Back in 1974, fans and readers of “The Amazing Spider-Man” were treated to a cameo character that would turn out to be one of Marvel’s most enduring heroes.
That character is the gun-toting vigilante known as “The Punisher,” whose actual name in the comics is Frank Castle.
In 1974, the character was little more than a two-bit henchman and assassin, but Castle quickly blossomed into one of the more fleshed-out characters in that fictional universe. A much-abridged version of the Punisher’s backstory: Castle was a military veteran (in the original iteration of Castle’s history, he served in the Vietnam War. That has since been updated in modern comics to be the Iraq War) who has been on a never-ending mission of vengeance since his family was brutally murdered.
The Punisher’s penchant for guns, particularly brutal methods of vigilantism (Castle has absolutely zero qualms with torture, for example), and willingness to outright kill put him at immediate odds with much of what people associate with super-heroism. It helped Castle’s popularity that he was often fighting real-life analogs for real word scum (there was one particularly brutal storyline where Punisher rescues a girl from an underage porn operation) as opposed to the more fantastical villains you see in comics.
He was the quintessential anti-hero, and because so much of his fiction was rooted in gritty realism, the Punisher became a mega-hit (still beholden to the ebbs and flows all comic book character are, however), coalescing with a wildly popular live-action Netflix adaptation that debuted in 2017.
Now, one would assume that such bubbling popularity would be a good thing for Marvel, but that’s not necessarily the case for them after leftists turned the Punisher’s popularity into a bad thing by associating it with the farthest fringes of right-wing extremism.
Just look at these headlines:
- Newsweek: “Marvel’s Punisher Problem”
- Inverse: “The Punisher isn’t Marvel’s anymore. He belongs to the Proud Boys now.”
- American University included the Punisher’s skull logo as part of a “Decoding Hate” article
- The Guardian suggested making the Punisher’s skull logo a “Black Lives Matter” logo instead
- Forbes: “The Creator Of ‘The Punisher’ Wants To Reclaim The Iconic Skull From Police And Fringe Admirers”
Regardless of whether or not the Punisher was actually being co-opted in hateful ways, the perception was that it clearly was, and in fairness to the whiny leftists complaining about the character, it’s easy to see why.
The Punisher, despite being a fictional character, represents much of what the left hates.
He’s a white, straight Catholic male. He is deeply ingrained with guns and gun culture. He’s a man of immense drive and discipline.
And, perhaps most importantly, he doesn’t buy into moral relativism or being soft on crime. Right is right, wrong is wrong, and justice shall be meted out based on that with the Punisher.
All those character traits of the Punisher are exactly the sort of character traits that leave leftists frothing at the mouth in anger.
Now, ask most leftists why they think the Punisher is as popular as he is, and you’re likely to get some variation to “Because of racism.”
But that’s what the left defaults to, and ignores the brutal realities of why the Punisher actually is so popular: Because most people, leftists included, would love a “Punisher” in real life to deal with the soaring crime rates throughout the country.
Soft-on-crime DA’s and their policies won’t mean much if repeat offenders end up dead the first go around.
To be clear, this is not to condone or approve of murder or vigilantism. The American justice system exists for a reason. This is just to say that it’s understandable.
This has obviously left Marvel in a conundrum. What do you do with one of your most popular characters when the left keeps complaining that the character has become a symbol for far-right hate?
Marvel’s answer: It’s trying to have its cake and eat it too.
The comic industry titan has recently spun off the Punisher’s story to effectively end the character, but not the (fictitious) man.
While the actual details delve too much into comic book nonsense, Marvel has effectively written off the Punisher, but keeping around Frank Castle. In short, the Punisher ultimately ends up in a quasi-limbo. In said limbo, Castle sheds the moniker and opts to adopt a life of solely rescuing children.
So everything about the Punisher that made him the Punisher — the white skull logo, the guns, the rage — is effectively gone from the Marvel universe, while Castle remains trapped in the middle of nowhere.
It’s a narratively cheap trick, as the character is certainly not dead, but also not imminently connected to anything else in the comic book world. Marvel has effectively put Frank Castle in Tupperware while allowing the Punisher to expire. He can be brought back at a moment’s notice.
And to be sure, with the Punisher poised to have a big live-action role in the upcoming Disney Plus series “Daredevil: Born Again,” you can be sure Marvel will dust him off once a little heat is off the hero.
But for now, Marvel would like you to forget that the Punisher and a number of his more conservative traits exist.
Er, Frank Castle.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.