Comics are representative, and Marvel has had a really good track record of making their big important comics mean something.
Captain America was fighting the Nazis before the US joined WWII. Luke Cage represents a powerful black man that couldn’t be assassinated. The Civil War comic examines the ideologies behind government oversight and trading personal freedoms for security after the Patriot Act and 9/11. The Punisher should represent something real too, but it doesn’t.
Four of the five largest mass shootings in Americas history have been in the past five years. These mass shootings are causing multiple discussions on both side of the aisle regarding gun control, either for or against it. This is clearly a topical conversation, so why aren’t they having it?
During the show, another character, Lewis Wilson, tries to be a Punisher copy-cat, and bombs NYPD, a federal courthouse, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and the show speaks up. Karen Page calls the bomber a coward on public radio, and Frank Castle says that he endorses nothing that Lewis is doing, because he is taking out his anger on secretaries and good cops. Lewis doesn’t focus his anger, and the show is very against that idea, but that’s not enough.
In Daredevil season two, Matt Murdock tells Frank that what he is doing is wrong, because people deserve to live, and even if they don’t, it’s not Franks decision who lives or who dies. It’s a powerful scene, but it’s not even in the show we are talking about. It’s a different show entirely.
You ever doubt yourself, Frank? You never think for one second, “Shit, I just killed a human being.” A human being who did a lot of stupid shit, maybe even evil, but had one small piece of goodness in him. Maybe just a scrap, Frank, but something. And then you come along, and that one tiny flicker of light gets snuffed out forever. What about hope? The people you murder deserve another chance.
What so many people don’t realize, is that whether you are making a joke, or having a nuanced conversation, there are people that will take your argument, and turn it to justify their horrible decisions. Someone will watch The Punisher, and see Frank Castle be the hero of his story, being a badass, and they will want to be that. They will see themselves as being wronged by someone like Frank has, and decide that he was right in killing those people.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have nuanced characters, who do bad things for the right reasons. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be telling the story because there is bad timing. What I am saying, is when telling stories so close to realism and not escapism, you need to be aware of what is happening on the other side of the screen. Show characters that are disgusted with his choices and try to stop him, or consequences for his actions. Its not just bombers you should be against, but murderers in general.
Obviously Frank murdering those who were involved with the killing of his family is the point of the story, but that doesn’t mean they can’t say something about it. Iron Fist isn’t about the protector of K’un-Lun, it’s about corporate greed and privilege. Jessica Jones isn’t about a girl with strength and a guy with mind control powers, it’s about rape culture, and men taking control over women. The Punisher shouldn’t be about a Marine who is out for revenge, it should be about gun control and how we treat our veterans.
Jon Bernthal has stated that these are the ideas he tried to promote in his performance, but he was just the actor, not the writer, not the director, and not the producer, so in the end, he can only do so much.
“I hope, more than anything else, that people will recognize the gravity of this problem, and I’m just hoping a dialogue will be opened,”
“There’s no words for that and what I take from it is, my God, we have to start realizing there’s a serious problem here and we have to start opening dialogue on it and we have to stop being completely rigorous and steadfast in our political positions here,”
“I don’t think it’s our job to answer those questions, but I do think it’s our job to make us ask the questions. If this show does that in some way, I think that’s a really positive thing.”
One of my favorite parts of the Civil War comic, is when Frank tries to join Caps team, and when a few supervillains try to help as well, Frank kills them on sight. Does Cap say what he is doing is commendable because they were bad people? No.
This is because it’s still murder. Frank Castle is still murdering people. He shows restraint against good cops and service men and women, but thats not good enough. In Daredevil, Matt Murdock tells him that what he is doing is wrong, but there’s nothing happening in this show to echo that sentiment. Karen still helps him, Curtis says he would have joined him, and Micro becomes his roommate. There is no one around showing that what he is doing is fundamentally wrong. That is a problem.
The biggest problem for the character should not be that he doesn’t have friends. It shouldn’t be that he lost his family. It shouldn’t even be that he was lied to and his military service was a crime because of it. It should be that he is trying to fix things with murder, not accepting any alternatives, and that doing such has consequences.