The Punisher is hands down one of the most violent comic book characters in Marvel history, if not the most violent. His brutal war on organized crime has left the streets soaked in blood for years as he executes anyone in his way with military precision. There are plenty of stories of his personal war after losing his family to organized crime. This story, however, answered the question of how Frank Castle would have handled the death of his family if it was caused by heroes instead. And just in case you haven’t figured the answer out yet, it’s brutally. He’d handle it brutally.
Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe is a one-shot comic in which Frank Castle loses his family during a battle between the X-Men and a skrull army. Showing up on the scene and realizing that his family was just collateral damage, he makes it immediately known that a simple “sorry” will not cut it as he opens fire upon the X-Men, killing Cyclops and a few more before being apprehended. Matt Murdock, who scolded the X-Men as Daredevil for being careless, represents Castle and helps him avoid the death penalty. But a group of wealthy survivors whom were all affected somehow by the fallout of superhero battles decide to break him out of jail in order to use him as a weapon to wipe out all superheroes and villains for good. Now with unlimited wealth backing him, Castle is free to unleash hell on all superheroes until his mission to rid the world of them is complete.
The biggest problem with the book is that it has such a huge story forced in to a small one-shot comic. There simply isn’t enough time for the story to explore some of the concepts brought up within it. The underlying concept in the book is accountability. We’re shown right at the start that the actions of superpowered beings have drastic and life altering consequences that are rarely addressed. The Punisher’s family is one of them, and the group funding his rampage all have stories of how being caught in the middle of a superpowered battle ruined their lives. But the concept is never truly fleshed out. Castle never truly has any personal thoughts about it in order for the reader to get in to his head, and his murder spree feels very forced without more of a fleshed out reasoning for it other than superpowered beings are dangerous. The book had an opportunity to have some sort of reflection on superheroes and the lives they inadvertently wreck, but the story moves forward and focus more on the violence instead while only supplying us with sprinkles of thoughts about the accountability of superpowered heroes every so often.
And speaking of violence, Castle kills at least three X-Men by the time we reach the fourth page. And the bullets just continue to fly afterwards throughout the book. With little substance other than murder, there is nothing left to enjoy in the book other than watching your favorite heroes and villains slaughtered. The story lacks drive other than the main premise, the murders seem impersonal, and Frank takes his own life at the end leaving a sort of abrupt ending that leaves the reader feeling unsatisfied by the overall story. The Punisher is a murdering machine, but he’s also a complex character. The book takes all of the complexity out of the character and leaves readers with an unsympathetic murderer. Even his family is barely mentioned in the book as he continues his war against the superpowered. It feels less like he believes in what he is doing, and feels more like he’s embarking on a killing spree because that’s the plot of the book.
Matt Murdock is the only character in the book that is relatable. As Daredevil, he scorns Cyclops and the rest of the X-Men for being so careless after Castle’s family dies. He also represents Castle each time he’s captured and taken to jail despite knowing that he will eventually break out and continue his slaughter. He is the only character to show any sort of sympathy towards Castle. So when The Punisher finally kills Daredevil at the end, he shows some sort of regret for it after discovering he’s Matt Murdock before taking his own life. But developing one side character does not excuse the lack of development of all of the rest. And readers are left feeling bad for only one character killed, while we care about the rest as if they are simply cardboard cutouts of themselves.
In the end, Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe isn’t good a good book. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad, either. It’s just okay. While the death of the Marvel Universe may have been enough to sell this book back when it was released in 1995, 2012’s Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe delivers a better overarching story to go along with the mayhem. Also, there are better Punisher books available that deal with the concept of consequences. The Punisher: Widowmaker, a story about the widows The Punisher has left behind forming an alliance to get revenge, is one worth reading instead. Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe was entirely too short to deal with it’s subject matter, and is one of the weakest Punisher books I’ve read from a character standpoint. Once again, it was not a bad book. But Frank Castle does deserve better, and Garth Ennis has written far better Punisher stories.
If you’re searching for something Punisher related to read before he makes his appearance in season two of Daredevil, then I highly recommend the “Welcome Back Frank” storyline. A scene from the comic appears in the new season judging by the advertisements for it so far, which means that the show is probably going to pull a few more things from that particular story arch. But as far as Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe goes, it’s definitely okay to pass up.