Since the Punisher’s first appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man #129 from 1974, Frank Castle has remained much the same. He’s still the tough-as-nails vigilante waging a one-man war on crime in order to get revenge for the murder of his family. The Punisher rose in popularity from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, spawning three separate ongoing series at the same time. In total, the character has been relaunched and retooled nearly 20 different times, and has seen several new titles rise and fall even in just the last few years. He’s also starred in three feature films and will have his own Netflix series soon.
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Garth Ennis’ iconic run on the character has only helped to bring out what was already there — the blood, the gore, and the violence. It also changed the way Frank Castle dresses. Since even before his debut, the Punisher’s costume has been in flux. Gerry Conway initially wanted a small skull above his breast before John Romita, Sr. blew up the logo to produce the iconic look. Frank Castle has taken on different looks over the years, so in honor of him coming to the small screen, Comic Book Resources will now share some of the best and worst costumes the character has ever worn.
15. BEST: AMERICAN PUNISHER
Frank Castle has always been an admirer of Captain America, even if the two don’t see eye-to-eye with regards to their handling of criminals. Matt Fraction and Ariel Olivetti establish his admiration for Steve Rogers in Punisher War Journal when he refuses to fight back against him. This eventually leads the Punisher to honor the fallen hero after Cap’s death following Civil War.
He dons a new costume in order to take down the Hate-Monger, who has taken to wearing his own Cap-inspired suit. Frank’s new threads are part Punisher, part Captain America, but 100% Frank Castle. It is essentially a more militarized version of Steve Roger’s uniform, decked out in blue with red piping, a star on the head, and plenty of artillery. Of course, the suit is also covered in skulls too.
14. WORST: WAR MACHINE PUNISHER
It was recently announced that the Punisher would be coming into possession of the War Machine armor during the Marvel Legacy initiative. The new creative team of Matthew Rosenberg and Guiu Vilanova have commented that Frank Castle getting the War Machine armor, which is everything that is left of James Rhodes’ legacy, is inherently a tragedy. The wrong person coming into possession of such a powerful weapon is going to lead to disaster.
Rosenberg and Vilanova clearly have a well-defined direction that sounds super interesting. The depiction of the armor, however, has been met with mixed reactions from fans. If they were simply slapping a Punisher skull on War Machine, that would be one thing, but the new cover for The Punisher #218 shows a costume that looks more like mechanized Punisher garb than anything related to Rhodey. Time will tell whether this look stands the test of time.
13. BEST: SPACE PUNISHER
Yes, we are including Frank Castle’s costume in Space: Punisher among his best costumes ever. There’s no doubt it’s a weird one, but his Punisher-themed spacesuit is a perfect callback to the madness of the Silver Age. Mark Texeira rendered it to resemble his traditional black and white costume, but with enough variation that it stands out. Specifically, the oversized skull design gives the whole look a fantastic overall design.
It’s unfortunate that we only see the suit ever so briefly because we could look at that thing for ages. The rest of the series features an alternate spin on the Punisher uniform, with a t-shirt and cape. It’s certainly fun to see Frank Castle in a cape, but the ponytail is kind of a turnoff… unless you’re a Steven Seagal fan. And really, who isn’t.
12. WORST: PUNISHER NOIR
In theory, the costume in Punisher Noir should be among his best, but it just doesn’t resound with the same iconic presence as his others. In this universe, the story takes place in the 1930s, and the Punisher is actually Frank’s son. Frank Jr. hunts down his father’s murderers until he gains his vengeance against Barracuda, Jigsaw and the Russian.
The coolest part of Punisher Noir’s costume is the skull mask he wears to conceal his identity. It’s actually pretty on-brand for Frank, and was later incorporated into the mainstream comic for a time. However, besides the mask, he just wears street clothes, which is kind of a shame. When you wear something as badass as a skull mask, you have to match it with the rest of your wardrobe, otherwise it’s a wasted opportunity.
11. BEST: FRANKEN-CASTLE
Another weird one was Rick Remender and Roland Boschi’s Franken-Castle, a continuation of their run on The Punisher following Frank’s death at the hands of Daken. During Dark Reign, Frank is dismembered and killed, only to be brought back from the dead as a Frankenstein monster by Morbius and the Legion of Monsters.
Franken-Castle wears a Punisher skull on his chest with a trench coat along with substantially modified body parts and clockwork tech strapped to his body that leave him a hulking mess. This might be less of a costume and more like part of his own body, but it’s an incredibly offbeat look that challenged mainstream comics in 2010. Magic returns him back to normal before too long, but for a brief, beautiful time, we had a Frankenstein Punisher walking around the 616.
10. WORST: 2099
We all know that the ‘90s were a weird time for comic books, but when Marvel decided to launch its titles into the future, the powers that be didn’t stop to consider how fashion would be different by then. All their 2099 heroes sported new, futuristic designs that were really just exaggerations of current day trends. Punisher 2099, aka Jake Gallows, was a victim of this crime.
Underneath all the mess, you can see what could have been a great costume for The Punisher, but considering this was created in 1993, he comes equipped with over exaggerated shoulder pads, gauntlets, and knee pads. There’s also the whole belt part with giant tubes that serve no practical purpose other than to complete the skull motif. Still, the alternative skull design catches the eye and makes us consider what could have been.
9. BEST: PUNISHER WAR ZONE (2008 FILM)
Punisher: War Zone may have been one of the worst comic book movie earners of all time, after raking in just $10 million at the box office. Despite its incredible failures, they did manage to give us a better looking Frank Castle than we saw in the Thomas Jane version. In this film, he is decked almost head to toe in realistic body armor.
The high neck guard proves to be a staple of this Punisher, and the subdued skull image only helps to marry the realism of the film and the insanity of what a real life vigilante would wear in his war on crime. Everything that happens in the film may be better off forgotten, but remember the physicality that Ray Stevenson was able to bring to the role when the Netflix show premieres.
8. WORST: ANT-MAN PUNISHER
In theory, this costume is actually pretty awesome. However, it doesn’t end up looking as good as it should in our minds. When facing the Hood and his gang of villains, Frank feels like he needs some extra weaponry in order to go up against such a tough adversary. He decides to pull out pieces of other superhero costumes to give himself a little extra fire power.
In The Punisher #4 from 2009, we see him wearing Ant-Man’s helmet, Hawkeye’s quiver and bow, and a Captain America-like Punisher shield in order to break into the Hood’s headquarters. Unfortunately, by the next issue, his shield and arrows are nowhere to be seen. Instead, he’s using a big energy gun he likely stole off S.H.I.E.L.D.
7. BEST: BLACK AND WHITE
The classic black and white Punisher costume has been abandoned, reintroduced, and retooled countless times, but it always seems to come back before too long. Frank typically wears a black body suit with white gloves, boots, and accessories, and a giant skull across his chest. It has been altered in recent years in favor of a more casual military style with a large trench coat, but it’s hard to outdo a classic.
Gerry Conway and John Romita, Sr. designed it as an alternative take on the traditional superhero costume. At the time, everyone wore spandex, so even a violent anti-hero would have to wear something superhero-like as well. It’s a look that needs the right artist to give Frank a subtle superhero vibe while he does what he does, but its classic stark contrast — mirroring Frank’s strict black-and-white morality — is hard not to love.
6. WORST: PUNISHER (2004)
Thomas Jane might still have his devoted followers for his portrayal of Frank Castle, but it’s hard to remember any other positives that came out of The Punisher from 2004. The movie watered down much of the violence, and decided to lean too heavily on John Travolta for its own good. It also failed to produce a truly convincing Punisher costume.
The film borrows from Garth Ennis’ run on the Punisher comics, even using the less superheroic costume of a t-shirt and a trench coat. The problem is that, despite what the original posters made Frank look like, he’s not very intimidating looking in the movie itself. The t-shirt graphic is a little too Hot Topic and the jacket looks like it’s from the Matrix.It was definitely a product of its time.
5. BEST: PUNISHER MAX
Garth Ennis revitalized the Punisher in his Marvel Knights and MAX comic book runs, replacing Frank’s black and white jumpsuit with a more grounded look and feel. The character started wearing street clothes with a simple skull graphic t-shirt that simplified the Punisher in a way you never thought necessary.
Without a real costume of his own, the Punisher started to look much more like a do-it-yourself vigilante, rather than the anti-hero his traditional suit always made him out to be. Since Ennis’ time with the character in the early-to-mid 2000s, many different comic books and adaptations have been built on this iconic image of Frank Castle. Some creative teams have even attempted to merge the black and white costume with the Tim Bradstreet look.
4. WORST: THE PUNISHER (1989 FILM)
The 1989 film that starred Dolph Lundgren can barely be called a Punisher film. It’s really just a revenge action movie that borrows far too heavily from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s look in The Terminator from just five years prior. Lundgren wears the leather jacket, he rides the motorcycle, and he uses only the biggest guns.
Dolph’s lifeless costume makes him indistinguishable from any other violent anti-hero from 1980s cinema. The complete lack of skull really makes no sense for the kind of movie this turned out to be. You would think the moviemakers would be all about a big, tacky-looking skull on his jacket somewhere. Maybe we were all better off without the skull, though, so we can collectively pretend that this movie had nothing to do with the comic book character.
3. BEST: NETFLIX
For some reason, Marvel has never been able to figure out a live action Punisher on the big screen. After three attempts in film, Netflix stepped in and was able to introduce the strongest take on Frank Castle in Daredevil Season 2. Now Jon Bernthal is set to return in his own Netflix series, and things are looking good.
The Punisher may not have worn his trademark skull until the very end of Season 2, but that decision worked better than past iterations thanks to the realistic depiction of his attire. Frank’s costume is the right amount of practicality mixed with theatrics that allows it to work. Now a new photo shows him sporting a giant skull across his chest, which could give every other Punisher costume a run for its money.
2. WORST: SWIMSUIT ISSUE PUNISHER
Between 1991 and 1995, Marvel Comics released an annual swimsuit issues called the Marvel Swimsuit Special. They were absolutely as ridiculous as they sound, but they were created in good fun in order to parody popular magazines, like Sports illustrated, which still releases a swimsuit issue. It was a feature that was popular for their depiction of female characters in revealing bathing suits. Male characters were also included in order to keep everything equal.
The 1993 edition has the distinction of releasing the single worst costume that Frank Castle has ever had to wear. In this issue, he sported a skull-themed thong that really only ended up being a giant skull attached to a black strap. Marvel could have definitely designed something a little more menacing, while still maintaining the ridiculousness of a Punisher-themed bathing suit.
1. BEST: METAL GEAR PUNISHER
In Greg Rucka’s run on The Punisher in 2011, Frank Castle loses one of his eyes and starts wearing a bandage over the wound. He also grows a beard, turning him into the spitting image of Solid Snake and Big Boss from the Metal Gear video game franchise. This battle-hardened version of the Punisher takes Rachel Cole as his protege, and they run two-man military ops.
He begins to wear sleek black military armor that only enhances his look as a gruff super spy. The one holdup is the skull, which seems to vary heavily from issue to issue. Artist Marco Checchetto alters it over the course of Frank’s exploits, sometimes making it look heavily smeared as a spray-painted skull might end up looking. It’s a departure from the traditional Punisher costume, but it looks great.
Frank has worn other costumes in his career. What others should have made the list?