Thanks to his memorable appearance in Daredevil Season 2, Jon Bernthal’s Punisher now has a Netflix series of his own and even though it’s connected to previous entries in the Netflix Marvelverse, The Punisher is arguably the most “standalone” series in the franchise to date. The show revolves around Frank Castle’s continued quest to find (and punish) those responsible for the murder of his wife and children, but also explores some pretty heavy themes and storylines having to do with military corruption, PTSD, America’s gun debate and of course, the morality of a man taking the law into his own hands and killing criminals.
Depending on who you ask, The Punisher is either the best Netflix Marvel show yet or a boring, overly violent slog. We’re not here to pass judgment on the show but rather to point out many of the cool Easter eggs scattered across its 13 episodes. If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve already watched The Punisher and if so, here are the best hidden details you may have missed.
Note: Full SPOILERS for The Punisher Season 1 are discussed in this post.
23. The Battle Van
The Punisher’s iconic vehicle has been a staple since making its debut in 1975, but many fans had given up hope of actually seeing the Battle Van after it being missing in action in Daredevil Season 2. Fortunately, The Punisher series changes this by featuring it right out of the gate in the first episode, as we see Frank run down members of the Dogs of War gang with it. The only downside is that the TV version of the Battle Van is pretty lame compared to the one that appears in the comics, as it lacks a lot of the weapons and tech upgrades that made it resemble a Batmobile from hell (but you know, without the millions of dollars worth of advanced weaponry and computer systems).
22. Pete Castiglione
In the first episode of the series, “3 AM,” which picks up a few months after the events of Daredevil Season 2, we find Frank hiding out under the alias Pete Castiglione and has taken on a construction job (which affords him the ability to channel his rage by hitting concrete walls with a sledgehammer all day). As it turns out, Frank is pretty bad at picking incognito names, as Castiglione is the Castle family’s pre-Americanized surname. And no, this isn’t just because Castle looks like it could be a shortened version of Castiglione; it’s actually canon, revealed in The Punisher: Circle of Blood #1 (1985).
Still, this doesn’t stop Frank from using the alias again at the conclusion of the season, even though Pete Castiglione is probably wanted for the murders of those construction workers he killed in the first episode. For
Frank Pete’s sake, we hope Donny kept his mouth shut!
21. Taxi Driver Connection
Lewis Wilson (Daniel Webber) is a character created for the show and one who draws on several pop cultural figures for inspiration. The biggest one is Travis Bickle, the character played by Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976). Like Travis, Lewis is a war veteran having a hard time readjusting to civilian life and like Travis, Lews also drives a taxi and goes on a violent rampage in a misguided attempt to change society.
One could also point to Tom Waits’ song Hell Broke Luce as a touchstone for Lewis. The song — which plays during Frank’s attack on Lance and the other construction workers, after he finds them trying to throw Donny in a cement mixer — was written about Jeffrey Lucey, an Iraq War vet who suffered from severe PTSD and hallucinations. Lucey eventually killed himself, something that Lewis tries to do at one point before deciding to lead his one-man war on society instead.
20. The Gnuccis
In the first episode (sidenote: there sure are a lot of Easter eggs in “3 AM” aren’t there?) we see Frank’s idiot construction co-workers knock over a poker game being run by the Gnucci family. It’s implied that the Gnuccis are a pretty big deal in New York’s criminal underworld but what you may not have realized is that they have a strong presence in The Punisher comics. Ma Gnucci is head of the family and was a pretty big villain … right up until the point when her limbs were eaten by a polar bear after Frank lured her and her family into Central Park Zoo. Adding insult to injury, Ma didn’t die until Frank dropkicked her into her own home (which was on fire because of course it was).
Say, think we’ll see this storyline play out in Season 2?
19. The Dragon
Unlike Lewis Wilson, one of the show’s other army veteran characters, Curtis Hoyle, is based on a Marvel Comics character but with one important difference. Whereas in the series he’s one of Frank’s closest friends, in the comics Curtis is a villain called The Dragon. He made his debut in The Punisher Vol. 2, #1-2 as a private military contractor who recognizes Frank after the latter tries to infiltrate the criminals Curtis is working for. Curtis tries to lure Frank into a trap and has it backfire, so this definitely isn’t a friends-turned-enemies kind of thing. If The Punisher returns for a second season, it will be interesting to see if Curtis becomes The Dragon or maintains his status as Frank’s support group buddy.
18. Moby Dick
The fact that Curtis lends Frank a copy of Moby Dick to read is quite fitting, considering how much Herman Melville’s literary classic reflects the story of Frank Castle. Frank and Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab are both men driven by a fanatic devotion to their personal vendettas and are single-minded (and seem to enjoy) their quest for vengeance. Although Frank comes off as quite the tough customer, he is a well-read individual. We see this during the Kandahar flashback, as Billy’s teasing of Frank is actually a reference to Garth Ennis’ Punisher tale The Tyger, which focuses on Frank’s early days whilst attending a poetry class. In that same story, Frank also reads F. Scott Fitzgerald essays and an essay on feminism by Kim Toffoletti. In other words, Frank has a soft spot for the fine arts!
The Punisher’s hacker buddy David “Microchip” Lieberman was teased at the end of Daredevil Season 2 after Frank finds a hidden disc with the word “Micro” written on it but this actually isn’t the first instance of Micro being referenced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The first mention of Micro happens in the second season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. when Skye refers to a hacker buddy of hers: “One of my contacts, Micro, kind of a crime scene junkie…” — a full three years before his first appearance!
Lieberman made his debut in The Punisher #4 by Mike Baron and Klaus Janson, but the version we meet in the show is quite different from his comic counterpart. The on-screen Micro was reportedly heavily influenced by Edward Snowden; fitting since he’s an NSA agent in hiding because of leaking sensitive information.
16. Agent Orange
CIA covert operations director William Rawlins takes his codename Agent Orange from Marvel Comics but the two are actually different characters. In the comics, Agent Orange is a villainous SHIELD agent named Roger Goshaw who makes his first appearance in Captain America/Nick Fury: Blood Truce #1. Meanwhile, Rawlins makes his debut in Issue #14 of the Marvel Max Punisher series as a corrupt CIA agent seeking to destroy Frank Castle, even going so far as to get the mob involved.
In essence, Netflix took aspects of both characters to bring together the Rawlins/Agent Orange we meet in the series but one important characteristic that Rawlins shares with his comic counterpart (the actual Rawlins, not Agent Orange) is that he also has his eyes gouged out by Frank. Ugh, what a mess …
15. Full Metal Jacket Connection
You could compare The Punisher to many different war movies given its subject matter, but the series features a pretty big reference to one of the greatest films in the genre to feature an examination of PTSD, Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987). The Operation Cerberus flashbacks already feel reminiscent of the boot camp scenes from Kubrick’s film but also feature Billy Russo asking “So, does this mean Ann-Margret’s not coming?” at the end of a briefing. This is an allusion to clip from Full Metal Jacket’s second half, in which Joker (Matthew Modine) asks the same question in a mocking tone.
The Punisher features a pretty elaborate homage to the 1968 Steve McQueen classic Bullitt in episode 4, “Resupply.” Not only does the chase between Dinah Madani and Frank Castle feel reminiscent of the iconic chase scene in Bullitt, muscle cars and all, but Madani’s superior officer makes a clear allusion to the film when he refers to her as “going all Steve McQueen.” And to top it all off, Madani drives a ’68 Mustang, the same car as McQueen’s character did.
At first glance, the fact that Lewis’ dad is watching the 1974 fight between Muhammed Ali and George Foreman may not look like a callback to anything, but it actually has some connection to The Punisher’s history. As it turns out, this legendary fight happened in the same year as The Punisher’s first appearance, as Frank Castle made his debut in Amazing Spider-Man #129.
12. Karen’s Newspaper Clippings
Karen Page’s office has a few outdated Easter eggs in it, with newspaper clippings referencing the Hulk’s battle with Abomination in The Incredible Hulk and Loki’s attack on New York in The Avengers hanging on the walls. While it would be easy to poke fun at Karen for apparently being oblivious to all the other major events that have happened in the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the years, it’s more likely that she’s keeping them there as a tribute to the late Ben Urich, who wrote both stories before his investigation into Wilson Fisk’s criminal dealings led to his murder.
11. Senator Ori
Stan Ori is a senator with a strong anti-gun stance who becomes Lewis Wilson’s main target after participating in a radio interview with Karen Page. Ori is a character taken from the comics but he bears pretty much no resemblance to his on-screen counterpart. In The Punisher comics, Ori is a straight-up villain with strong mob affiliations and a personal vendetta against Frank Castle, who killed Ori’s dirty cop son.
In contrast, it would be difficult to classify Senator Ori as a villain in the show as his only real despicable act is cowardly pushing Karen into Lewis in order to save himself. However, there’s always the potential for him to return in a more villainous role in a later Punisher season.
10. Brett Mahoney
Outside of Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), The Punisher is relatively light on returning characters seen in previous series in the Netflix Marvelverse. However, one notable character who pops up again is NYPD officer Brett Mahoney (Royce Johnson) who made his debut in the first season of Daredevil and later returned for the show’s second season, as well as a cameo in Jessica Jones. Interestingly, Mahoney was the arresting officer who took The Punisher into custody after Daredevil handed him over, which makes his appearance as the investigating detective looking into Lewis Wilson’s attacks (and Frank Castle’s involvement) all the more fitting.
9. Turk Barrett
In addition to Karen Page and Brett Mahoney, another recurring character who turns up in The Punisher is Turk Barrett, who once again finds himself on the wrong end of a confrontation with a Marvel hero. Turk has already run afoul of Daredevil and Luke Cage previously and here he’s almost killed by The Punisher after the seeks him out. Following a tip from Micro, Frank pays Turk a visit in an effort to build up his weapons cache but all he gets out of the encounter is a pink rifle. Fortunately for Turk, Frank decides to spare his life and gives him a knock on the head instead, so presumably Turk will return in a future Netflix Marvel show.
8. Don’t Toy With The Punisher
The Punisher doesn’t just feature callbacks to the character’s comic appearances but pays homage to a toy in at least one instance as well. At one point, we see Frank dispatch a goon by leaving his body resting faceup on a pinball machine. Whether intentional or not, this pose bears a striking resemblance to the Diamond Select deluxe figure, which features The Punisher and an accompanying pinball machine figure, complete with a bad guy on top, head smashed through the glass.
7. WNEX Radio
Karen Page ends up appearing on a radio show for an anti-gun debate with Senator Ori as a response to Lewis Wilson’s New York bombing attacks. What you may not have realized is that the interview takes place at WNEX, the same radio station where Jessica Jones’ best friend Trish Walker hots her call-in show Trish Talk. This is fitting considering Trish and Karen previously teamed up in The Defenders, though we disappointingly don’t get to see the pair reunite in The Punisher.
6. Dorian Gray
In addition to Frank’s Moby Dick connection, The Punisher features another prominent literary allusion, albeit one that is much more on the nose. In the third episode, “Kandahar,” we see Billy Russo in his bunk reading Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. This is notable for a number of reasons. Firstly, the novel’s title character is one who has a duplicitous identity, a trait Billy shares given his many hidden secrets.
Dorian Gray and Billy Russo both also have an obsession with their physical appearances. Adding yet another wrinkle to the connection is the fact that Ben Barnes, who plays Billy, also starred as Dorian Gray in the 2009 adaptation of Wilde’s book.
5. The Punisher (2004) Callback
Marvel would probably like it if everyone forgot about the previous cinematic versions of The Punisher, but that doesn’t stop the Netflix series from featuring a subtle callback to the 2004 movie starring Thomas Jane. Late in the season, we’re reminded of Frank’s family being assassinated, prompting Billy Russo to rather callously ask Frank “What, did you expect broad daylight on a pier?” In the 2004 movie, this is exactly how Frank’s family is taken out. See for yourself:
4. “Purple Suits You”
After Frank’s near-death experience at the hands of William Rawlins, Dinah and Micro take him to Dinah’s father to be patched up. Following his (ridiculously quick) recovery, Frank leaves in a purple suit, prompting Micro to tease that the color suits him. This isn’t just a bit of ball-busting on Lieberman’s part but a callback to The Punisher’s very first appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man, in which he wore a purple suit on the cover rather than his traditional black.
3. The Defenders
Even though it takes place not long after, The Punisher contains surprisingly few references to The Defenders or any of the previous Netflix series for that matter. However, there is a pretty significant reference to the events of the ensemble show that you may have missed. When Geoffrey Cantor’s New York Bulletin editor Mitchell Ellison first walks into Karen Page’s office, he’s seen holding a newspaper with the headline “Terror Under The Streets.” This is a clear reference to the events that transpired during The Defenders, though what the actual story says about the battle that took place remains a mystery.
Many viewers were probably taken by surprise by the reveal of Billy Russo’s villainy mid-way through the season but comic fans likely saw his turn coming from a mile away. In the comics, Russo is known as a hitman called The Beaut — the show tosses out this nickname during the Kandahar flashback — who ended up being disfigured by Frank and given a new nickname to reflect his change in appearance, Jigsaw. We see Frank pull the same move on the show’s version of Billy Russo, sparing his life so that he’ll have to wake up to his disfigured face every day, setting the stage for the character’s return in a later season.
1. Stan Lee Cameo
Yes, there is a patented Stan Lee cameo appearance in The Punisher, though not in the way you might expect. Unlike in the Marvel movies, which tend to feature Lee in a live-action cameo, The Punisher handles things in a much more subtle way. While Lee himself doesn’t make an appearance, his face can be spotted on a poster hanging on a wall during the carousel scene. Keeping with tradition, the poster casts the legendary Marvel writer in a heroic light, presenting him as a poster boy for the NYPD.