Holy Crap! Remember… Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe?

Ah, nostalgia! Be it that old cartoon, a favorite toy or a comic book from days gone by, isn’t it great, when out of the blue, the memories come flooding back, and you’ve no choice but to exclaim “Holy Crap! Remember?”

The original cover by Nick Percival.

It seems like Garth Ennis was born to write the Punisher, doesn’t it? His style meshes perfectly with Frank Castle’s war on crime: from Frank’s battles in the regular Marvel Universe to his dark MAX days, Ennis has seen him through many memorable stories. What you may not know is that their history started before “Welcome Back, Frank.” Back in 1997, Ennis teamed with penciler Doug Braithwaite and a slew of other contributors to produce Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe, a violent What If…?-style one-shot. Published under Marvel’s short-lived “Alterniverse” imprint, it sees Castle declare war not on ordinary criminals, but on all costumed individuals.

After opening with a flashback in Hell’s Kitchen showing young Frankie Castle defending Matt Murdock from bullies, it jumps ahead in time to the “current” Marvel era. A Skrull/Brood alliance wages war against the Avengers and X-Men in Central Park, catching Officer Castle’s family in the crossfire. The aliens are defeated, but a grieving Frank is enraged by Cyclops’s apology. He quickly puts a bullet in Cyke’s head, then mows down several other heroes before being subdued by Wolverine.

Frank works out his anger issues.

He’s sprung from jail by the mysterious Kesselring, who represents a group of wealthy victims of superhero “collateral damage” since they want to assist Frank in his war against super-humans. Suitably equipped, he returns to New York and quickly dispatches Spider-Man and Venom (when Spidey asks why him, Frank coldly replies “‘Cause somebody has to be first.”). Assisted by a handicapped Micro, he then takes out the Hulk in an utterly brilliant fashion before moving on the Kingpin, whose weaponry would be the most useful. He succeeds, but is again arrested and sprung, much to the dismay of his lawyer, Matt Murdock. Frank ups the ante by next targeting Dr. Doom, though he nearly dies in the act. Needing to deal with all the X-Characters, Frank lures both heroic and evil mutants to the moon, then proceeds to literally drop a nuke on them. The action picks up quickly after a personal battle against Wolverine, and super-humans are falling left and right, including Captain America, leaving Daredevil to be the last man standing. Having broken ties with Kesselring’s group, Punisher and Daredevil square off in the same Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood where it all started. I’m not going to spoil the ending here, except to say it’s utterly fitting.

The reprint cover by Steve Dillon.

Marvel released Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe quietly and with little fanfare. It was a few years later when Ennis’s run was flying off shelves that it really got noticed, and Marvel responded by releasing a new printing featuring a new Steve Dillon cover that quickly sold out and necessitated multiple extra printings. It’s easy to see why. PKtMU treads the line right in-between Ennis’s mainstream work with the character and his MAX stories. It’s extremely violent, yet there’s still a dash of the dark humor Ellis used in the 616 stories, such as when the judge first sentences Frank, he notes he “… murdered some of this nation’s greatest heroes — and the X-Men Cyclops and Jubilee.” As great as it is, it’s not perfect as Ennis wisely steers clear of some of the more powerful denizens of the MU like Dr. Strange — Thor appears with the Avengers in the opening battle, but is never seen or mentioned again — some of Frank’s battles are far too implausible. There is no way Spider-Man, Dr. Doom, Wolverine or Captain America would go down as easy as they did. Heck, Mr. Fantastic is killed off-panel when someone mentions his body was found in a dumpster with his throat cut. Yeah, about that? No. Still, it’s easy to overlook these details because the book is just so damned entertaining. If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend checking it out.

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Who ARE these people!?

As one of the co-founders of Panels on Pages, Robert Eddleman will happily read any comic that catches his interest, regardless of publisher. Aside from comics and PoP!, his other passions include worshipping Joss Whedon, getting lost in TV Tropes, and watching muscled men hit each other with folding chairs.

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  1. I picked this up back in '05. Truly a fun read.

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