Last week was a bit chaotic to say the least. America’s recent elections have been an exercise in political mud-slinging, bare-faced lies, and a desperate attempt to hold onto the last remaining shreds of power by the Trump administration, which all eventually culminated in an event that sounds like a WWE pay-per-view special: Capitol Chaos.
Soon to be former POTUS, and good riddance, Donald Trump’s rally spurred on a mob of angry and demented Stans to attack America’s political fortress, breaking down doors and windows to gain access to the Capitol. It has been a mess of a situation, the FBI is currently arresting those domestic terrorists, and I really wish I didn’t have the image of a self-described shaman of QAnon in my head but this is the world we live in I guess.
That these actions have had actual consequences in the fallout has been encouraging in the least, but in comic book circles it has also prompted a new discussion around the character of Frank Castle AKA The Punisher: Is it time for Marvel to retire its controversial vigilante? With several insurrectionists, extremist groups, and police officers sporting the signature skull motif of the Punisher, fans on social media are calling on the publisher to officially retire the character from active comic book duty.
Heck, Castle’s not that hard of a character to understand: A mentally damaged war veteran who saw his family murdered in front of him, Castle wages a one-man war on crime using the most lethal methods and arsenal that he can get his hands on. I’ll be the first person to admit that the Punisher character in the right hands makes for fascinating and entertaining stories. Heck I’ve read plenty of them over the years, the 2004 film with Thomas Jane as the revenge-obsessed madman is one of my favourite westerns, and even Netflix found an interesting angle on the character.
But is he heroic? Not in the slightest, and it is admittedly worrying seeing America’s already overly-violent police force embrace the Punisher and his methods. Even Garth Ennis, who has had multiple runs on The Punisher comic book series and is the reason why Castle is even relevant in the 21st century, reckons that anyone who embraces the brand is a “halfwit’:
“I’ve said this before a couple of times, but no one actually wants to be the Punisher,” Ennis said (Cheers, Comic Book).
Nobody wants to pull three tours of duty in a combat zone with the last one going catastrophically wrong, come home with a head full of broken glass, see their families machine-gunned into bloody offal in front of their eyes, and then dedicate the rest of their lives to cold, bleak, heartless slaughter. The people wearing the logo in this context are kidding themselves, just like the police officers who wore it over the summer.
What they actually want is to wear an apparently scary symbol on a T-shirt, throw their weight around a bit, then go home to the wife and kids and resume their everyday life. They’ve thought no harder about the Punisher symbol than the halfwits I saw [on Wednesday], the ones waving the Stars & Stripes while invading the Capitol building.
Punisher co-creator Gerry Conway has also gone on the record to denounce any use of the character’s imagery by law enforcement to be in incredibly bad taste:
Heck, Marvel even had to address the issue in its comic books, not so subtly hinting that if cops want to be inspired by a comic book character, there are so many better alternatives out there than a trigger-happy sociopath who is fortunately only obsessed with mowing down criminal scum. Back in 2019 writer Matthew Rosenberg, artist Szymon Kudranski, and colorist Antonio Fabela took a moment to a moment to remind cops that their duty is to serve and protect, not take a page from the extreme vigilantism that the Punisher represents:
America is, to put it bluntly, crazier than a bag stuffed full of angry weasels right now. While fans may petition Marvel to retire the Punisher, that won’t happen as he’s simply too lucrative a property to put out to pasture. But in a world where the times are changing, maybe it’d be better if cops and civilians looked up to Marvel’s other and better fictional heroes instead.
Last Updated: January 13, 2021