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How Frank Castle Redeemed The Punisher – By Going Cosmic

In the story “Thanos Wins” by Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw (appearing in Thanos #13-18), an all-new version of the Spirit of Vengeance emerges from the cosmic ashes of Hell. There have been many Ghost Riders in the past, but every host for the Spirit of Vengeance has been chosen with a certain amount of predictability — almost as if they were part of a supernatural equation that made sense in the grand scheme of things. However, in one of the most bizarre and surprising reveals in Marvel Comics history, the Ghost Rider of the future turned out to be someone that made perfect sense — and at the same time no sense at all. When Cosmic Ghost Rider is first introduced, he’s spouting witty one-liners and cracking jokes. It would have been fair to assume that Deadpool had died and made a deal with the devil to come back to life. However, the new Spirit of Vengeance turned out to be Frank Castle, aka the Punisher.

Ghost Rider and the Punisher Are Two Sides of the Same Coin
The Punisher and Ghost Rider have many common traits. They both dish out retribution to criminals and evil-doers and usually do so with the grimy street-level villains of the Marvel Universe’s underbelly. They both operate from a moral foundation that stands to defend the helpless and punish the wicked. However, it was easy to simply view their similarities in action only until Cosmic Ghost Rider connected “penance (a keyword in the Ghost Rider mythos) to “punish”. This etymology shows a closer connection between the two. But, although Ghost Rider and Punisher are anti-heroes, they have often struggled with their choices. The origin of how Frank Castle became Ghost Rider is explained in “Thanos Wins.” He was initially made the host of the Spirit of Vengeance by Mephisto to be powerful enough to kill Thanos. Then later, during an encounter with Galactus, he was made a Herald of the planet eater as the two joined forces to continue the hunt for Thanos and finally rid the universe of his evil. However, Galactus is killed by Thanos. And Cosmic Ghost Rider became the Black Right Hand of the Mad King Thanos.

The Punisher Finds Redemption in His Biggest Failure
In the future, Thanos’s quest for Death leads to near total annihilation of all life in the universe. At this point, Thanos can not be killed. However, Cosmic Ghost Rider is also indestructible, and the only thing keeping Castle from following through with his initial plan of killing Thanos is himself. When Frank became the Spirit of Vengeance, he also lost his mind, and over time he simply forgot what his mission was. Nevertheless, in Cosmic Ghost Rider #1-5 (by Donny Cates and Dylan Burnett), Castle gets the idea that if he travels back in time and kills Thanos as a baby, he could preemptively stop the titan from causing such massive death and destruction.

But when confronted with the act of killing a baby, Castle instead chooses to rehabilitate the child by offering a different way of life. The idea of destiny versus choice is what ultimately fuels Ghost Rider’s actions with the baby and sets both on a tricky path. Eventually, Frank is faced with the hard truth that regardless of what kind of alternate path he offers baby Thanos, a life with the current Ghost Rider and former Punisher as a surrogate father isn’t going to teach him anything more than how to kill. However, when Frank Castle returns Thanos to his crib, the tragic hero walks away redeemed by the fact that he himself made a different choice. It’s a choice that took the combined efforts of Ghost Rider and Punisher to make, yet, surprisingly saved his soul from the punishment of two lifetimes.

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