Warning: contains spoilers for The Punisher #2!
Marvel’s The Punisher has a rather unique problem when compared to his fellow superheroes: he has no real pool of villains to fight. While Frank Castle certain has his share of super-foes, they usually don’t return for subsequent issues – because the Punisher usually kills them all. But The Punisher #2 reveals one of the very few villains that Castle can’t defeat with a bullet, and he’s all the more better for it.
While Marvel’s heroes usually refrain from killing their enemies, even vowing never to take a human life (similar to Batman’s so-called One Rule), the Punisher has no such vow. In a fragrant violation of the comics norm at the time of his introduction (1971), Frank Castle slaughters his enemies, believing they are worthy of neither pity nor mercy. It’s worth noting that Frank doesn’t always consider this a morally-correct action – merely a path he must walk so that others do not have to. Nevertheless, this leaves the Punisher without many recurring enemies.
But The Punisher #2 seeks to change this, along with a large part of Castle’s status quo. For starters, his wife has miraculously returned from the dead, newly resurrected by new mysterious employers. His iconic skull logo is gone, replaced by a more demonic logo, evocative of the Hand. His new enemies, the Apostles, are worldwide arms manufacturers in suits with Greek helmets, uttering “Bless the war” at every opportunity. There leader is none other than Ares, the Greek God of War.
Ares is a formidable opponent; in charge of the entire Apostles, he seeks to popularize war and violence in all forms – and the Punisher is, according to the Hand and his own experiences, one of the most violent men on the planet. In addition, Ares is one of the few characters the Punisher cannot kill. Supernatural characters don’t always work well with Frank Castle’s more grounded adventures (though that hasn’t stopped him from taking part in the crossover comics alongside the other Avengers), but Ares directly benefits from Frank’s violence, making him a perfect dark presence that Frank cannot shake.
Ares is the villain that the Punisher has deserved, but never received, for years. Frank Castle has struggled with a propensity for violence his entire life, and especially after his family was murdered. The Punisher tries desperately not to fall completely to the darkness within, but Ares just might be the darkness without.
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