In light of the Washington DC Capitol riots, there have been renewed calls from some for Marvel Comics to completely cancel The Punisher character. The Punisher skull was seen as being worn by several rioters and associated with police, army, militia, white supremacist groups, QAnon events, and Sean Hannity on Fox News, Even Trump Punisher pins have been popular. Given this is just the latest in a long tine of concern, tackled by the character's co-creator and in-comics storytelling itself, there have now been calls for Marvel to cancel the character entirely.
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-cop, 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."
Here's the thing. When we all went into shutdown, Marvel was planning to publish the series Punisher Vs Barracuda, which replaced the Punisher ongoing series that concluded in October 2019. It was a book with high orders, but artist Declan Shalvey who had drawn a number of issues in advance of publication was told to stop drawing the book. This happened to many titles, but most of those titles weren't strong sellers. This also coincided with the Black Lives Matter protests and a focus on real and fictional police behaviour, including the use of Punisher imagery by the police.
Is it possible that Marvel took another look at the comic they were working on? And as time passed there has been less and less inclination to pick the series up again? And there have been no new Punisher comic books published, or solicited, since November. Has Marvel Comics cancelled The Punisher without actually telling anyone? Taken down Frank Castle permanently with a stealth shot? We will keep watching the schedules…
Collections are coming. Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank Marvel Select HC collecting the Ennis/Dillon run, for April. Punisher Epic Collection: Return To Big Nothing for June. As well as a collection of Punisher Vs Barracuda – that was never completed. Clearly, Amazon listings need a little updating – what will actually be published in the end?
Will this be the end of the Punisher? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe he'll return to being an antagonist rather than protagonist, as in the original comics.
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."