Frank Castle is a simple yet evocative character who would be as much at home in a pulp novel or in a ’70s action movies as in a comic book. He’s a man out for revenge, which is an age-old trope. However, the fact that there are three Taken movies proves we don’t care; we just want to see it. What was initially a throwaway Spider-Man villain has become a fan-favorite character, making The Punisher ripe for adaptation in other media.
Being so popular means you can survive a lot of bad ideas, like Dolph Lundgren or being an Angelic host. But what’s the best use of the Punisher?
Surprisingly, episodic stories can weaken him the longer they run. In the ’90s, it was more acceptable to have all the stabbing, blood and violence one could fit into a page, but today the longer someone goes around shooting people, the more he starts to look like a serial killer than someone seeking “justice.” Comics handle this by either slowing down the pace of the Punisher’s hits and providing a long enough break in the action, or having a clear goal in sight, whether the subject of the character’s wrath is removed or Frank Castle meets his own end.
That’s probably why there have been three attempts at a Punisher movie. Not only does the character take a lot of cues from cinematic antiheroes like Dirty Harry, but a film provides Frank Castle with a clear goal: The movie ends as he punishes his target, and we all have a feeling of satisfaction.
So why am I so excited to see the Punisher play second banana to Daredevil in the next season of his Netflix series?
If you haven’t heard yet, let me gladly be the one to grab and shake you to say, “Shane from The Walking Dead is going to play the Punisher on Daredevil!” Not only is Jon Bernthal an excellent choice for Frank Castle, but the show itself is a great venue for the character in question. The established setting of Netflix’s Daredevil is dark and moody, just the kind of world where a guy with a skull on his shirt could be taken seriously, but not too seriously. It’s a corner of the MCU where vigilantism can work, as opposed to, say, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or the Avengers side of things, where Captain America would have him in jail in two seconds flat.
Daredevil’s world is a target-rich environment of ninjas and thugs. Matt Murdock has taken them on and survived, so the Punisher would only be escalating the violence already there, rather than coming as a shock.
Despite the entrance a bullet-riddled logo might suggest, I don’t think the Punisher is going to be the focus of the show. He’ll be a factor, but only as we see him through the eyes of those he terrorizes and from the perspective of Matt Murdock. The Punisher works best as a means to an endm and one of the reasons Garth Ennis’ Punisher run is so beloved is that the writer made sure to populate the world with as many interesting people as he could to react to the sight of that skull. The Punisher is a force of nature, someone who comes in, destroys the criminals, and moves on to the next target. The story is both in the action and in the aftermath. We can learn more about Frank Castle — heck, even sympathize with him — but the longer you we to rationalize the man’s actions, the more “serial killer” this all seems.
That’s why Daredevil hates him so much. This is the big reason I’m excited for the Punisher to be a part of of the series: These two heroes have the strongest rivalry outside of Magneto and Professor X. They share a goal, to provide justice to people who can’t get it on their own. Both use extreme means to accomplish that, but only one takes it to the limit, and, boy, does that infuriate Daredevil! Their philosophies of means and ends are actually a hair away from one another, with Daredevil relying in the end on law rather than the Punisher’s black-and-white view of justice. If the Punisher would only not kill his targets and instead drop them off at the nearest police precinct, they could be partners.
Much like Magneto and Xavier, they possess strong convictions that make one seem delusional to the other. However, unlike the two mutant leaders, the Punisher and Daredevil don’t really respect one another. The Punisher views Daredevil as weak, unable to protect the innocent; Daredevil thinks the Punisher is a lunatic. But it’s difficult to dismiss someone as just crazy when, looking at his own track record, Matt Murdock could be just as crazy, too. In fact, that’s what makes this rivalry so fascinating: Not only does Daredevil hate Frank Castle, but he also hates that he could become the Punisher so easily, that by taking his actions just that one step further, he could just as easily wear the skull himself.
At heart, the Punisher is hollow. His motivation and concept are plain and simple: He’s a man killing criminals for vengeance. He is the conflict that other people can resolve even as he blows away the bad guy. We can discuss him, fill him with motivations, and contrast him with most anyone int he Marvel Universe. He’s a bullet for the gun of the story, and I can’t wait for Daredevil to pull the trigger.
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