The recent unrest at the nations capital that culminated with a group of suspected President Trump supporters (or was it Antifa?) storming and briefly laying siege to the Capitol building has led to a number of reactions on social media. Some that are about what you would expect, and some that seem to come out of left field given the serious nature of the conflict in question. By far the most unexpected (and most superficial) was a call on social media to “cancel” Frank Castle aka ‘the Punisher’, a Marvel Comics anti-hero known for executing criminals with extreme prejudice and an extreme lack of due process.
Apparently, at least one of the simpletons cosplaying at the riot was sporting a bootleg skull sticker on his tactical vest; the death’s head symbol which is recognized as being the Punisher’s calling card. This photo led to at least one comics “professional” finding the ability to do the mental gymnastics necessary to extrapolate that Frank Castle has somehow become a kind of ‘dog whistle’ for white supremacy among extremists, and law enforcement in particular.
This is apparently illustrated by the single civilian fatality by police during the riot. Ashli Babbitt, a 14-year Air Force veteran, who was gunned down by Capitol police as she attempted to crawl through a window into part of the building. If this is the copycat that Igle is supposedly living in fear of, it’s worth noting she was unarmed at the time of the shooting and the officer who shot and killed her has still not been named in the media, which is unusual in this era of 24 hour news. So if her aim was to become a one women war on corruption using firearms as her method, she was doing a piss poor job of it. In fact, the “insurrection” in Washington, DC was so weak that no one bothered to bring any firearms.
Back when the original Black Panthers did the same thing, but brought weapons. Marvel Comics didn’t cancel their popular new superhero T’Challa!
The truth is, by & large law enforcement have an affinity for the character due more to his proficiency as a solider then his bloodlust. Frank Castle represents what one very well trained and motivated man can accomplish in the face of a world that is overrun with not only crime but super-crime. Frank has not only taken on the mob, he’s taken on Dr. Doom with nothing more then a couple of guns and a can do attitude.
The irony in all this is that those calling for the character to be purged from the annals of Marvel don’t seem to have an understanding of who the character is and what he represents.
At his core, Frank is a man engaged in a one man war against the mob after they killed his family. His entire existence serves as a slap in the face to the criminal justice system, both for its failure to protect Frank’s family as well as its inability to bring those responsible to justice and more importantly (for Frank) punishment.
Frank is the villain of the story, the guy doing the wrong things for the right reasons. He serves as a walking cautionary tale about the dangers of taking the law into your own hands and letting the need for revenge consume you.
The Punisher knows this and a lot of the best Punisher stories examine this element of the character. He’s fully aware that he can’t win his war on crime, he knows that he will die by violence at the hands of the same people he’s hunting. The reason he doesn’t care is simple, Frank wants to die, his entire crusade is one long suicide note aimed at an incompetent system that failed him and many others.
Frank understands that his cause is both lost and hopeless, which is why he goes to extreme lengths to discourage anyone from following in his footsteps or forming any kind of attachment to him. This is why the character has often (and brilliantly) been used as a foil for Daredevil, the hero’s who’s entire character is based on faith, in Catholicism and in the legal system he is secretly a part of. Whereas Frank believes in nothing greater then himself and his pistol, Matt Murdock has an absolute belief in the moral absolutes of good and evil and that the legal system will get it right in the end.
While whatever twisted code Frank has may not allow for him to kill law enforcement, he certainly doesn’t like or work with them and is in fact as hunted as the criminals he murders. The assertion that he’s somehow a rallying cry for bad cops to band together and do… something? Is ludicrous.
I can find nothing about the character that would suggest any kind of prejudice or racist overtones that could be exploited by extremist groups to paint him as some kind of white supremacist or fascist icon. To most people within the Marvel Universe that truly know him, the emotion that he generally elicits is pity. That’s the message that is meant to be the takeaway of Frank Castle, when you fight monsters you have to be careful not to become one yourself. No cop in his right mind looks at that legacy and says “that’s for me” suggesting to the contrary is just another example of looking for attention or misguided virtue signaling.
Nobody want to be like the Punisher. They just want to steal his shirt.