Marvel Almost Changed Punisher Using a Tragic Relationship with an Assassin

Frank Castle, a.k.a the Punisher, is known for eradicating crime with extreme prejudice. A history of bullet-riddled violence has earned Castle one of the most infamous and feared reputations in the world. The Punisher lives by a code of zero tolerance for criminals which is why it’s so interesting that he once broke it in the most extreme way possible: by becoming intimately involved with a lethal assassin.

1985’s Marvel Graphic Novel #40 - The Punisher: Assassin’s Guild (by Jo Duffy, Jorge Zaffino, and Julie Michel) sets up a classic tale of the vigilante anti-hero. A shady organization is luring troubled teenagers into its clutches and extorting them and their families out of vast amounts of money. A guild of Japanese assassins operating out of The Thousand Autumns, a restaurant in the Lower East Side, is leaving a trail of bodies as they search for the leader of the extortion racket.

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The Punisher learns about the assassin’s guild and begins to collect information on them as he conducts his own investigation. He adopts the fake name of James Maxwell and enters into a relationship with a young woman named Reiko. The Punisher believes his new persona fools Reiko until he confronts her after another member of her guild kills a man he was interrogating. Reiko reveals that she and the assassins guild have known who "Maxwell" really was the entire time and even know the most sensitive and confidential information about him.

In a rare turn of events the Punisher chooses not to kill Reiko but instead partners up with her as they work together to eliminate Richard Fletcher, the man at the top of the extortion racket. The story concludes with a vicious assault on Fletcher’s base of operations. Reiko’s younger brother sacrifices himself to allow Castle to complete his mission, and with the villain dead, the Punisher and Reiko go their separate ways, with Frank choosing to ignore the existence of the assassins guild.

Typically stoic and reserved, the Punisher chooses very few people to work with. The death of his family left irreparable wounds on his mind and soul that motivate him to continue culling the criminal underworld. As a highly decorated military veteran, Castle knows that intelligence gathering is as important as martial arts and gunplay. Opting for subterfuge to gather the information that he needs is not uncommon for The Punisher, but seeing him consort with someone he deems an enemy is very rare.

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An intriguing question that arises from Castle's involvement with Reiko is what would have happened had he decided to stay with her. It would not have been an easy arrangement, but his choosing to spare her and her guild signifies that she earned his respect. The adventures of two professional killers is nothing new, but the dynamics that would come from the haunting memories of Frank's family and the possible guilt he would have felt in allowing himself to open up to another woman could have been engaging ground to cover.

Reiko has never been seen again, and the Punisher has remained single ever since. Still, Frank's involvement with Reiko displayed a more realistic and personal side of him than ever before. Whether or not his career as a hardened vigilante would have prospered had he stayed with Reiko remains a question that may never be answered, but there still remains the possibility that Reiko may cross paths with Frank Castle again at some point in the future.

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About The Author
Devon Foster (160 Articles Published)

Devon Foster is a comic feature writer for CBR and also a full-time nerd. An avid fan of comics and video games ever since he could remember, Devon has earned a Bachelor's in English with a specialization in children's literature from Rowan University. His favorite comics are Jim Starlin's Warlock, Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, and Chris Claremont's entire run on X-Men. His favorite games are Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Secret of Mana, and Illusion of Gaia. Follow him on Twitter at @DungeonHeroX and say hi!

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