Since the end of Secret Empire and the launch of the Marvel Legacy era, the Punisher, Frank Castle, has been wielding a powerful new weapon as the bearer of James Rhodes’ War Machine armor. Now that armor’s creator, Iron Man, wants it back.
SPOILERS for The Punisher #228 by Matthew Rosenberg, Guiu Vilanova, and Lee Loughridge follow.
James “Rhodey” Rhodes was War Machine. Then, in the opening salvo of Civil War II, Rhodes was killed by Thanos during the Mad Titan’s attack on Project Pegasus. SHIELD confiscated the War Machine armor for safekeeping.
But then the Red Skull used the power of a living cosmic cube to rewrite Steve Rogers’ reality and turn Captain America into a Hydra sleeper agent. This evil Steve Rogers, or “Stevil” as some have taken to calling him, manufactured a series of apocalyptic near misses to gain more power and standing within SHIELD and then convince the United States to give emergency powers to him. Stevil then launched a coordinated coup of the United States government, cordoning off most of the Marvel Universe heroes either within a Darkforce prison in New York or by stranding them off-planet behind a force shield meant to protect from a coming Chitauri invasion.
The remaining heroes formed a resistance movement, but Frank Castle chose the other side. Castle has always admired Steve Rogers. He tried to join team Captain America during the first Superhero Civil War and, though Rogers sent him packing after he murdered some villains in cold blood, Castle even tried to carry on Rogers’ legacy for short time after Captain America was killed and believed dead for good.
So when Captain America took over the United States and began using Hydra forces to root out lawbreakers, Castle believed the man he admired was finally doing what needed to be done. Castle joined the ranks of Hydra willingly and enthusiastically used Hydra resources to carry out his bloody war on crime, including the resistance heroes.
When the truth about Captain America’s betrayal was revealed and the real Captain America reemerged to end the reign of his other self, who is now called the Supreme Commander, Castle was filled with shame to realize what a fool he’d been. At the same time, SHIELD was shut down following its Hydra infiltration.
That's when Nick Fury, now without any real position of power, got in contact with the Punisher. Fury saw Castle as an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. The first bird was the fact that Fury wasn’t comfortable with letting the War Machine armor fall into anyone else's hands. The second bird was a dictator who needed deposing in another country. Without SHIELD to do it subtly, Fury figured he could talk Castle into getting into the War Machine armor and doing his dirty work for him.
It took some convincing, but Castle eventually agreed. He took care of the enemy strongman, but nearly incited a nuclear war in the process, and that was only the start of Fury’s problems. Once the mission was over, Castle refused to give the War Machine armor back.
Instead, Castle joined up with Black Widow and the Winter Soldier for another mission: killing the Supreme Commander. The evil Steve Rogers was being held a secret prison facility, but that wasn’t good enough for Castle. The Supreme Commander needed to die.
On top of that, what remained of Hydra, under the leadership of Baron Zemo, was mounting a rescue mission, an attempt to free the Supreme Commander. Castle, Widow, and Winter Soldier arrived in time to attempt to thwart Hydra’s plans, but so did Iron Man and several other heroes looking to stop Castle as well. While the Supreme Commander made his escape with Zemo and Ghost, Castle used his War Machine armor to fight Iron Man.
Eventually, the Punisher is able to get away from Iron Man long enough to stop the Supreme Commander’s escape, but Iron Man eventually catches back up. It isn’t until another hero shows up that Castle even begins to consider returning the War Machine armor.
Tony Stark nearly died during Civil War II, and he was in a coma for some time, but ultimately he returned with a fresh new body. Tony did the same favor for James Rhodes, building a new body for Rhodes to inhabit and continue his life.
Now that Rhodey is back, he’s laying claim to the War Machine armor once more. While he may not be comfortable wearing the armor any longer, he is also not comfortable letting Castle continue to use it for his crusade. Rhodes talks to Castle soldier to soldier and convinces him to step out of the War Machine armor.2comments
With the War Machine armor secured, the Aberrant Crimes Division, the new agency tasked with overseeing superhuman crime in SHIELD’s absence, takes Castle into custody. He remains imprisoned for all of 16 minutes before Black Widow and the Winter Soldier set him free, resetting the status quo for the upcoming relaunch of The Punisher.
The Punisher #228 is on sale now.