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Punisher Reading Order

Created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr., and Ross Andru, The Punisher is a Marvel anti-hero who made his first appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man #129 in February 1974. At the time, he was just a bloodthirsty vigilante hired to make Spider-Man’s life miserable. Punisher distinguished himself from the other characters by having no objection to killing people, something that superheroes don’t do. And he was determined to kill Spidey, wanted for the apparent murder of Norman Osborn.

But the Punisher is no ordinary killer. Also known as Francis ‘Frank’ Castle, this Italian-American vigilante and war veteran is, like many Marvel characters, driven by tragedy, and in his particular case, by the deaths of his wife and two children, murdered by the mob for witnessing a killing in Central Park. Frank is driven by more than vengeance, as the man follows a moral code: in his view, he kills only those who deserve to die.

Originally destined to be a second-tier character, The Punisher was a hit among readers and went on to have regular appearances in Spider-Man and a famous arc on Daredevil before headlining his own miniseries, and his multiple ongoing series since then. Easily recognizable by the skull motif on his chest (a motif that has recently changed), the character was at the height of his popularity by the late 1980s-beginning of the 1990s with four monthly publications. The Punisher became a very mainstream character, also known today for several adaptations. The character has been portrayed by Dolph Lundgren in 1989, Thomas Jane in 2004, Ray Stevenson in 2008, nand more recently Jon Bernthal in the second season of Daredevil (2016) and his own spin-off (2017-2019).

Where to start reading The Punisher comics?

If you are unfamiliar with The Punisher or would like to come back to the basics before diving into more stories, you can check out the following comic books:

  • Punisher: Year One – This origin tale by Dan Abnett and Dale Eaglesham covers the days and weeks following the murder of his family.
  • Punisher Vol. 1: Welcome Back, Frank – Garth Ennis’s run on The Punisher under the Marvel Knight imprint began with this limited series, illustrated by Steve Dillon, that show us how Frank operates among the superheroes.
  • Punisher: Circle of Blood – For those who would like some classic Punisher from the ’80s, Circle of Blood was the first miniseries about Frank Castle. Written by Steven Grant, and illustrated by Mike Zeck and Mike Vosburg, this story about Castle being break out of prison to join a group of vigilantes did a lot of things Marvel never did before, establishing the violent world of the Punisher.
  • Punisher: Born – This four-issue comic book limited series written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by Darick Robertson is not officially part of the main continuity as the story was released through Marvel’s MAX imprint. Despite that, it seems those events can be regarded as canon to the main Marvel Universe. In all cases, this acclaimed tale gives us another origin story for the character, following Frank Castle during four days of his life as the war draws to an end but will change him forever. See also Punisher: The Platoon by the same team taking place before Born and about Frank’s first tour in Vietnam.

Punisher Reading Order

I. Early Punisher

Before starring in his own series, The Punisher makes several appearances, mostly in Spider-Man. Except for some minor appearances, you can find all of the early Frank Castle appearances collected below:

  • Punisher: Back To The War Omnibus
    Collects Amazing Spider-Man #129, 134–135, 161–162, 174–175, 201–202, Annual #15; Giant-Size Spider-Man #4; A story from Marvel Preview #2; A story from Marvel Super Action #1; Captain America #241; Daredevil #182–184; Spectacular Spider-Man #81–83; Punisher (vol. 1) #1–5

Also collected in the Black-and-White Essential line:

  • Essential Punisher, Vol. 1 
    collects Amazing Spider-Man #129, 134–135, 161–162, 174–175, 201–202, Annual #15; Giant-Size Spider-Man #4; Marvel Preview Presents #2; Marvel Super Action #1; Captain America #241; Daredevil #182–184; Spectacular Spider-Man #81–83; Punisher (vol. 1) #1–5. The Essentials line has been discontinued, there should be an Epic Collection volume at this place in the future.

II. The Punisher, First Ongoing Series

Not one, not two, but three series! Following the success of his first mini-series, Marvel decided to double down on Frank Castle and gave him his first ongoing series. It paid off and the character was so popular that the publisher released several spin-offs and mini-series.

The Punisher Vol. 1 (1987-1995)

The Punisher Vol. 1 was the flagship series starring Frank Castle and ran 104 issues from July 1987 to July 1995. The first 44 issues, as well as issues #46-48, 50-63, 76, and the first four Annuals were written by Mike Baron. He was succeeded by Chuck Dixon (#45, #49, #63, #89-104), Dan Abnett (#64-75, #82-84, #94-95), Roger Salick (#75, #77-79, Annual #1-3), and Steven Grant (#80-81, #85-88).

The Punisher War Journal (1988-1995)

Following the success of The Punisher Vol. 1, Marvel launched its first spin-off, The Punisher War Journal. The series ran 80 issues from November 1988 to July 1995. It was written by Carl Potts (#1-15, #17-24), Mike Baron (#16, #25-37), Steven Grant (#50, #65-75), Chuck Dixon (#38-42, #44-64, #75-80), Richard Rainey (#43), Roger Salick (#64), John Wellington (#4), with various artists. The series consists of several story arcs mostly confined within the series itself, a few of them as a larger part of Marvel (like “Acts of Vengeance” and “Dead Man’s Hand”), and of course, the crossovers between all the Punisher series.

The Punisher War Zone

A few years after War Journal, Marvel launched a new spin-off named The Punisher War Zone. We were then at the peak of the character’s popularity and exploitation by Marvel. The series ran for 41 issues, from March 1992 to July 1995. It was written by Chuck Dixon (#1-11, #25-37, #41, Annual #1-2), Steven Grant (#38-40, Annual #1-2), with artists  John Romita Jr., John Buscema, and Joe Kubert.

The three titles concluded in the crossover story arc “Countdown”, which is not collected at this time.

III. Punisher in the mid-90s

Months after having canceled the Punisher titles, Marvel brought back Frank Castle, this time without the “The” before “Punisher for a new ongoing series written by John Ostrander (creator of the modern Suicide Squad). The title ran for 18 issues, with Castle being recruited by the Mafia for a time, before everything goes wrong, and then working for S.H.I.E.L.D. to protect a pastor.

  • Punisher Vol. 3 #1–18 (not collected yet).

Eighteen months after the end of Ostrander’s run, The Punisher was back with what is mostly known among fans as the worst period in the character’s history. The fourth Punisher volume (also known as The Punisher: Purgatory) is a four-issue comic book limited series written by Christopher Golden and Thomas E. Sniegoski, and illustrated by Bernie Wrightson. The story deals with more supernatural elements, mostly by trying to revamp the Punisher mythos and giving him some powers.

IV. Punisher by Garth Ennis (2000-2004, 2008)

After the worst of the Punisher came the best of the Punisher, thanks to writer Garth Ennis. He stripped him of all the superficial artifices and made way for a violent, brutal, down-to-earth Punisher. As Ennis’ time on the character is also the most celebrated, we have a dedicated Garth Ennis Punisher Reading Order for more details (and more collected editions).

After having reinvigorated the character on the mainstream continuity, Garth Ennis continued his run on The Punisher by using the freedom of the MAX imprint to write more vivid and edgy tales in Punisher MAX (also known as Punisher Vol. 7). Go at the end of this reading order to see the Punisher Max reading order.

V. Punisher Vs. (2004-2006)

At the same time as Punisher Max, Frank Castle 616’s story continued in mini-series and one-shots, written by Peter Milligan, David Lapham, Daniel Way, and more.

VI. Punisher War Journal Vol. 2 by Matt Fraction (2007-2009)

Matt Fraction took the helm of a new Punisher series at the same time the first Civil War was happening in the Marvel Universe. The series opened with a story arc tied to the event, exploring Castle’s relationship with Captain America. It runs for 26 issues (and one annual), from January 2007 to January 2009.

The first part of this run has been collected in Complete Collection:

This is where the miniseries Punisher War Zone from Garth Ennis takes place, collected in Marvel Knights Punisher by Garth Ennis: The Complete Collection Vol. 3 (see above)

Which are better, claws or guns? Marvel let you the opportunity to discover the answer to that question with a collected edition of the Wolverine/Punisher fights and team-ups, going back to their first encounter in the heart of Africa in 1988 to their astonishing tales in 2009.

  • Wolverine vs. Punisher
    Collects Punisher War Journal (1988) #6-7, Wolverine/Punisher: Damaging Evidence #1-3, Punisher War Zone (1992) 19, Wolverine/Punisher: Revelation 1-4, Punisher (2001) 16-17, Wolverine (1988) 186, Wolverine/Punisher (2004) #1-5, Astonishing Tales: Wolverine/Punisher #1-6.

VII. Punisher Vol. 8 by Rick Remender (2009-2011)

Spinning out from the events of the second Punisher War Journal series, this new Punisher series (retitled Franken-Castle from issue #17) continues to explore Frank Castle’s place in the Marvel Universe as this run written by Rick Remender is continually tied to ongoing events happening in the superhero world, during the Dark Reign era where Norman Osborn was in power (see our reading order). The series runs for 21 issues (and one annual). Remender concluded his run on the title with the miniseries Punisher: In the Blood.

  • Punisher by Rick Remender Omnibus
    Collects Dark Reign: The List – Punisher #1, Dark Wolverine #88-89, Punisher/Franken-Castle #1-21, Punisher (2009) Annual #01, Punisher: In The Blood #1-5 

Punisher Vol. 8 on trade paperbacks:

VIII. Punisher Vol. 9 by Greg Rucka (2011-2012)

The Punisher was present during the Shadowland event, and the character stayed in New York City once writer Greg Rucka and artist Marco Checchetto took over in a run focusing on the impact of the Punisher’s actions on the people around him, before being swept into a chase across Manhattan for a mysterious treasure with Spider-Man and Daredevil. Greg Rucka’s run on the title lasted 16 issues, and like Remender, he closed out his run with a mini-series.

IX. Punisher Marvel Now! (2012-2015)

With the launch of Marvel Now, Punisher came back as a member of the new Thunderbolts, by Daniel Way and Steve Dillon for the first eleven issues (Charles Soule took the helm of the series with #12). Red Hulk assembles his incarnation of the Thunderbolts to be a strike team that is close to “Code Red.” He has gathered, with Punisher, Deadpool, Elektra, and Venom because “their conditions cannot be cured.”

Who shot the Watcher? This is the question at the center of the Original Sin event and the investigation led by Nick Fury. The Punisher appears in all the main issues for the event.

  • Original Sin
    Collects Point One #1 (Watcher story); Original Sin #0-8, Annual 1; Original Sins #1-5, Original Sin: Secret Avengers Infinite Comic #1-2.

X. The Punisher Vol. 10 by Nathan Edmondson (2014-2015)

Writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Mitch Gerads took over creative duties for this new Punisher series that lasted 20 issues and saw Frank Castle leave New York City for Los Angeles.

XI. The Punisher vol. 11 by Becky Cloonan and Matthew Rosenberg (2016-2017)

After Marvel Now came All-New, All-Different, Marvel NOW! 2.0 and Marvel Legacy– the three branding/relaunch were happening concurrently. This is a new world as the Earth has been restored after the events of Secret Wars (see reading order).

All-New, All-Different Marvel

During that period, The Punisher was written first by Becky Cloonan with long-time artist Steve Dillon (who tragically died while working on the series), then with Matt Horak and Kris Anka. Frank Castle is back in New York City to continue his war against criminal organizations and enterprises. The Marvel Universe was also in the middle of a second Civil War (see reading order), during which Castle goes to eliminate Fisk and his criminal empire in Civil War II: Kingpin.

During this time, Marvel also released several team-up miniseries with Frank Castle:

Captain America, a Hydra agent?! That twist launched the Secret Empire event (see reading order) where the terrorist organization became the main world power. The Punisher plays a part in this story as an ally of Hydra Supreme Steve Rogers.

  • Secret Empire
    Collects Secret Empire #0-9, Free Comic Book Day 2017 Defenders #1

Punisher Marvel Legacy

The Legacy initiative was to bring a greater focus to Marvel’s core superheroes after Secret Empire. And also the series resumed legacy numbering. Writer Matthew Rosenberg took over the title at the time, with the numbering changing with issue #18 /128 for a storyline where Frank Castle deals with the fallout of Secret Empire and gets his hands on the War Machine suit.

XII. The Punisher Vol. 12 with still Matthew Rosenberg  (2018-2019)

The old numbering was short-lived as Marvel was yet again relaunching a few months later with Marvel Fresh Start. Matthew Rosenberg stayed on The Punisher, launching a storyline where Frank Castle hunts down Baron Zemo.

Frank Castle: Avenger of Midgard! The War of the Realms (see reading order) has brought monsters and mayhem to the streets of New York City, but New York has a homegrown nightmare all its own – the Punisher! And he’ll be damned to Hel if he’s going to let a bunch of Ten Realms tin-pot tyrants terrorize his town during this Thor event. And after the war, Punisher’s crew has some scores to settle in a miniseries.

  • War Of The Realms: The Punisher
    Collects War of the Realms: The Punisher #1-3, War Scrolls #3 and material from War of the Realms: Omega. Written by Gerry Duggan.
  • Punisher Kill Krew
    Collects Punisher Kill Krew (2019) #1-5, material from War of the Realms: Omega (2019) #1. Written by Gerry Duggan.

XIII. Punisher Vol. 13 by Jason Aaron

A few years after the conclusion of his last series, The Punisher returns with Jason Aaron as the writer and Paul Azaceta as the illustrator. Frank Castle works orf the Hand, and serves the Beast, a role he’s been fated to fulfill. Tragedy, war, and rage come together as he takes up his sword and his new armor with the most notorious clan of assassins in the Marvel Universe.

The Punisher’s war has evolved — and it’s time for a new volume of his war journal! This time, it’s written by Torunn Grønbekk.

  • Punisher War Journal
    Collects Punisher War Journal: Blitz, Punisher War Journal: Brother And Punisher War Journal: Base.

XIV. Punisher MAX

As said above, after his work on the character in the mainstream continuity, Garth Ennis continued to write Frank Castle by using the freedom of the MAX imprint to craft more brutal stories in Punisher MAX, also known as Punisher Vol. 7. Since the end of his run in October 2009, Ennis came back for more and wrote two more stories.

Garth Ennis left the title after issue #60. The last issues were written by Gregg Hurwitz (#61–65), Duane Swierczynski (#66–70), and Victor Gischler (#71–75).

  • The Punisher MAX: Complete Collection Vol. 5
    Collects Punisher MAX Annual #1, The Punisher: Force of Nature #1, Punisher MAX Special: Little Black Book #1, The Punisher #61–65, Frank Castle: The Punisher MAX #66–75.

All the Punisher Max one-shots and the anthology series Untold Tales of Punisher MAX (published in reality after Aaron’s run) were all collected together.

  • The Punisher MAX: The Complete Collection Vol. 6
    Untold Tales of Punisher MAX #1–5; Punisher MAX X-Mas Special #1; Punisher MAX: Naked Kill; Punisher MAX: Get Castle; Punisher MAX: Butterfly #1; Punisher MAX: Happy Ending #1; Punisher MAX: Hot Rods of Death #1; Punisher MAX: Tiny Ugly World #1

Between 2010 and 2021, Jason Aaron wrote the second ongoing series of Punisher under the MAX imprint, who took its distance from Ennis’ work and put Frank Castle against MAX versions of popular Marvel supervillains such as The Kingpin, Bullseye, and Elektra. 

Last Updated on December 1, 2023.