012)
Punisher, Vol. 2 #6 to #10
Punisher, Vol. 3 #11 to #16
Punisher: War Zone #1 to #5
VI) Marvel NOW! Punisher
For Marvel NOW, Punisher was relaunched with Nathan Edmundson at the creative helm. It’s the spiritual companion to Edmundson’s Black Widow.
For every Punisher appearance during this timeframe, I recommend Comic Book Herald’s complete Marvel NOW! reading order.
The Punisher: Black & White #1 to #6
Thunderbolts Vol. 1 #1 to #6
Punisher is a member of General Ross’s badass red-and-black Thunderbolts squad for the duration of its 32 issue run. The series really takes off once Charles Soule takes over writing around issue #12, leading to the conclusion: Punisher vs. The Thunderbolts!
VII) All-New All-Different Punisher
Daredevil/Punisher: Seventh Circle (Daredevil/Punisher: Seventh Circle #1 to #4)
The Punisher Vol. 1: On the Road (The Punisher #1 to #6)
The Punisher Vol. 2: End of the Line (The Punisher #7 to #12)
The Punisher Vol. 3: King of the New York Streets (The Punisher #13 to #17)
Daredevil vs. Punisher: Means & Ends (Daredevil vs. Punisher #1 to #6)
Deadpool vs. The Punisher (Deadpool vs Punisher #1 to #5)
If you’ve ever thought, I could really use more War Machine with my Punisher, boy oh boy, Marvel Legacy Punisher is for you.
And there you have it – a Punisher reading order and where to start guide. Have any Punisher stories you think should make the list? General thoughts on the ethics of one-man vigilante bands? Do what feels right to you in the comments.