The Punisher Problem


The second season of Daredevil dropped today.  I’m not one for binge watching, personally, so I have no idea how long it will take me to watch the show, but as of this typing I’ve watched the first episode and liked what I saw.

But the promised appearance of the Punisher had me reflecting that, no matter how popular a character he is, he is a weird anomaly in the Marvel pantheon of a character with little discernible personality and few memorable appearances.

Marvel has as a company prided itself over the idea of personality over superpowers.  Spider-Man has problems making ends meet like a lot of regular folks.  So did the Fantastic Four on many occasions.  Iron Man’s bad heart and alcoholism grounded a character based off Howard Hughes.  Captain America felt lost in a time he didn’t grow up in.  And so forth.  Just about every major Marvel character you can name has some sort of distinguishing characteristic that makes the character memorable and gives the character his or her soul.

That may be why Marvel’s characters have had an easier time of it on the big screen.  DC’s heroes always went the opposite and went with powers over personality.  Treat the source material right, as the CW has proven, and you can still have an entertaining live action work, but the characters themselves are basically just straight good guys.

This brings up the general mystery of Frank Castle.  Castle swore revenge against the criminal underworld, or even just bad guys in general, after his family were killed witnessing a mob hit in the middle of a nice summer day at a public park (really, that origin is probably one even the biggest of superhero origin contrivances have a hard time explaining away).  Frank put on a black kevlar outfit with a big white skull on his chest and went out to lethally dispense justice, or something like it, by basically murdering any and all criminals he comes across.  Since he’d spent him in the military (particularly, he’s often characterized as a Vietnam war vet despite how old that would make the guy), he used his knowledge of war to bring down real war on criminals.

That’s about it, really.  Garth Ennis has arguably had the most successful Punisher run at Marvel by basically remembering Frank is an at-best two dimensional character and all anyone who reads his adventures really care about is creative ways in which Castle takes down various criminals.  Ennis used the Punisher Max series to highlight awful real world crimes like sex trafficking from time-to-time, but Castle himself is basically just an uncompromising vigilante who dispenses lethal punishment to anyone who has committed a crime in his mind.  Some of Ennis’ early work made it into the Thomas Jane-starring Punisher movie, as did an interrogation scene Chuck Dixon wrote once in which Frank took a stoolie, suspended the man upside down, let the man see him light a butane torch, and then stuck a popsicle on the small of his back and let the guy think he was being cooked so the guy would talk (it obviously worked).

Unlike many Marvel heroes, the most memorable Punisher story lines tend to the be the ones where something really screwy happens to the Punisher.  That’s not to say these stories are in any way good.  They often aren’t.  But when you’ve seen some, you can’t unsee them.

Here’s a few…

The Punisher was on the run and got plastic surgery to temporarily appear as a black man.  That led to a Luke Cage team-up.

I think Frank's the one on the right with the gun, but I am not sure.
I think Frank’s the one on the right with the gun, but I am not sure.

Wait, he temporarily turned African American?  That sounds familiar…


Then there was the storyline from just before Ennis took over where Frank got a magic trench coat that allowed him to pull endless weapons directly from Heaven’s armory so he could kill demons.  Ennis dismissed it with a single line of narration when he took over and no one blamed him.  Ever.

I have nothing to add here.
I have nothing to add here.

And then there’s Frankencastle.  I’ve never heard a bad thing about that one, but it’s just freakin’ weird and follows the pattern.

When THIS is the transformation of the character that bothers fans the least, your character has problems.

There were rumors for a time that Netflix was looking to give the Punisher his own spin-off.  Now, I have not seen the whole run of Daredevil yet, and have likewise never seen The Walking Dead, so I can’t say anything for Jon Bernthal just yet.  So far, so good, though he has very little to say in that first episode.  Unless the show ran a series of creative kills, I can’t see how the Punisher would work in his own series.  He just goes around killing bad guys.  That’s fine in small doses, but doesn’t strike me as enough to hold down his own series.  The character itself is the problem.  Surround him with interesting allies and enemies, and you can still have a good Punisher story.

Now, a good actor and script can work wonders, so it may all work out well.  I’ll withhold judgement until I see the rest of the season, but of the Punisher himself, I’m not really much of a fan.  I doubt the show will change that, but they can do some interesting things with the guy.  We’ll all just have to wait and see.

One thought on “The Punisher Problem”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s