4. CIRCLE OF BLOOD (1986)
In the late '80s, the editors at Marvel had begun to notice that the world around them was changing. No longer did comic book fans want to read stories starring smirking, swashbuckling heroes; instead fans craved street-level violence and moral ambiguity from their idols. During this time, Frank Miller came along and added a dose of dour grime to the usually easy-going Daredevil and even Spider-Man had some experience with the filthy underbelly of society in stories such as The Death of Jean DeWolff and Gang Wars. But in 1986, Marvel struck gold when it made the Punisher the star of his very own miniseries.
Featuring copious amounts of death (including that of an innocent child) and sex, the first Punisher miniseries (now known as Circle of Blood) was a culture shock for the House of Ideas. Never before had a main character in the Marvel Universe been so downtrodden and malicious. The Punisher was portrayed as a broken-down Vietnam vet haunted by his experience during the war and his family’s gruesome murders, and he was hell bent on wiping out criminals everywhere.
With Mike Zeck expertly handling the art and Steven Grant on the story, Circle of Blood elevated the Punisher from a former one-off Spider-Man villain into a comic book icon.