Frank Castle may llive in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but his series The Punisher on Netflix is almost totally devoid of the usual references and nods to the interconnected continuity. Though there are a few a few clear ties to the MCU — most of which are collected below — the newest series in the Marvel/Netflix library is one of the most refreshingly unburdened Marvel shows in recent memory.
Taking place after Daredevil Season 2, and prrobably after The Defenders, Jon Bernthal reprises his role as Frank Castle in The Punisher. A former U.S. Marine who participated in off-the-books, black budget operations, Castle becomes a gun-toting, skull-branded vigilante when his family is murdered in a conspiracy that goes up all the way to the institutions Frank swore allegiance to. Originally introduced as a Spider-Man villain in 1972, the Punisher is now one of Marvel’sl’s most popular characters.
While any comic book-inspired show or movie will inevitably contain nods to the comics or some established continuity, The Punisher is unique in that there’s no obvious effort to make these obvious. There are no “flag waver” one-liners or a news report talking about Sokovia and Wakanda in The Punisher. You have to be the most eagle-eyed viewer to catch a glimmer of anything, and even so, they’re inconsequential to Castle’s story. Finally, a Marvel show that treats Easter eggs as what they should be: subtle nods that don’t require too much pre-existing knowledge.
There aren’t many overt references to the MCU, but The Punisher does contain a fair number of subtle shout-outs to the character’s comic history, as well as several little moments that might not strictly qualify as Easter eggs, but they are interesting allusions. Here’s what Inverse found:
“Welcome back, Frank.”
When Micro (Ebon Moss-Bacharach) calls up Frank in the The Punisher, he utters the sentence, “Welcome back, Frank.” Welcome Back, Frank was Garth Ennis’s 12-issue Puisher series from 2000 that resurrected the character from limbo after the character’s popularity had waned in the ‘90s, when Spider-Man and the X-Men were the hottest heroes on Marvel’s block. Welcome Back, Frank also had Frank up against the Gnucci family, who appear in the first episode.
Frank’s alias in The Punisher is Pete Castiglione. It’s kind of a poor cover, since “Castiglione” is an Italian riff on “Castle” (but not a direct translation). In The Punisher: Circle of Blood #1 in 1985 and The Punisher: War Journal in 1990, “Castiglione” was revealed as the pre-Ellis Island surname for the Castle family. In one storyline, Frank actually returns to his roots in Sicily when Frank gets heat for killing the son of Senator Ori, who happens to appear in The Punisher as the anti-gun politician who is targeted midway through the season.
“Chaos Under the Streets!”
In the Marvel/Netflix universe, the offices of The New York Bulletin are usually loaded with Easter eggs to the MCU. But in The Punisher, Karen Page’s office is pretty empty, except for one thing: A newspaper under the arm of her editor, with the headline “CHAOS UNDER THE STREETS.”
It’s difficult to tell exactly what the story is about, but perhaps it’s a reference to the Hand’s underground activity that served as the climax in The Defenders. This is, presumably, the only evidence that proves The Punisher takes place after The Defenders.
The Dogs of Hell
The MCU’s favorite biker gang appears again in The Punisher, in the first episode prologue with Frank Castle mowing down every single person that had a remote hand in the murder of his family. The Dogs of Hell were predominantly introduced in Daredevil Season 2, and even had a few appearances in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In The Punisher, Frank Castle kills a few Dogs deep in the rural south. There is no hiding from the Punisher.
s his reading choice in The Punisher underlines his restless quest fror revenge. In the first episode, Frank reads Moby-Dick, the 1851 Herman Melville novel about a Captain Ahab, a whale hunter who sacrifices so much to kill the white whale that destroyed his life. In a sense, the Punisher is Marvel’s Ahab. In The Punisher, Frank tells his friend Curtis, who runs a veterans’ support group and lent him Moby-Dick, that he really liked the book.
Billy Russo also displays a penchant for reading, picking The Picture of Dorian Gray in which an aristocrat sells his soul to retain his good looks — and dearly pays for it in the end. In the season finale, Billy’s face gets so mangled and scarred, to the point his destiny to become the villain Jigsaw is sealed.
When Frank tortures Micro, he makes a reference to the 1976 movie Marathon Man, a thriller in which Laurence Olivier plays a Nazi war criminal who tortures a grad student played by Dustin Hoffman.
Sympathy for the Devil
In one of the few encounters between Curtis and Billy Russo, Curtis calls Billy “a man of wealth and taste.” That line comes from the Rolling Stones song “Sympathy for the Devil.” That’s about as obvious as it gets.
Rumble in the Jungle
In 1974, the same year the Punisher made his debut in The Amazing Spider-Man, Muhammad Ali traded blows with George Foreman in a highly publicized boxing match that took place in South Africa. In the Netflix series, we see the same match on a a TVelonging to belonging to Lewis, a troubled veteran who later becomes a domestic terrorist, and his father, who is trying to save his son.
When news that news that Frank Castle is alive breaks in the The Punisher, it’s reported by WHiH, a cable news outlet of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a significant presence on YouTube.
Front Toward Enemy
Way back when the episode titles were revealed via morse code, one of the episodes turned out to be “Front Toward Enemy,” which is imprinted on landmines and appeared in predominant focus when Lewis ties Curtis to a bomb. The “Front Toward Enemy” on a landmine was also on the cover of The Punisher MAX #53, published in 2004.
Marvel’s The Punisher is streaming now on Netflix.