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By Thomas Wheeler

With the acquisition of the Marvel Comics toy license, one of the first things Hasbro opted to do was to bring back the 9" cloth-costumed figures which Toy Biz had made popular during their "Famous Covers" line. One of these new figures is THE PUNISHER.

There are two interesting aspects about this figure right off, one of which can be applied to all of these figures. That is the fact that the body molds which Hasbro is using for these figures are the same body molds which they used on their 9", cloth-costumed, DC Super-Heroes line in the late 1990's when they had that particular license. The DC license has of course since passed to Mattel. I believe, however, that this is the first time since the days of Mego back in the 1970's that a major group of action figures from both DC and Marvel have used the same body molds, even if the individual lines are separated by a number of years.

In the specific case of the Punisher, there's a certain irony in that reliable reports have The Punisher as being part of what would've been, along with Dr. Strange, the next assortment of Famous Covers figures, had Toy Biz not pulled the plug on the Famous Covers line when they did. It took several years and a license turnover to a whole different company, but we finally got a 9" cloth-costumed Punisher figure!

These new 9" figures are being marketed under the "Spider-Man Origins" banner, which at the moment seems to be something of a catch-all term. As of this writing, Hasbro's Marvel-based product seems to be leaning very heavily on Spidey. There's a 5-6" scale line of all- plastic action figures, a Titanium line of small-scale statues, and this 9" cloth-costumed line. The only other Marvel based lines presently available are Marvel Legends, and a line based on the forthcoming Ghost Rider movie.

Of the figures existing in the 9" line at the moment, most of them do have some connection to Spider-Man. Only two of them -- Captain America and Wolverine -- seem to be stretching that point a bit. I'll be interested to see who else turns up in this line as it progresses, which I sincerely hope it does.

As to the Punisher himself. He started out as a B-level character who would turn up in the Spider-Man title every so often. He also cropped up in Daredevil once in a great while. Eventually, the Punisher garnered his own fairly long-running title, which even developed a secondary title, called Punisher: War Journal.

In his first appearance, in Amazing Spider-Man # 129, a reprint of which is included with the figure, the cover blurb describes the Punisher as a "hired assassin". It's difficult to imagine the Punisher fitting this description these days, as his origin has gradually come to light.

The Punisher's real name is Frank Castle. He was a soldier, and a good one, and was living a pleasant life with his wife and children, when on one tragic afternoon, he took his family on an outing to a park, and they made the horrible mistake of stumbling into a gangland killing. Wanting no survivors, the hoods gunned down the family. But Frank Castle survived.

Calling upon his military training, he started a one-man quest to destroy his family's killers, which quickly escalated into a one-man war on all criminals, everywhere. An urban anti-hero as much as anything, he doesn't really regard himself as any sort of super-hero, and indeed is not only not particularly welcome among other super-heroes, but they view him as being as great a threat as some of the villains they face. Spider-Man and Daredevil particularly don't have much regard for the man, and a recent attempt on the Punisher's part to team up with Captain America's side in the CIVIL WAR storyline ended extremely badly when Castle casually gunned down two villains that were trying to join the group. Captain America had him forcibly ejected.

Over his lengthy history, he's had run-ins with everyone from Deadpool to Wolverine, and even had two adventures with Batman in a couple of DC- Marvel crossovers, and came within a fraction of a second of killing the Joker.

The Punisher was also one-half of what has got to be the single most bizarre cross-company team-up in comics history. At one point, a number of years ago, the comics world was presented with -- Archie meets the Punisher. No, I'm not kidding. The Punisher traveled to teenage icon Archie's hometown of Riverdale in pursuit of a criminal that happened to bear a considerable resemblance to Archie himself. That this insane idea even managed to work on any level was a testament to the capabilities of the creators.

At one point, believed to be dead, he was actually restored to life by a group of rather vindictive beings claiming to be angels. This particular chapter in the Punisher's life didn't last all that long. What followed were perhaps his best-known modern adventures, chronicled by writer Garth Ennis, in which the Punisher was essentially the straight man in a title that was known for a weird combination of astounding violence and a truly bizarre sense of humor. Some of the aspects of this particular run provided fodder for the recent live-action Punisher movie, not the least of which was a large foreign assassin known only as "The Russian", portrayed in the movie by large professional wrestler Kevin Nash.

These days, the Punisher's adventures continue, in two titles. "Punisher War Journal" is part of the standard Marvel line-up, while "The Punisher", still scripted by Ennis, is under the "Marvel Max" banner and carries a "Mature Readers" rating.

As to the figure -- this is clearly the classic, original Punisher. Over the years, Punisher's modus operandi has tended to lend itself less and less to a traditional super-type costume. He still has the shirt with the white skull on it, but he tends to wear combat trousers and boots more than anything. But in the early days, Punisher's costume consisted of all-black tights, with a white skull emblazoned on the front. A utility and ammunition belt helped to form the "teeth" of the skull, and white gloves and boots completed the costume. This is the basis for the Punisher figure.

Hasbro has done a good job with this figure. Granted, the fact that they still had the body molds around from the late 90's was no doubt a big help in deciding to bring out this line of figures. The existence of the body molds effectively eliminated one of the largest production costs, except for new heads and changing the copyright reference and date on the bottom of the boots, of course, so this entire line was probably something of a "no-brainer", even though no figures of this type have been made for some years.

Articulation is excellent. About the only downside is that the arms won't come completely down to the side, but I've seen worse. And the figure is poseable at the head, arms, swivel arm, elbows, wrists, finger groups, mid-torso, waist, legs, knees, and ankles. Can't argue with any of that, really. And most of the articulation points are nice and tight, and none are what I would consider excessively loose. Granted, most of them can't be seen, since the uniform covers most of them.

The uniform has three distinct segments all sewn together into one -- shirt and two legs. As was the case with the DC heroes Hasbro made years ago, but as was NOT the case with Toy Biz's Famous Covers, the uniform is definitely not removable. It's sewn up in the back, and is held in place at the gloves and boots by the plastic glove and boot "cuffs". The collar is hemmed, which I was pleased to see, and I'll explain why.

While I'm not all that fond of this "sewn into the costume" aspect, the one thing that worries me a little about future figures in this line is capes. Although none of the existing figures have capes, when Hasbro made DC figures, they had a nasty habit of NOT hemming the capes. Given the stretchy, fairly lightweight material these figures used, this made the capes susceptible to fraying. One thing Toy Biz did very well in their Famous Covers line, especially in later entries such as Magneto and The Vision, was to provide them with abundantly large and impressive capes -- which were properly hemmed. We'll see what happens if any capes turn up from the new Hasbro line.

The Punisher's costume is completed with a white skull imprinted on the front, and a white utility belt in an appropriate design.

The Punisher's headsculpt is interesting. It's clearly a more modern take on the Punisher than his costume is. Early artwork on the Punisher gave him an almost vulpine hairstyle up front, and strange, upswept eyebrows. The modern Punisher has looked less severe. His face is almost bland, and indeed, the headsculpt for the Punisher has a very conventional (but appropriate) hairstyle, and normal eyebrows.

It's worth mentioning, in comparison, that the Punisher's head is made from a far more rigid plastic than his DC-based predecessors. It's also of a good size. While the earliest DC figures such as Green Lantern and Aquaman didn't have any problem, some of the later ones, such as an otherwise excellent Superman figure, had these HUGE craniums, possibly a result of being molded from a plastic that was expected to shrink a bit more than it actually did. If Hasbro is using a more rigid plastic with their Marvel figures, and it keeps the heads to a better size, I'm all for it. The paintwork on the Punisher's head is excellent.

However, if you want large, there's Punisher's weapon. The Punisher doesn't use high-tech equipment to any great degree. He uses conventional military hardware. So no great surprise, he comes with a very military-looking rifle as an accessory. But it's huge, almost too big. Don't get me wrong. Let's face it, the super-hero world is a pretty exaggerated one to begin with. It's entirely conceivable that Punisher would intentionally carry some oversized-looking hardware just for the intimidation factor. But given that this weapon was assigned to a 9" action figure manufactured by Hasbro, the inevitable question has to be asked -- did this thing once belong to a 12" G.I. Joe?

I'm no weapons or accessories expert. But I made a posting to a G.I. Joe message board, that also talks about other toys. They were aware of the Punisher figure, and the general consensus was "yes". I also placed the Punisher's rifle in front of a 12" G.I. Joe figure, and it didn't look the least bit inappropriate. Maybe a little short in the barrel, but the rest of the weapon did seem better scaled to 12" than 9". Obviously, I have no direct proof. Nor can I say that this rifle was once an accessory to a specific 12" G.I. Joe. And it doesn't look bad with the Punisher, really. Someone like the Punisher -- he's going to want BIG hardware. But if I had to put a percentage on it -- it'd lean pretty heavily that this rifle was once part of the G.I. Joe line somewhere.

The Punisher figure, as stated earlier, comes with a reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #129, his first appearance. I do wish they'd altered the cover a bit, though. It's downright demoralizing to remember that comic books used to cost all of 20 cents apiece...

One odd note. I'm not sure what assortment Punisher is supposed to be part of. The first assortment of these figures featured Spider-Man, Black Costume Spider-Man, Doc Ock, and Green Goblin. The second assortment featured Wolverine, Captain America, Daredevil, and Iron Spider-Man. Punisher is not mentioned on any of those packages, and no other figures are mentioned on his. And those first two assortments came out in pretty quick succession. I doubt Punisher is part of a third, but I'm not sure he's a store exclusive, either. I found him at Target, and so far, no one has reported seeing him anywhere else. Although it seems an odd character choice for an exclusive, to say nothing of the added expense of a distinct headsculpt, belt, weaponry, and packaging. This is no mere repaint like a lot of exclusives tend to be.

Whatever the case, he's an impressive figure. In a way, I feel like I'm catching up a bit with the Famous Covers line. And even on his own, if you're a Punisher fan, you'll certainly want him. It's a very good rendition of this popular character. The 9" PUNISHER figure definitely has my recommendation!