Punisher is set to debut on Netflix’s Daredevil season 2 in March but the character isn’t terribly well known. In this age of jaded heroes that are flawed he is absent in public conscious. But the Punisher stands as quintessential anti-hero and he deserves a better place in the public mind. He has no powers or exceptional abilities except one, his willingness to use lethal force. This sets him head and shoulders above all other heroes in ruthlessness. Because of his brutal methods he is consistently rated highly as a fan favorite, IGN ranked the Punisher #27 out of 100 of comic book heroes. But he hasn’t fared all too well in a life outside of the comic books.
His portrayal in movies hasn’t been that great. Sometimes his films capture the mood and the character but drop the ball when it comes to plot. While at others times only paying lip service to what he is as a vigilante super hero. His guest appearances in other media such as video games and animated TV series has been closer to the comics but despite how brutally simple the character is, they have never quite got Frank Castle right. Netflix’s Marvel lineup has been impressive and with The Punisher announced as a future spinoff it could be that Netflix has given the Punisher the justice he deserves in the up and coming appearances. This is an incredible opportunity to bring a character to life that always been bungled in films.
The Punisher in Brief
Frank Castle is a simple character. He was a Marine Special Forces commando in Vietnam where he picked up many deadly skills. He enjoyed combat so much that he changed his name from Castiglione to Castle to sneak past the military’s rule of 3 tours of duty in Vietnam. Later, during a family trip to a park his family witnessed a mob killing and the mob, not wanting any witnesses, killed Frank’s family. As if by sheer will the Punisher refused to die and sets about his war on the mob and crime in general. This has left him emotionally scarred and twisted. He is a man without a family or any connections. Maybe his only power is that he has nothing to lose.
But this doesn’t really make the character special, I mean heaven is full of dead super hero families, and even some characters that are somewhat ruthless. But not as nearly so as the punisher. What makes the Punisher so unique is that he is waging a one man war. Frank Castle sees the world in simple terms, in the black and white. If a person is guilty of severe crimes then he declares war on them, everything is fair game; Psychological warfare, torture, and executions to name a few. Where a warrant declares a criminal as “wanted dead or alive” the Punisher always ops for killing. In fact he never sets out to capture or persuade, if you’re in his sites he’s coming to kill you, its as simple as that. Not many heroes can claim that. Where a character like Spiderman may rush in, relying on his abilities to capture the criminal, the Punisher stalks his prey and when the time is right unleashes lethal firepower, anywhere from a long range sniper shot to a car bomb. Or if its in is favor he’ll go in guns blazing, All’s fair in war.
Punisher Compared to Others
He may come off has being too simple and boring, as a character who just runs around killing people but there is something more to the Punisher. Its his willingness to go all the way that liberates him. He doesn’t have to worry about morality, society or the law, punishment he is beyond that. The Punisher is free to go 100%, to let loose. Criminals may fear being captured by other heroes but they know they can wiggle out in courts with lawyers, or they can even escape from prison if it come to it. As seen with the revolving door that is Arkham. But the Punisher is different and in his own words
“They laugh at the law. The rich ones who buy it and twist it to their whims. The other ones, who have nothing to lose, who don’t care about themselves, or other people. All the ones who think they’re above the law, or outside it, or beyond it. They know all the law is good for is to keep good people in line. And they all laugh. They laugh at the law. But they don’t laugh at me.” -Return to Big Nothing Vol 1 1
When you compare the Punisher to other super heroes this is where he stands out most. In this modern age of the popularity of the “anti-hero” Frank Castle out does them all. No other hero is as much of an anti-hero as Castle. Take for example the premier anti-hero Batman. He has a strict no kill policy, sure he may say “I’m not going to kill you but I don’t have to save you” but despite all of the mind games and intimidation he never intends to kill anyone. A much more modern conception of anti-hero, Wolverine, kills people left and right. But its usually not his agenda. Sure hill kill ya if you get in the way or if you really irritate him. But usually his agenda is with the X-men, and they are about protecting mutant rights. It’s the Punisher who stands at the far end of the spectrum of being the anti-hero. From the outset he is planning to kill his target, never capture them. Torture and interrogation notwithstanding. Not many other heroes can claim this. They are always tip toeing around it, but the Punisher is never held back it and this is what gives him the edge. This is what makes a pycho with some guns capable of competing in the superhero big leagues.
It has been said that the Punisher is a modern take on Captain America, a perfect soldier sent to war. Except when he went to Vietnam it twisted and changed him inside. In many ways he’s America reaction to the post Vietnam era. Castle did every thing right in war but came home to tragedy. If Captain America would’ve gone to Vietnam he and lost his family he may have turned out the same. A powerful parable of about characters being a product of their enviroment, and by extension, fate.
How Netflix Needs To Do It
Netflix as already done an excellent job of capturing action in its shows but Netflix has some advantages over the films. For the most part the films failed to show the suffering of victims. Its that one two punch that gives Punisher stories value. And this is why I’m excited for Netflix’s interpretation of the Punisher. They’ve shown an ability to humanize characters of their stories, both villains and victims. Sure its been said that a hero is defined by his villains but I don’t think this is so much the case with the Punisher, the villains are just fodder to him. The Punisher doesn’t have many great villains because he kills them. Sure there are some reoccurring ones but they don’t have the same epic feel as some other mainstream villains.
Casting Jon Bernthal as the Punisher is brilliant. What was lacking from a lot of versions of the Punisher in films was the grim, almost veteran soldier feel. All twisted and turned by tragedy. That and atleast having a soft side to show towards innocent people. Bernthal has already proving all of these aspects on his other hit success, The Walking Dead. That and he looks like depictions of him in the comics.
Its showing the suffering of the victims and the Punishers connection with that that is needed. At best they may show that Castle lost his family but they never really have him connecting with anyone. Despite his ruthlessness in comics he is warm and kind towards the innocent. Its as almost has if he has some empathy for victims and this is the key to showing the character’s depth. Showing this would accomplish two things that have always being missing from the films, it would humanize him and make the punishment much more meaningful, much more satisfying. If Netflix’s track record of both Jessica Jones and Daredevil show they can do just that.
What makes the Punisher such a good opportunity has that how poorly he has been done so far in film. The public at large just sees him as a “guy who runs around shooting people.” But he is more than that. In a world where anti-heros are the norm he makes them all look like boy scouts. He’s known as a maniac and crazy man, he even shot wolverine in the balls. You don’t get much more anti-hero than that. And we are about to see him on Netflix, a company that has consistently hit its mark with super hero shows with great plots. Its about time the Punisher is done properly.
Take for an example this little nugget of an homage below. Called Dirty Laundry it does all of these things that the any Punisher story needs to do. Described as a love letter to the character from the fans and having some great actors. It premiered at the 2012 San Diego Comicon and at the moment, it’s the best depiction of Frank Castle outside the comics so far. Hopefully Netflix will improve on it.