The military, as a whole, needs to be depicted as fairly useless in superhero movies. After all, why would we need a Norse god or a Hulk to fight our battles if the armed forces were equipped to do so themselves? More often than not, tanks and military aircraft exist in these films solely to be destroyed as a demonstration of the overwhelming power of our hero’s enemies. Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen are used as a toughness measuring stick: If the villain dispatches a military patrol with his bare hands, he’s tough. If he can sink an aircraft carrier, it’s time to call in the Avengers.
Each of these heroes, however, has a backstory that led to a life of fighting crime. There aren’t many backgrounds one can hail from that instills the level of discipline and combat skill needed to wage war against alien invaders or robot assassins, so often, heroes hail from one of the branches of the military.
As a Marine veteran, I can’t help but be a little proud when a superhero on my television set talks about his days in the Marine Corps—even if that hero is a man like The Punisher in the Netflix series “Daredevil.” The Punisher’s backstory is specifically that of a special forces Marine that lost his family to gang violence. His military training is highlighted through his use of various weapon systems that serve in place of superpowers. Of course, Frank Castle (the Punisher’s real name) is seen by many as a murderer—including other heroes. While watching the Netflix series with my wife, she pointed out that, in Marvel movies and TV shows, soldiers are always depicted as clean-cut and honorable, while Marines usually seem dark, troubled, or even unstable.
As a card-carrying superhero nerd, I immediately tried to counter her statement, but couldn’t. Captain America and Falcon are both former soldiers who continue to fight the good fight. Luke Cage and the Punisher were both Marines. One went on to serve time in prison and become a fugitive from the law while the other went on to…serve time in prison and become a fugitive from the law.