Why Marvel Is Rebooting the Punisher (And Why It Won’t Work) – Screen Rant


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Marvel is relaunching the Punisher with a new series and logo, but there is a risk it is ignoring the character’s roots in order to avoid controversy.

Marvel Comics is rebooting the Punisher with a new series starting in March 2022 and a new logo that will replace the iconic white skull. This decision is inspired by the recent criticism over the use of the Punisher's logo by the military, law enforcement, and extremist groups, however, it is unlikely that it will bring back the character to the huge popularity he enjoyed in the late '80s and early '90s.

Frank Castle was created in 1974 by writer Gerry Conway and artist Ross Andru, debuting in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man #129. Conceived originally as a secondary antagonist for Spider-Man, Frank is a U.S. Marine who witnessed the murder of his wife and children, who were killed for accidentally observing a Mob hit while picnicking in Central Park. Turning into a ruthless vigilante, Frank uses his military training to wage a war on crime, not with the purpose of bringing criminals to justice but to kill them without mercy. After his first appearances, the Punisher proved to be unexpectedly popular with readers, getting his own series in 1986. At the height of its popularity, the Punisher was featured in four monthly titles.

The Punisher's early success was connected to his historical context. In the early 1990s, U.S. crime rates were on a steep upward climb, fueled by the overflowing diffusion of crack and cocaine in the mid-1980s. Gun-related homicides more than doubled from 1985 to 1990, with New York City in the lead for killings. In that context, it was easy for readers to sympathize with Frank's complete distrust for the justice system, but the Punisher also fit with the anti-hero stereotype that grew in comic books throughout the 1980s. When times changed, the Punisher's popularity declined, aided by the fact that he could not fit in with Marvel's bombastic aesthetics and storytelling in the '90s. That's why when Frank Castle found success again, both in terms of sales and critics, it was in the MAX line for mature readers, which was outside of Marvel's "official" continuity. This allowed writer Garth Ennis to develop the character outside of the tropes of the superhero genre, resulting in some of the Punisher's most acclaimed stories.

In the main Marvel titles, however, the Punisher has struggled to find his place in a world of gods, cosmic beings, and "parental advisory" content. Despite all of his training and expertise, Frank Castle is still a guy with a gun, whose only "superpower" consists in the fact that he is willing to kill people, contrary to every superhero in the world. Previews for the 2022 Punisher series hint at a major redesign for the character, who is shown using bladed weapons and becoming an assassin for the ninja cult The Hand. There is a huge difference, however, between depicting violence based on combat weapons and someone using a gun in a comic book. Martial arts (and their weapons) are usually considered exotic enough to not cross the line between fiction and reality, while gun violence is a much-too-real issue, especially in the U.S. This new Punisher, then, will likely try to avoid controversy by staying away from guns, a hypothesis that is confirmed by the redesign of his iconic logo, a decision that has already sparked outrage from some fans.

In 2020, Marvel and Gerry Conway took an official stance against the use of the character's logo by law enforcement, underlining the fact that Frank's defining trait is his critique of the justice system and its laws. This new series is then an attempt to adapt the Punisher to the current times, but what Marvel is ignoring is that the character - as he was conceived originally - is simply not suitable for these times. The Punisher's psychotic obsession with vengeance and his own brand of justice are not only unfit for Marvel's current publishing line, but also unlikely to appeal to readers outside of those same groups who are criticizing the new direction hinted for the character.

Next: Marvel Needs To Finally Make Punisher A Villain, Not A Hero

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Francesco Cacciatore
(45 Articles Published)

2-time Ph.D. in History, but my heart has always been into capes and suits.
You can find me on IG @franc_cacciatore

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