Comics

The Punishing History of 'What If?'

Get ready for 'What If? The Punisher' #1 with a look at some of the character's wildest What If one-shots!

Today, everyone’s favorite maverick marksman gets an alternate reality remix in WHAT IF? THE PUNISHER #1! But it isn't Frank Castle that gets a new look...

Instead, the question posed in this issue is "What if Peter Parker became the Punisher?" Written by Carl Potts with art by Juanan Ramirez, it's a dark, dangerous, and dramatic sight to behold. 

To celebrate this new issue, we decided to look back at the murderer’s row of What If? tales over the years that have given tantalizing looks into Frank Castles that might’ve been—or could someday be. Some of these tales offer solace to the world-weary Castle, while others prove that a man can sometimes never escape his destiny, no matter what universe he resides in.

Here are the greatest What If? Punisher stories from across the magnificently mystifying Marvel Multiverse.

What If? Punisher

WHAT IF? #10

Writer Doug Murray told a tale of destiny overtaking Frank when his family avoided being killed by the mob, but ended up getting killed by corrupt cops when Officer Castle tried to investigate them for their involvement. The Kingpin and the Arranger showed up in this alternate reality, as well as Spider-Man, who in some ways inspired Frank to become the Punisher. In addition, Frank’s son wore a “Captain Punisher” Halloween costume before his untimely death, perhaps providing further food for thought...

WHAT IF? #24

When a vampiric Wolverine lorded over his fellow mutant bloodsuckers, the Punisher became a vampire hunter to put a stake through their plans. The fascinating element here was that Frank Castle waged a finely focused war on vampires in particularnot his broad battle on all crime as on Earth-616. In the end, this one became one of those stories wherein everyone dies. And we do mean everyone.

WHAT IF? #26

Diverging from the classic DAREDEVIL #293, Frank accidentally killed Daredevil in this story by Kurt Busiek, then found himself confronted by a rage-fueled Spider-Man. The Punisher won the initial battle, but when Spidey’s secret identity came out and his Aunt May was killed for it, the wallcrawler beat Frank to a pulp. Once again, the Kingpin loomed large over the proceedings, as in the Punisher’s proper reality, and even managed to kill Castle before dying in a bomb blast himself.

WHAT IF? #44

Busiek returned to dreaming up alternate Punisher plots for this issue, where Eddie Brock dodged a bullet when the Venom symbiote attached itself to Castle to create a Punisher far worse than anything anybody had ever imagined before. It’s hard to think of an even more violent vigilante than what we see in the regular Marvel Universe, but that’s what we get here. After a confrontation with Spider-Man and Moon Knight, Frank tried to compromise with the alien entity by threatening to destroy himself thereby balancing both their thirsts for blood.

What If? Punisher

WHAT IF? #51

Another direct divergence from an existing story—CAPTAIN AMERICA #212, to be exact. Blinded by the Red Skull, Captain America sought a substitute to sling the famous shield, and after several trials with others, decided upon the Punisher. In this reality, Castle was already the Punisher we know and fear, but inspired by a pep talk from Steve Rogers, something wonderful happened in this issue: Frank became a better man while wearing the stars and stripes. 

WHAT IF? #57

From one form of service to another, military man Frank Castle joined super-spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D. in this tale by Chuck Dixon, bringing his special brand of justice to the ongoing battle with Hydra and the Yellow Claw. This tale offered yet another possible path to a better Frank as it pondered what service to S.H.I.E.L.D. might look like for the ex-Marine—but of course really provided his inner-Punisher with avenues to adversaries he was itching to take out.

WHAT IF? #58

Remember back when the Jackal hired the Punisher to kill Spider-Man in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #129? Well, in this alternate shot, writer Chuck Dixon pushed Castle to follow through on the dirty deed, but also managed to help him claim his revenge on the vile villain who set him up to take the fall for the job. The story was set up as a fascinating flashback in Frank’s mind as he was about to kill the Jackal, which brought him right up to his own demise at the hands of the police.

WHAT IF? WOLVERINE #1

We already tend to think of the Punisher and Wolverine as cut from the same cloth in many ways—chief among them being their opinion on the use of lethal force against evil. But this tale literally melded the two personalities into one alternate take on both their legends. In it, long-lived Logan adopted the look and style of the Punisher to clash with 1920s-era Chicago gangsters in a dark drama of crime and consequences. Frank wasn't present in the flesh, but his ideals and motifs appeared to blend with Wolverine’s own unique style for one heckuva alternate take.

Witness the latest story in this long lineage by going to your local comic shop for WHAT IF? THE PUNISHER #1 today!