A writer for Adventures in Poor Taste is making a case based along political lines for retiring the Punisher as a concept, most regrettably enough, following all the mayhem in the District of Columbia the other week:
It may be time for Frank Castle to go the way of Pepe the Frog.
On May 8, 2017, cartoonist Matt Furie held a funeral for one of his creations. That creation was Pepe the Frog, a character in his 2005 series Boy’s Club who, despite initially being a fun-loving amphibian who found joy in the simple pleasures of life, like peeing with your pants all the way down, became a symbol of hatred and bigotry around the world. After his hapless stoner beginnings, Pepe reached everlasting popularity on 4chan, and eventually among pro-Trump circles. By the 2016 election, Pepe’s visage was seen endorsing deplorable acts of violence and hate.
A moment, please, for commenting on the “nature’s call” cartooning. What do they think is so great about cartoons where characters urinate? Is that really something to joke about? AIPT’s writer suggests he thinks so.
Initially, Furie wasn’t terribly concerned about Pepe’s newfound appropriation, saying it was “just a phase.” As that phase lasted longer and longer, however, and the Anti-Defamation League identified Pepe as an anti-Semitic hate symbol, Furie came to terms with the character no longer belonging to him. Surrounded by his fellow anthropomorphic roommates, Andy, Brett and Landwolf, Pepe was laid to eternal rest on Free Comic Book Day 2017.
Oh for heaven’s sake. Even if what they say is true, the character still belongs to the cartoonist, and he shouldn’t have forfeited his creation that easily. It’s the fault of the racist hooligans who exploited the character for their twisted goals, not the cartoonist’s. If it’s unacceptable if Marvel had canceled Black Panther because of the real life group with a similar name going around with arms in the late 60s, why is it suddenly okay when something like this happens today? Now, let’s turn to the main problem with this dreadful article: it’s something surely intended to bury Frank Castle as a concept under the tomb of political correctness:
Fast forward four years, and not only is Pepe the Frog’s usage still rampant amongst the alt-right and other hate circles, but another comic book character has been championed as a rallying cry for violence: Frank Castle, aka The Punisher. The Punisher, a violent vigilante who dispenses justice how he sees fit, has long been a favorite of edgelords and Hot Topic kids everywhere, but recently, he has become more and more associated with specifically right-wing violence (and, paradoxically, police, despite The Punisher alter-ego existing as a way to circumvent the justice system).
We’ve already talked at length here at AIPT about legal routes Marvel could take to stop the proliferation of their intellectual property being illegally produced and commandeered by people with firefight fantasies (and helped make some progress!), but in light of yet another horrific demonstration of domestic terrorism in the United States this week, several comic book creators have been discussing the merits of Marvel simply retiring the character altogether.
Obviously, such people must consider the original Death Wish starring the late Charles Bronson invalid by their new-age standards, since that was one of the places where Gerry Conway and Ross Andru got their inspiration from for the Punisher (the main place was Don Pendleton’s Executioner novels). Of course, the really sad thing is Conway’s pretty much rejected his own creation today, lest we forget, and many of these PC advocates exploit his weak positions for all they’re worth. But if they’re really so concerned about “alt-right” movements, how come they don’t identify any clearly? Is it because the “Groypers”, an extremist group whom the formerly prominent columnist Michelle Makin actually defended, costing her reputation with the wider conservative movement, are actually going more after any right-winger they consider illegitimate, like Ben Shapiro and Charlie Kirk? Now there’s something fishy alright. As for “domestic terrorism”, would they consider this incident in San Diego such a case?
Of course, that won’t instantly stop anybody from using the symbol anymore. Despite the “funeral”, Pepe the Frog is still ubiquitous in the dark corners of the internet, a rallying symbol of the depraved. In his 2016 Time article about Pepe, Furie wrote, “It’s completely insane that Pepe has been labeled a symbol of hate … but in the end, Pepe is whatever you say he is.” And that’s true of Frank Castle, too. There’s nothing Marvel or anybody else can do about countless army guy LARPers thinking storming the U.S. Capitol with guns is a funny troll or an opportunity for social media likes — the genie’s out of the bottle. But officially severing ties with Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru’s creation would be the boldest way Marvel could condemn the violence being carried out, at least partially, under their intellectual property.
But all the AIPT writer’s doing is demonstrating a failure to understand on what grounds the Punisher was originally created – to battle murderous criminals far worse than himself, with the primary motivating factor being that Frank’s family was murdered by mobsters who were in the midst of conducting an execution in the woods of NYC’s Central Park, when the Castles accidentally stumbled onto their activities among the bushes. To make matters worse, AIPT’s writer made sure to distort Frank’s history:
Well, it’s worth exploring what Marvel’s intentions originally were with Frank Castle, and what he’s evolved into. The Punisher’s first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #129 depicted him in no uncertain terms as a villain, a bloodthirsty murderer who has no problem ending others’ lives to get his way. Around a decade later, the character had morphed into something of an antihero, a psychologically ill griever who tries to do what he sees as the right thing. In the early 2000s, the skull logo gained popularity with soldiers in Iraq, and his introduction into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in season 2 of Daredevil cemented that connection when Jon Bernthal’s portrayal of the character was that of a former soldier stationed in Afghanistan with PTSD. Face and heel turns are not terribly uncommon in comic books, and as the general public’s fascination with antiheroes and the troubled grew over the years, Frank was a perfect lens through which Marvel to explore it.
Like I said, all this demonstrates is an inability – or worse, outright refusal – to acknowledge the Punisher’s original development as a vigilante taking on some of the most loathsome felons deserving of serious punishment. Stan Lee once told Alter Ego in the mid-2000s that he suggested the character’s codename too, so I guess that means Lee must be judged guilty as sin for his own oversight in the Bronze Age. Why does the AIPT writer even bother reading Marvel’s comics then, past or present? He decidedly has no business doing so with that kind of mindset. He caps it with:
But things are different in 2021, especially in America. Political, racial, and class tension have been steadily growing, and this past week, it reached a horrifying crescendo that the world witnessed with shock and sadness. Glorifying serial killers, no matter how layered or nuanced the story is, is simply unconscionable for a global creator of consumer culture in this society.
Maybe instead of erasing the character altogether, the answer is to take Frank back to his roots as an irredeemable villain, a scourge to be eradicated by the heroes that patrol the same streets he does. But like Jamal Igle said on Twitter, the very concept of The Punisher has become corrupted, and it’s time for Marvel to reckon with it. Like Pepe before him, putting Frank Castle to eternal rest probably wouldn’t result in the end of his association with extremists, but the character may be too far gone for Marvel to profit from him with a clean conscience.
The Punisher will be put to rest soon, by Marvel’s own financial downfall as they continue to put out plenty of dismally written stories the MSM isn’t even grateful for in the long run. What’s really weird is that, in a way, it’s the characterization since the turn of the century that’s coloring the PC crowd’s vision of Frank, but mainly an obsession with throughly distorting the original vision, and Conway won’t even show the courage to clarify anything. Nor does anybody ask if Antifa, who infiltrated these gatherings, were the ones wearing symbols like these, nor whether such scum are even remotely capable of wearing skulls of any kind.
— Dj.Blackhammer the DOOMSDAY MASTER (@djblackhammer) January 14, 2021
And if anybody’s wondering about more mainstream news sites doing the distorting, Newsweek presented the following, expected dishonesty:
Frank Castle, aka “the Punisher,” was never much of a good guy, even though he is ostensibly the hero in the comic books, films, and TV shows featuring him. Since debuting in 1974, he’s been portrayed as an angry vigilante hellbent on fighting crime using any tactics necessary. He’s variously tortured and kidnapped enemies, and forget him about adhering to the traditional law or legal system.
So what does a mostly wholesome entertainment company like Marvel do then when this fictional face of ruthless anger is adopted as a symbol of very real and very dangerous violence? That’s what a lot of people have been wondering in the aftermath of the violent riot at the U.S. Capitol. There were multiple claims on social media about rioters wearing the same skull logo that adorns the Punisher’s costume, and at least one very clear photo exists of someone brandishing the symbol.
[…] The white skull emblem, as well as the Punisher himself, is a popular symbol among the Proud Boys and other extremists. This had led to even some ardent fans of the Punisher to call for Marvel to change the logo, halt Punisher projects for the time being, or even outright retire the character.
The pop culture site Bleeding Cool theorized over the weekend that Marvel may have secretly done away with the Punisher without telling anyone. It noted there haven’t been any new Punisher comic books published since November. Also, Netflix’s The Punisher show starring Jon Bernthal was cancelled in 2019, and no known film or television projects are on the horizon for Mr. Castle.
However, there are still collections of Punisher comics scheduled for this year, and rumors surfaced in December of Bernthal returning as the Punisher in a rebooted Daredevil project. (Marvel reportedly has to wait for the screen rights Netflix owns on the character to expire before they can use him again.)
No doubt, they want censorship to reign supreme. You can be sure they’d do it with Golden Age Captain America tales too, given the chance. While most mainstream comics from that era were far from gory, they still had elements that weren’t PC, and to these propagandists, that’s just plain taboo. This is just absolutely shameful. And it looks like Marvel already has fulfilled their wishes, though in a way, it’s a blessing, because now, if that’s the case, Frank won’t be subject to more liberal abuse like he’s suffered for 2 decades, which I’m sure some PC advocates would love to do even now. Including somebody who already did in the early 2000s:
“The people wearing the logo in this context are kidding themselves…” said Garth Ennis to Syfy Wire. Ennis had a multi-year run writing for the Punisher character, and he spoke about why he thought people commandeered the skull logo. “What they actually want is to wear an apparently scary symbol on a T-shirt, throw their weight around a bit, then go home to the wife and kids and resume everyday life. They’ve thought no harder about the Punisher symbol than the halfwits I saw [on Wednesday], the ones waving the Stars & Stripes while invading the Capitol building.”
Bernthal and Ennis aren’t the only prominent names attached to the official Punisher upset about extremists trying to adopt the character. Co-creator of the character, Gerry Conway, decided to take action when he saw the skull symbol appropriated for hate this past summer by those fighting against the Black Lives Matter movement, including some aggressive police officers. Conway launched a fundraising initiative for BLM that called on artists of color to create their own T-shirt designs that incorporate the skull.
By any chance, is Ennis repentant for his anti-superhero vision, to say nothing of injecting blatant leftism in the early 2000s, insulting victims of 9-11 with a MAX title where Frank refuses to take on al Qaeda, and just plain exploiting the whole creation to further his own political agendas? To be sure, no, so it’s funny he’s supposedly “upset”. Those who should really be upset are the people who admire Punisher, yet may have turned a blind eye to how Frank Castle became the tool of far-left ideologues as time went by. Including Ennis, yet Newsweek’s guaranteed never to mention it. No surprise if Bernthal turns against the creation he played on TV either, let alone his own leftism.
It’s really too bad Punisher’s suffered such a terrible downfall as a creation, and exploiting the character for far-left agendas clearly didn’t make him immune to calls for censoring out his use in fictional stories. Arguably, the shift to radical leftist politics made things worse. Now, Punisher’s bound to end up gathering dust on the shelves for all the wrong reasons, abandoned even by some of the leftists who’d created and worked on him in the past. That’s what cancel culture’s amounted to these days.
Originally published here.