The Punisher once convinced Nick Fury and Reed Richards to send him back to 1929 Chicago so he could kill Al Capone and change history for the better.
Sometimes it seems like everyone in Marvel Comics at one point or another has traveled through time, whether to change the timeline to prevent a darker future or to stop someone from interfering with the past for nefarious reasons. One person who should never have a time machine is The Punisher because, despite his good intentions, his missions always end in a high body count and empty shell casings. But once Frank Castle got an idea that was so crazy, he managed to convince important Marvel characters to send him back, just to see if he could pull it off: Go back to 1929 Chicago to kill one of the most infamous criminals in all history, Al Capone in hopes that his death might save thousands, including his murdered wife and children.
Remembering that his family was killed after they unintentionally walked in on a gangland execution which had to kill any witnesses, one could say Frank has a soft spot for organized crime. But in Punisher #8 (2002) by Ron Zimmerman, Mike Lilly, Rodney Ramos, and others, Frank overhears the head of the Baritone crime family approve a plan to murder wives and children of their opponents in hopes that it’ll make their enemies emotional and unhinged thus easy targets. After referencing Capone a few times, the Punisher interrupts their planning and murders them all but that name lingers with Frank long after the smoke from his guns die down. Capone would have approved of such tactics, as he and his associates did much worse to their enemies and anybody who tried to wrestle control from Capone’s impressive criminal empire. Wondering what could have happened if someone back then had truly done something, the possibilities give Frank an idea that he runs by a partially drunk Nick Fury and his faithful companion Timothy “Dum Dum” Dugan at a random bar. Disregarding the warrants out for Frank’s arrest, Fury listens to Frank’s idea and eventually Frank is being prepared to be sent through time with the help of Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four.
Dressed to impress, Frank ignores most of the warnings and instructions given to him as it is made clear that it doesn’t matter if Frank lives or dies during this mission. His last request is to Fury to take care of his family should they appear if he’s successful, but Frank doesn’t make it back which Fury agrees before he disappears.
When his trip to 1929 Chicago is successful, Frank is impressed (and makes a note to kill Reed Richards if he makes it back due to his danger should he turn evil) and gets straight to work by heading to Cicero, Capone’s known base of operations. Looking for an opportunity to make it into Capone’s inner circle, Frank plows through a group of Al’s bodyguards and introduces himself to Capone by interrupting a meeting armed only with a severed arm from one of Capone’s bodyguards. Impressed by Frank’s brutality and professionalism, Capone sends him on test to eliminate Hymie Weiss and Bugs Moran from the Northside which Frank completes thus ensuring the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre remains unchanged. Frank becomes a favorite among Capone’s “workers” as he eliminates Al’s enemies with the kind of precision and ruthlessness that Punisher fans have come to expect. Artist Mike Lilly summarizes this old-fashioned carnage in a series of montages that ensure regardless of the time or place, you do not want to end up on the other side of Frank Castle’s barrel.
After some time, Frank is invited to a wealthy dinner that will bring to mind De Niro’s famous scene in The Untouchables where Frank’s friends and co-workers are treated to the unfortunate surprise that this occasion is destined to be their last meal. With their hands bound, Capone bashes every one of them with a baseball bat for crimes against him and his business. But in Frank’s case, Capone admits the mysterious and lethal Frank Castle is the most dangerous man Al’s ever met and in good conscience, he can’t allow Frank to live. Of course, Frank gets free and he and Capone duke it out as Al finally gets to gaze upon Frank’s iconic skull insignia and learn that Frank is there to kill him. With the time portal activated to return him to the future, his exit is stopped by Capone’s stubbornness to die and Al’s forces firing upon both. Although his wounds are fatal, Frank refuses to die until he’s killed Capone with a razor blade to the throat. As the Punisher is about to die, his last words are to his wife and children hoping that his sacrifice has ensured that they’ll live again….and then Frank wakes up.
The entire story is the kind of story that could only happen in the comic books and the revelation that it was all a dream makes sense. Many of the heroes in the Marvel universe do not like or can barely tolerate the Punisher so its unlikely that they would ever allow someone like Frank access to something like a time machine. Also, Frank killing Al Capone would have major side effects in history as the popular argument could be made that Frank’s actions could have little to no effect or in fact, make the future worse. The trauma of his family’s death may have motivated Frank to uses his army training and skills to fight and punish evil, similar to the trajectory of DC’s Batman, but his reasons do not excuse his methods regardless of how people may consider the worthiness of his victims. Overall, the entire issue is well written from beginning to end with pacing that doesn’t feel rushed with a good amount of research in its contents to make you wish it had been its own mini-series. As the story begins to fade like the details of a dream, the only questions that remain are if that’s what constitutes a good night’s rest for the Punisher, what do you imagine his nightmares are like?