Today, Netflix finally dropped the first full-length trailer for its upcoming Punisher series and though it was rather light on plot details, it presented a very clear idea of what kind of show we’re in for: one presenting Marvel’s most dangerous vigilante at his most vicious and deadly, but without Netflix’s other Marvel heroes to stop him if he needs to be put down.
The Frank Castle we met in Daredevil’s second season was already a broken, disturbed man on a mission to avenge his murdered wife and children. By the time we see him in The Punisher, though, he’s fully gone over the edge—spray painting skulls on his kevlar armor and roaring as he mows down people with semi-automatic rifles. In making Frank its leading man, The Punisher runs the risk of demonstrating how a person like its vigilante hero only works a semi-villainous foil to the more grounded heroes around him.
It’s commonplace for comics creators to nerf or buff out a particular character’s strengths depending on the unique situations that different stories will put them in. Squirrel Girl, for instance, traditionally has no hope of taking someone like Thanos or the Hulk on in a fight, yet both of those things have happened—in part because the fights took place in Squirrel Girl-centered stories in which she was the hero destined to win by the editorial powers-that-be.
The Punisher, by comparison, is a character who has been much more consistently depicted as being a serious danger to both heroes and villains alike, oftentimes despite the fact that his biggest skill is being very good with guns. In the time since he was first introduced in The Amazing Spider-Man #129 from 1974, Castle’s taken on other capes like Wolverine and Captain America and managed to either win or walk away despite being vastly out-powered by his opponents. Generally, the Punisher’s ability to win these battles is attributed to his extensive military training, skill with espionage, proficiency with all manner of weapons, and his almost inhuman tolerance for pain. In the end, though, it all really comes down to Castle being very smart, well-armed, and in a constant state of preparedness to fight the battle of his life.
That the Punisher can handle himself in a fight with more superheroes than not is what makes the character fascinating in Marvel’s books. While the community of heroes can begrudgingly recognize the contributions he’s made to the greater good, other crimefighters hate that his personal, code-bound brand of justice revolves around killing. That, for many, makes the Punisher’s form of vigilantism one that he deserves to be put in prison for.
Whenever the heroes try to apprehend Frank, he almost always manages to fend them off and escape and we, as readers, are left to wonder whether he gets away because of his own skill or because punches were pulled during the fight.
The same can’t really be said for his counterpart in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though, and that’s a large part of what makes the idea of Netflix’s upcoming Punisher a little difficult to process. As dangerous as Frank Castle is in the comics, there’s a whole world of top-tier super people to step in if and when he gets out of hand. In the MCU, though, where the big time heroes don’t actually deign to deal with street level problems, the Punisher is a different sort of beast.
Unlike his comics self who, in a lot of ways, is usually punching up at people who are literally more powerful than he is, MCU Punisher lives in a world where the Defenders are his biggest threat. Formidable as they may be, if Punisher wanted to shoot them, there’s been little to suggest that he couldn’t other than his conscience. The Punisher is, in many ways, a worst case scenario domestic terrorist and mass shooter who, unlike most actual mass shooters, is able to get repeatedly evade being apprehended.
The Punisher series follows Frank as he continues to track down people connected to the gang violence that ultimately led to his family’s murder, and Frank’s introduction to the MCU has largely framed him as being a tragic antihero driven to darkness by happenstance. But what does it mean when the ostensible hero of a story is willing to go on a seemingly endless shooting spree in order to exact the kind of justice he wants to see in the world?
We’ve seen that the police aren’t all that much of a match for the Punisher and the seeming lack of another enhanced person with the proper skills and abilities to take him in a fight suggests that The Punisher might be even more dark and brutal than Netflix has teased it as being.
Frank’s willingness to kill and his ability to outmaneuver virtually everything in Netflix’s slice of the MCU makes seeing him as a hero, tortured or otherwise, somewhat difficult. He’s usually presented as a hero because he’s waging war against people who do heinous things. But he’s still a killer. A character as objectively twisted and misunderstood as the Punisher doesn’t just need a supporting cast of people who can literally kick his ass. He deserves a story where his dark impulses can serve as a metaphor for how society’s failings create lost souls who think it’s okay to take the lives of others.