Comic panel of the Punisher sitting in a chair, holding a gun, looking sad.

Punisher Creator Calls Out Law Enforcement’s Misuse of Punisher Symbol

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Punisher creator (and Gwen Stacey killer) Gerry Conway had an interview with SyFy Wire recently, in which he spoke about his 50+-year career as a comic book writer. Two of the questions concerning the Punisher got into the topic of his vision for the character and the way the skull symbol has been appropriated by law enforcement officials.

Of the characters origins, he explained,

“[I]t was a simpler time in the ’70s. You had a very black and white canvas on which to draw and to write—the storylines didn’t go into psychological depth of these characters. Mostly, we worked in broad strokes.

“Today though, given what we know about PTSD, what we understand about how soldiers are affected our ongoing, multi-generational war in Afghanistan, a character like the Punisher can speak to something that’s important for us to come to grips with as writers and artists.”

He also applauded the way the Netflix series captured that for a modern audience. One of the things the series was praised for, by The Mary Sue and others, was the way that it explored Frank Castle’s PTSD and trauma, and worked to show that the brutality Frank displayed was indicative of his own brokenness, not some deeper righteousness.

I’ve often mentioned that, as someone who grew up watching Westerns with my mom and also loved movies like Rambo and RoboCop, I don’t inherently have anything against violent movies or media. I think playing violent video games and watching action movies can be cathartic, especially if you are, overall, a more peaceful person.

The problem is when people take the violence of these media and turn it into symbols masculinity, of righteousness, and ignore that these characters exist in a world where they can be justified. Trying to bring that into the real world is often where problems begin. Conway explained why it is so disconcerting for him to see military and law enforcement wearing the Punisher symbol:

“I’ve talked about this in other interviews. To me, it’s disturbing whenever I see authority figures embracing Punisher iconography because the Punisher represents a failure of the Justice system. He’s supposed to indict the collapse of social moral authority and the reality some people can’t depend on institutions like the police or the military to act in a just and capable way.”

Frank Castle exists because of police corruption and the failure of government systems, so why is it assumed that, simply because he himself is ex-military, he would automatically be on the side of those systems in real life? He would probably have more in common with protesters using any means necessary to fight for their lives than he would with systems that would ask them to be passive and complacent in the face of injustice.

We know that because that’s what The Punisher does.

Being a veteran, a soldier, or a police officer is not a monolithic experience, and Netflix’s Punisher himself, Jon Bernthal, has pushed back against that mentality in interviews, like the one he did with Collider leading up to the second season of Punisher:

“As far as I’m concerned, I think for so long now we’ve really gone through this thing in this country where a certain element has a stronghold and a monopoly on what it means to be strong or tough or masculine or patriotic, for that matter. For me, the great joy that I have in playing this role and other roles is where I got to pick soldiers and combat vets, and the guys that share their stories with me. To me, the mark of somebody who is strong, patriotic, tough is someone who has an open mind. Someone who is open to listening to all sides and not be steadfast and not be completely clinging to their own sense of, ‘This is what is right and this is what is wrong.'”

As the issues of gun control, police brutality, and criminal justice rage on, characters like the Punisher, Judge Dredd, and to a lesser degree, Batman will always come up as cultural reference points, because there are people who want law enforcement to be like those characters, while others see them as representing what happens when the justice is too broken to care for its people.

(via i09, image: Marvel Comics)

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Princess Weekes
Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.