With the release of season two of “The Punisher” just days away, I thought I would get a bit ahead of the power curve given the inevitable deluge of rival op-eds inbound—articles from major news outlets that will no doubt repeat the hoary old scare tactics that have long surrounded comic books, video games, and even tabletop role-playing games. When season one debuted on Netflix, we even got treated to a rousing round of articles about how The Punisher was some kind of alt-right neo-Nazi icon.
For what it’s worth, Jon Bernthal, starring as Frank Castle in the series, isn’t a fan of the alt-right, and The Punisher’s creator, Gerry Conway, rightly pointed out that, if anything, Castle would be gunning for white supremacist hate groups as he has in the comic series. Personally, I found the first season of the show fairly mundane, melodramatic, and slow-paced. I fell asleep watching it, as I did with “Sicario” and “John Wick 2.” That said, I am a long-time fan of the comic book series and wanted to take a moment to flesh out what “The Punisher” is and isn’t before the media takes a bite out of this subject.
The Atlantic almost got it right when they proclaimed, “The Punisher is rooted in American trauma,” although the author, who we can forgive for not being a huge comics nerd like yours truly, only picked up on the contemporary themes in the Netflix show.
Much of the consternation about The Punisher stems from his use of firearms to exact vigilante justice, but as implied above, much of it likely also derives from the fact that Frank Castle is a white male combat veteran, one who ostensibly fights a one-man war against gangs, mobs, and cartels, which often consist of minorities. Some of this had to be cleaned up and made more politically correct for the Netflix series, which spins a plot of evil government conspiracies.