Marvel's What If...? Could Have Shown The Punisher As Captain America

Cap almost donned the skull.

By Jo Craig

August 17, 2021

Marvel’s What If…? premiered its first episode on Disney+ last week, which explored the possibility of Peggy Carter taking the soldier serum during Project: Rebirth instead of Steve Rogers. Not only did we get to see Peggy become Captain Carter – more or less the same as Captain Britain – but we also got to see Steve fight as The Hydra Stomper.

The animated series will continue to answer various ‘What If’ questions asked by Jeffrey Wright’s The Watcher at the beginning of each episode. The series is gearing up to present T’Challa as Star-Lord and a zombified Iron Man. However, one What If? narrative from the comics that won’t be included this season is the arc that saw The Punisher take on the Captain America mantle.

Marvel Studios’ What If…? | Official Trailer | Disney+

Marvel Studios’ What If…? | Official Trailer | Disney+

What If? #51

Released in July 1993, issue #51 of the What If? comic book series narrated the aftermath of a battle between Red Skull and Captain America, with the latter being caught in a bomb blast. Cap consequently lost most of his body in the blast and was kept alive within a military hospital underneath the Pentagon. Because of his physical state, Steve asked Nick Fury to find a replacement to fulfill the Captain America mantle. One official recommended Frank Castle because of his military record, but after visiting him, Frank declined. 

After a series of failed substitutes, Frank eventually took the Captain America mantle and led the Avengers into a battle against Hammerhead – whom Frank brutally beat. Amidst Fury’s concerns over Frank’s violence, the former Punisher dons the skull again and resumes his life of vengeance. Unable to control Frank’s actions, Steve makes a miraculous recovery and sets out to fight The Punisher before things get out of hand. After an easy win for Cap, Steve convinces Frank to carry on as Captain America and leave The Punisher behind.

Marvel Comics

Frank questions why Steve cannot continue as Captain America now that he is fighting fit, and Steve responds by saying Captain America needs to be of flesh and blood. Steve then reveals that he has a cybernetic arm. Inspired by Steve, Frank changes his ways and Steve rewards him by passing his shield over to him to truly become Captain America, while Steve continues as the Captain.

This comic book arc demonstrates the litany of possibilities that exist within the What If? series and promises a lot more material to come should the animated show receive the green light for a second series.

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Jo Craig

Being a pop culture writer and a proud geek of all trades, Jo loves to dissect fandoms and marvel at their insides. The entirety of The Lord of the Rings, superhero origins, the Ghost of Tsushima score, the Wings of Freedom, and the endless search for a sleepy Tyranitar are but a few of Jo's passions, with a penchant for contributing to the geek culture community.

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