As I was driving to work today, I was stuck behind a Chevy S10 with a walker bungied to the bed. Just above it, stuck to the rear window of the cab, was a sticker that read: Proud Vietnam Vet. The juxtaposition of these things lead me to one thought: The Punisher's getting old. Like, really old.
As a point of reference, consider the miniseries Punisher: Born.
In this gripping, but dark-as-all-get-out pre-origin story, we see Frank dealing with the dark days of the Vietnam War during his third tour in 1971. A quick extrapolation of dates puts Frank between 20 and 25 years old during this period. Tack on thirty years to get him to present day, and suddenly Frank becomes a very angry middle-aged man.
So ol' Frank finds himself in a unique position in the Marvel Universe. For most heroes, the sliding and compressed timeline isn't so much of an issue. Changing small details like locations (See Iron Man going from the jungles of Asia to the deserts of the Middle East) or motivations (See the Fantastic Four going from a race against the Communists to an unbridled sense of adventure) aren't a huge deal because the core tenants of the origin still remain. For The Punisher though, it's different, he's intrinsically tied to the Vietnam War.
More than the tragic death of his family, It's the horror and atrocity of Vietnam that shaped Frank Castle into The Punisher. Call it a stereotype bias, but there's something infinitely more tragic about soldiers fighting in a war only to be disregarded (or worse) when they returned home than there is in a modern day soldier. It's that combination of seeing/doing horrible things with the lack of public support when he returned that makes The Punisher who he is, the death of his family is just what keeps him going.
Of course there are methods to aging slowly in the Marvel Universe. From magical formulas (I'm looking at you, Nick Fury) to the classic de-aging trick (Magneto, Xavier please stand up), there are some definitely options to help Frank still stay relevant while approaching old age. The problem is, of course, that the fans don't like to mix their vigilante justice with magical Marvel technologies, as witnessed in the massive flops that were Angel-Punisher (The less said about, the better) and Franken-Castle (which is still awesome!).
The conclusion is clear: The fans want their Punisher to remain 'realistic'. Or at least as realistic as a 60 year old man with an unlimited cache of weapons and boundless mafia-rage can be.
I'm honestly at a loss for a solution here. On the one hand, I fully enjoy the grizzled old veteran Punisher that's been presented over the past few years. On the other, I know that septuagenarian super-heroes are kind of a rough sell to the younger generation.
It's a problem that's going to need to be solved in the next decade or so, otherwise the next major transformation the Punisher will go through will involve a new hip and a walker.