There has not been a lot of Punisher in Marvel Comics over the last year or so. In recent years there has been increasing criticism of the use of the Punisher skull by police, army, militia, white supremacist groups, QAnon events, and Sean Hannity on Fox News, even Trump Punisher pins have been popular. And then during the January 6th Insurrection at the Capitol building in Washington, many Punisher skull insignias were seen. This also followed Black Lives Matter protests and a focus on real and fictional police behaviour, including the use of Punisher imagery by the police.
Amidst calls for Marvel and Disney to cancel The Punisher as a character, Bleeding Cool observed that this may have happened already and that there had been no published or solicited Punisher comic books since November 2020. There were no Punisher series, his appearances in Savage Avengers had been dropped and he wasn't guest-appearing anywhere. There was a collection of Punisher Vs Barracuda – but that series was never completed, initially postponed by the pandemic but then abandoned altogether.
The Punisher did return as an incidental in two 2021 series, The Marvels looking at a very damaged version of the character in a chronological version of Marvel history, and also in Heroes Reborn, recreated in an alternate universe as a new character with, notably, no Skull logo. Though the tie-in linked in the previous sentence was written by Ethan Sacks with art by Luca Pizarri, Heroes Reborn was written by Jason Aaron. And we understand that a new Punisher series is coming from Marvel Comics also written by Jason Aaron. Aaron previously wrote Punisher MAX several years ago but how will he recreate The Punisher for a new era? One in which the visual aspects of The Punisher have been appropriated by very unfortunate groups?
The Punisher was created as a villain, a vigilante in the Deathwish mould, to be taken down by Spider-Man, even if his backstory was a sympathetic and understandable one. Indeed, the clue was that he worse a big skull on his chest – reminiscent of a certain Mitchell & Webb sketch. It was a spin-off mini-series starring The Punisher than cemented his role as a fan favourite, at one point having three ongoing comic book series at the same time, two movies, a TV series, toylines and more. He even attracted creators such as Steve Dillon and Garth Ennis, creators of Preacher, who found dark humour in his outrageous, even cartoony violence against organised crime. Ennis also took him into darker territories, looking at great American crimes in the field of war. At the same time, there were also ludicrous takes – turned into a literal avenging angel, a Frankenstein monster, sent into space, and most bizarrely, killed, sent to Hell, transformed into a Ghost Rider by Mephisto, a herald of Thanos and a herald of Galactus, becoming the Cosmic Ghost Rider – but still Frank Castle, ex-Marine, and walking cancer.
Vanity Fair reported "This is fascism's visual trap, from the black, white, and red of the swastika to the death's head Punisher skull that's become a de facto symbol of Trumpism, worn by Sean Hannity on his lapel. A language of brute spectacle, hard to ignore. Look, and you're cursed by that which is ugly in the deepest sense; look away, and you neglect the threat at our door. Or rather, yesterday, inside the House."
Syfy suggested the character needs to get a makeover. "Get an artist with a flair for costume design to do a complete visual re-do that eliminates the skull. Hire a writer to find a story hook to explain why the change in visual aesthetic. You'll catch heat for creating a "woke Frank Castle," no doubt, but who cares? If the story is a good one, people will buy the book."
Inverse stated that The Punisher now belongs to the Proud Boys and that "It's not up to me how Disney or Marvel pursues action, but there are examples of companies taking action. Fred Perry, the polo clothing company whose black and yellow-tipped shirts became a Proud Boys "uniform," ceased manufacturing and selling the shirt and released a statement condemning the Proud Boys' values."
Comic-Watch called for a new kind of story. "It's time for the Punisher to truly come face to face with his wrongdoing. No longer should we see team-ups with characters like Captain America or even Daredevil where the lethal actions he has taken are understated as an attempt to gain a pass for allowing him to continue killing. It's time for the Punisher to face justice and reflect on the devastation he has caused and the impacts that have come as a result, especially from those that seek to use the Punisher's methods as a legitimization of their own cruelty. You cannot just have Daredevil calling the Punisher a psychopath then leaving him to continue because of other injustices."
SyFy also quoted Garth Ennis saying "I've said this before a couple of times, but no one actually wants to be the Punisher. Nobody wants to pull three tours of duty in a combat zone with the last one going catastrophically wrong, come home with a head full of broken glass, see their families machine-gunned into bloody offal in front of their eyes and then dedicate the rest of their lives to cold, bleak, heartless slaughter. The people wearing the logo in this context are kidding themselves, just like the police officers who wore it over the summer. 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. No one's going to suggest that the American flag is now a fascist symbol and should be treated as such, just because a bunch of would-be fascists employed it yesterday. I doubt there's anyone who would suggest that any of the clowns who wore the Punisher skull [Wednesday] would have acted any differently in DC had it, or the character never existed. They did what they did because their demented turd of a leader convinced them the election had been stolen; if you're ready to take violent action on that basis then no bloody, silly T-shirt you wear will have any bearing on the line you've crossed. In fact, it's completely irrelevant."
I wonder what Punisher Jason Aaron will bring us?