Colonel George Howe: Why do you do it? I’m not here to preach. I know analysis is futile. But I want to understand what I came here to stop. Why?
The Punisher: …So they can’t get away with it. So they can’t profit from the pain they cause.
Howe: And you’re content to take them on your conscience? All those deaths?
Punisher: It isn’t any hardship.
Howe: And no second chances…
Punisher: I don’t do redemption.
Howe: And you’ll never, ever stop.
Howe: Thank you.
— The Punisher MAX #60, “Valley Forge, Valley Forge: conclusion” written by Garth Ennis, illustrated by Goran Parlov
We’ve all seen the news footage of what happened in Washington, D.C. earlier this month on Wednesday, January 6th. When a large group of Trump-supporting white supremacists and domestic terrorists marched to the Capitol building to unleash Hell, because their sorry excuse for a President encouraged them to do so, because they were still led to believe that the election he lost was stolen from him due to voting ballots that went missing, and because frankly, they wanted an excuse to f-ck some sh-t up and to kill anyone who stood in their way of doing so. Five people died as a result of this terrorist attack, and (some but not all) politicians on both sides didn’t hesitate to condemn these actions and to condemn them loudly, leading to the second impeachment of this sorry excuse for a President.
Many of the white supremacists and domestic terrorists who were present at the Capitol building on January 6th to plant pipe bombs, destroy property, attack Capitol police officers, steal a laptop from Nancy Pelosi and attempt to sell it to Russia, and search for politicians to hang from the makeshift gallows positioned outside, have already been identified as off-duty cops and soldiers, and at least one retired member of the FDNY. And several of those individuals were seen with the logo of the Marvel Comics character The Punisher on their outfits and/or backpacks.
For those of you unfamiliar with who or what The Punisher is, here’s a brief explanation: The Punisher’s real name is Frank Castle, and Frank is a highly decorated and highly skilled member of the U.S. Marine Corps who, after years of service during the Vietnam War, was sent home to be with his wife, Maria, and their two young children, Lisa and Frank Jr. Shortly after his return home, Frank brought his wife and children to Central Park for a picnic, which is when they were all caught in the crossfire of an attempted Mob hit that resulted in Frank being injured and his entire family being shot to death. And ever since that tragic event, Frank adopted the nickname ‘The Punisher,’ and has been using all of his skills that he acquired and perfected in the military to declare all-out war on the Mob and on every other criminal organization in existence. Much like Wolverine, he’s the best there is at what he does, and what he does best isn’t very nice.
And this distinctive skull is what The Punisher wears on his chest when he’s on the hunt, so if you see it (and if you’re not a superhero or someone who is working alongside The Punisher to help him complete whatever task he’s focused on), just run. You’re not going to get very far, and you’re not going to live very long, but you should still just run.
It has been noted on numerous occasions in many other news stories that The Punisher’s skull logo has been used and worn by those who work in law enforcement or the military, as well as white supremacists (some of whom also work in law enforcement and the military). Even Gerry Conway, co-creator of The Punisher, has called this out and spoken about how wrong it is for cops to adopt the symbol of someone who is the complete opposite of everything they stand for. And it’s this usage by law enforcement (especially by members of law enforcement who are part of the Blue Lives Matter movement, and their supporters) and military that has caused many people to speak out and demand that Marvel Comics abandon the skull logo and create another symbol for The Punisher to be identified with, or change The Punisher from a white man to a person of color (and I admit, it would be interesting to see this happen to The Punisher, and even with Batman, if only to see stories about how the world would react to the two of them running amok and whether they’d be just as tolerant of their activities as vigilantes if they aren’t white and male) and have them go up against corrupt cops and white supremacists (which wouldn’t be the first time that The Punisher has gone toe-to-toe with them in his long history, and which would be much like how Superman went up against the Ku Klux Klan), or to simply abandon the character altogether, and never have him appear in comics or in movies and television shows again.
Many of the same people making these suggestions on what to do about The Punisher have stated that stories about a heavily-armed white man going around New York City (and anywhere else, for that matter) to shoot down and murder people is not something that this country needs, and could possibly even inspire people in real life to actually carry out these acts of violent behavior. Similar things were said about Joker before it was released in theaters, and variations of this have also been said about Batman, who is constantly used for “jokes” on Twitter about how he is nothing more than a multi-billionaire who doesn’t use any of his money to help the people of Gotham City and instead goes around at night beating up on the poor and mentally ill - a seemingly neverending criticism that has rarely ever been used on Tony Stark or Oliver Queen or Reed Richards (and which has also been proven wrong in many comics, such as this one here, and in this episode of Batman: The Animated Series). I’m pretty sure that even Lex Luthor hasn’t been judged so harshly, and he uses his billions and his resources for mostly two things: trying to kill Superman, and making himself look good and respectable to the people of Metropolis so he can continue trying to kill Superman.
It has become clear that nearly everyone who has adopted The Punisher’s skull symbol, whether it’s people who work in law enforcement, people who serve in the military, and civilians who do neither but regularly fantasize of being a gunslinger just like The Punisher, have little to no understanding of who and what The Punisher is, especially those who deep down want to be like the Punisher and do what he does.
Being The Punisher isn’t awesome and it isn’t fun. Yes, Frank gets to hunt down and kill men and women who commit all sorts of unspeakably evil acts that bring pain and death and suffering to innocent people. This includes gangsters, rapists, child molesters, serial killers, sex traffickers, terrorists, assassins-for-hire, or drug dealers. He does so in ways that scare the absolute sh-t out of other criminals, enough to give them pause for thought and make them reconsider doing anything that would put them on The Punisher’s radar, and he does it all without having to answer to anyone. But none of it changes the fact that Frank has spent years being constantly tortured by dreams and memories of his family’s death. None of it changes the fact that the only thing that brings him anything resembling peace is when he goes out every night and finds even more criminals to kill. And none of it changes the fact that the worst dream of all that tortures him the most is not when he is reminded of his family being murdered in front of him and him being helpless to stop it. Or the dream where he kills every criminal in all of existence before turning his attention and his weapon on the thousands of innocent bystanders who saw what happened to his family and did nothing, and who end up suffering Frank’s uncontrollable wrath. For Frank, the worst dream of all is when he dreams of Maria and Lisa and Frank Jr. still being alive, due to the kids not feeling well and forcing them all to stay home instead of picnicking in Central Park. This leads to all of them living long and happy lives where he and Maria grow older, their kids become adults who start families of their own, and where they all get together for family dinners in which they eat and talk and enjoy each other’s company. And when he wakes up, he is immediately reminded of the long, cold, dark hell that is his life, that he is still alone, and that his family is still dead and buried, never to be seen again.
Being The Punisher isn’t something that you can turn on and off. It’s not something that you do only on weekends or on your days off, as if you’re going golfing or fishing with your buddies. It’s not something that you do for eight or ten-hour-long shifts before you go home and have dinner while watching your favorite television show(s) for the tenth time because it’s the comfort food you so desperately need to help keep you afloat during this pandemic. It’s not something that you do during your free time when you’re not at work in a police station or a firehouse or a hospital or an office building, or when you’re not sharing all of your racist opinions on Facebook or Twitter or 4Chan or the message boards of Stormfront. One of the things that makes The Punisher so brutally efficient at what he does is that he is always on mission, he never goes off-duty, and his kill-switch is always in the ON position. When he’s not out there killing the enemy, he is either eating, sleeping, training, or preparing himself to kill the enemy, whether it’s through weapons maintenance, or doing research and surveillance on the criminal underworld so that he knows who his next target is and what to expect when he goes after them. To do what The Punisher does and to be, as his former partner, Microchip, once called him, a machine that runs at optimum efficiency, it requires laser-sharp focus and absolute commitment. And most of the people who idolize The Punisher, and who claim to want to be like him, can barely stay focused on not looking at their cell phones when walking down the street or sitting in a movie theater back when most of us were able to set foot inside movie theaters. Nor can they even commit to boycotting Netflix because they believe that it supports child pornography, or boycotting any and all NFL games because of the league refusing to support Colin Kaepernick. So expecting 24/7/365 commitment to a lifestyle that involves gunfights and bloodshed and nothing else (which includes not bragging about said lifestyle to your friends on Twitter or Instagram) might be asking for a little too much.
Garth Ennis, who is considered by many to be one of the best writers in the comic-book industry, has spent the last two decades writing stories about The Punisher. And the stories that he has written for The Punisher MAX (which was published under MAX, Marvel’s imprint that published material meant only for mature readers) are considered not just some of the best Punisher stories ever written, but some of the best crime fiction in the entire genre. So naturally, when Ennis was asked his opinion about terrorists in the Capitol building wearing The Punisher’s skull with pride, he had this to say:
“I’ve said this before a couple of times, but no one actually wants to be the Punisher,” Ennis exclusively told SYFY WIRE. “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,” he added. “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 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.”
With regards to the skull symbol, he dismissed suggestions that it had any impact on inspiring the actions of those who adopt it. “No one’s going to suggest that the American flag is now a fascist symbol and should be treated as such, just because a bunch of would-be fascists employed it yesterday,” Ennis said. “I doubt there’s anyone who would suggest that any of the clowns who wore the Punisher skull [Wednesday] would have acted any differently in DC had it or the character never existed. They did what they did because their demented turd of a leader convinced them the election had been stolen; if you’re ready to take violent action on that basis then no bloody, silly T-shirt you wear will have any bearing on the line you’ve crossed. In fact, it’s completely irrelevant.”
As if it wasn’t enough that terrorists wreaking havoc in the Capitol building were wearing The Punisher’s skull symbol, it was also reported that some of them were not only dressed to look like Captain America, but they were also carrying around fake shields that resembled the one used by Captain America. And Neal Kirby, 72-year-old son of Captain America co-creator and legendary artist Jack “The King” Kirby, was not having any of it…
“Captain America has stood as a symbol and protector of our democracy and the rule of law for the past 79 years,” Kirby wrote. “He was created by two Jewish guys from New York who hated Nazis and hated bullies. Captain America stood up for the underdog and, as the story was written, even before he gained his strength and process from Army scientists, always stood for what was righteous, and never backed down.
These images are disgusting and disgraceful. Captain America is the absolute antithesis of Donald Trump. Where Captain America is selfless, Trump is self-serving. Where Captain America fights for our country and democracy, Trump fights for personal power and autocracy. Where Captain America stands with the common man, Trump stands with the powerful and privileged. Where Captain America is courageous, Trump is a coward. Captain America and Trump couldn’t be more different.”
The rest of Mr. Kirby’s statement in its entirety can be seen below, embedded in CNN reporter Jake Tapper’s tweet.
Neal Kirby, the son of Captain America co-creator Jack Kirby, was distressed to see some of the January 6 terrorists/rioters wearing shirts with versions of his dad’s creation corrupted by the image of the outgoing president. His message to them: pic.twitter.com/RTH9UNs491— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 14, 2021
And if a bunch of white supremacists and domestic terrorists can barely comprehend or understand who and what The Punisher is, it makes plenty of sense that they have the same level of comprehension and understanding when it comes to Captain America, who would not only punch Donald Trump in the face just like he did to Adolf Hitler, but also call out anyone and everyone who supports Trump and what he stands for, just like he has done to supporters of Hitler and the Nazi party. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve seen on Twitter who call themselves fans of Superman or Spider-Man or Wonder Woman (enough that they have the faces and emblems of these characters visible in their Twitter avi), but who regularly say cruel and horrible things to others that would make those same heroes look at these same fans in disgust.
(Please believe that The Punisher would not only punch Donald Trump in the face as well, but he would also probably choke him to death with his bare hands if given the opportunity. So if you’re someone who has already made the mistake of becoming a white supremacist, don’t bother making the additional mistake of thinking that someone like The Punisher would ever be an admirer or supporter of a rapist/racist/liar/bully/con artist/misogynist/businessman who is so bad at his job that he couldn’t sell blood to a vampire/f-cking incompetent dumbass that you voted for to be your President)
Even Jon Bernthal, who is the most recent actor to play The Punisher in the titular Netflix series and who looks really damn good in a suit (yes, I know that last part has nothing to do with anything else I’ve been saying, but seriously, if you saw Bernthal in Ford v Ferrari, you’d know that I’m speaking the gospel truth) had this to say back in 2018 in an interview with Esquire regarding The Punisher’s skull being worn by the military and by White supremacists.
I noted that the Punisher’s symbol, a skull with long fangs, has been spotted on military helmets in Iraq and biker jackets, and was seen on the shoulders of alt-right protesters at the white-supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“I feel honored to play a guy who people putting their life on the line identify with,” Bernthal said.
And the alt-righters?
And more recently, Bernthal tweeted this in regards to the Punisher skull being worn by the domestic terrorists in the Capitol building…
I’m with you. Beautiful work. These people are misguided, lost, and afraid. They have nothing to do with what Frank stands for or is about. Big love. J. https://t.co/Q4GpaGW3ek— Jon Bernthal (@jonnybernthal) January 12, 2021
The most important thing that the cops, the military, the Blue Lives Matter movement, the white supremacists and domestic terrorists, and even some regular-degular-schmegular fanboys either miss or completely ignore when it comes to who and what The Punisher is, and it is this: The Punisher really, really, really doesn’t want anyone else to be him, or to be like him.
Daredevil, a.k.a. The Man Without Fear, is another vigilante who patrols the streets of New York City and takes down criminals whenever he finds them. The difference between Daredevil and The Punisher is that Daredevil is a believer in justice, and in making sure that the criminals he goes up against actually live so that they answer for their crimes in a court of law. (And not just because Daredevil is really an attorney named Matt Murdock) Which often results in the two vigilantes crossing paths and butting heads because of Daredevil’s hatred of The Punisher using lethal force. So when Daredevil’s true identity is revealed, resulting in Matt ending up in prison and surrounded by his enemies, while slowly becoming more violent and unhinged as a result of everything happening to him and his loved ones, Frank gets himself arrested and thrown into that same prison as well. A riot soon occurs that overwhelms the entire prison, and allows the two of them to escape. Matt thanks Frank for helping him, but Frank simply tells him that he knows how much Matt is hurting, and that he needed to be reminded that he does not and should not want to be anything like him. No matter how much Daredevil may get on his very last nerve, the last thing that The Punisher wants to see is a hero like Daredevil following in his footsteps.
And that particular stance goes double for members of the NYPD. When Frank finds himself targeted by a group of widows who want revenge on The Punisher for killing their husbands (all of whom were mobsters), it also results in these same women being investigated by a detective named Paul Budiansky. As he gets too close to unraveling their scheme, the women send someone to kill Budiansky, only it’s his wife, Gina, who ends up getting shot and sent to the hospital instead. When Frank’s mission against the widows ends (and how that mission ends leaves Frank both physically and emotionally wounded in ways that few of his missions do), he is confronted by Budiansky at gunpoint, who wants nothing more than to punish him for the pain he’s feeling and for the pain his wife is feeling in a hospital bed at this very moment. Frank, who is familiar with what happened to Budiansky and who is very familiar with the pain and rage that he’s feeling, just walks up to him and sadly asks one question: “You want to be me?” And Budiansky’s answer: to go to Gina’s hospital room and hold her hand as he waits for her to recover and accepting that, despite any earlier suspicions he may have once had as to whether he could end up going down the same path as The Punisher, he and The Punisher are nothing at all alike.
Frank’s response to police officers who cheer him on and actually wear his symbol on their uniforms and on their vehicles as a source of pride? Well, that’s something he’s a lot less tolerant about and will make those feelings loud and clear for all police officers to hear. Mostly by destroying whatever stickers or patches they’re wearing, and then telling them that 1) if they really want a role model, then they should go with Captain America, a.k.a. America’s Ass, and 2) under no circumstances are they to do what he does, otherwise they’re going to answer to him.
(The only notable exception to this rule is when Frank reluctantly began working with Rachel Cole-Alves, another highly decorated and highly skilled Marine, who was on her own Roaring Rampage of Revenge after her husband, her family, and friends were all murdered at her wedding by a criminal syndicate called The Exchange. And even Rachel got so much more than she bargained for when she joined Frank and adopted his methods in going to war against The Exchange.)
Then there’s the time when Frank went after three vigilantes running loose throughout New York City: The Holy, a priest who gives in to his homicidal urges and kills the criminals that come to his church and confess their sins; Elite, a rich, snobby, and racist white man who really doesn’t like the carjackers or drug dealers or hot dog vendors setting foot into his Upper West Side neighborhood; and Mr. Payback, a blue-collar vigilante who went after corporations for their corrupt and immoral business practices. When the three of them joined forces to form the Vigilante Squad, and attempted to recruit The Punisher to join their ranks, Frank’s response (before telling them how much they all sucked, and before pointing out to Mr. Payback that his reckless behavior and lack of preparation resulted in the deaths of four innocent people) is to immediately kill them all.
Ma Gnucci: I can’t believe you’re doing this.
The Punisher: (as he pours gasoline all throughout Ma Gnucci’s mansion, while Ma Gnucci is unable to move) You’re a monster, and I’m killing you. It’s not complicated.
Ma Gnucci: But why this? Why burn the entire house down? Talk to me, you pig!
Punisher: Because I want you gone from the face of the Earth.
Ma Gnucci: You scum! You vicious, evil scum! You’re no better than I am, Punisher! (Punisher walks out of the room, leaves the mansion, and goes outside as she continues screaming at him) You think you’re better, you think you’re on the side of justice, but you’re wrong! You’re a serial killer, Punisher! You’re insane! It’s mass murder, whatever you want to call it! It’s genocide! What’ll you do, keep going ‘til we’re all dead? Will that make you happy, you sick, twisted creep?! You should put a bullet in your own head, Punisher! That’s the only way you’ll get any peace! And you know it too! You’re a dead man walking, Punisher! You are damned!
Punisher: (removing the pin from a hand grenade as he looks at Ma Gnucci through her window) …So tell me something I don’t know.
- The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank #12, “Go Frank Go” written by Garth Ennis, illustrated by Steve Dillon and Jimmy Palmiotti
Even if we never see The Punisher straight up telling people that he doesn’t want them to be like him and doesn’t want them to do what he does, the best and most effective stories about this character show us that he is a monster who fights other monsters that are so much worse and so much more evil than he is (and yes, seeing The Punisher’s destructive capabilities put to use can be just as exciting and entertaining as any Godzilla film, or any chapter in the John Wick saga), while also showing readers how he lives a life that is filled with violence, loneliness, death, darkness, regret, pain, grief, and more death. Much like the people who watch Goodfellas or Casino or The Wolf Of Wall Street or The Irishman and believe that Martin Scorsese is actually glamorizing the illegal and murderous activities that his characters do instead of showing how their lives will eventually become horribly unpleasant nightmares that they can’t wake up from, if you can see everything that The Punisher does, everything that he lives with on a daily basis, and still nod your head in the affirmative while blasting “Bodies” by Drowning Pool at full volume when someone asks “Do you really want to be like The Punisher?,” I honestly don’t know what else to tell you.
(All that being said, if you’re looking to read a story about The Punisher doing what he does best, but having Bucky Barnes, a.k.a. the Winter Soldier, as his best friend who he talks to and watches movies with, then Alex de Campi’s satirical comic strip Hell’s Kitchen Movie Club is definitely for you, and it is very much deserving of your time and attention.)
There are millions of people in this country who have spent the last four years listening to the words coming out of the mouths of this sorry excuse for a President, who have listened to him as he told them exactly what they wanted to hear, regardless of how false or cruel or inflammatory those words could be. And even after four years of this man doing everything possible to burn this country down to the ground just to save his own ass and to make himself look like a superstar, even after four years of him saying and doing all of these things without apology or regret or acknowledgment of the thousands of people who have died during this pandemic, those millions of people still want nothing more than to be like him and to do their part in making sure that this country is anything but great.
This isn’t the first time that people in this country have made poor and unfortunate choices on who they want as their role models. And unfortunately, it won’t be the last.
Image sources (in order of posting): Netflix, Marvel Comics