I was never a big Punisher guy. He came along in the middle 70’s, which is about the time I lost interest in comics. All I was reading by then were Iron Fist, Shang-chi, Ghost Rider, and Tomb of Dracula.
Martial arts and horror, those were my things. I knew about the Punisher because he popped up here and there but didn’t really pay attention until he showed up in some Spiderman cartoons in the 80s and 90s. I always regarded him as a Spiderman enemy along the lines of early Kraven: somewhat misguided but, overall, not evil. Yeah, saw the Dolph Lundgren movie, which was silly, and the dreadful Thomas Jane one but those didn’t move the needle.
What did was the Punisher in Season 2 of Netflix’s Daredevil series. He was cool, and crazy. Punisher killed everybody, quite justified, IMHO. Jon Bernthal was an excellent cast choice, all broody and unpredictable and dangerous, just the way you think the Punisher should be, although Bernthal comes off as a bit denser and more uncouth than the comic book version. So when Netflix announced a stand-alone series, I was in. I finished it last week. Verdict?
It’s good. Damn good. Better than I thought it would be, given the way Netflix has screwed up the other Marvel shows.
The Punisher is Frank Castle, a man on a mission to kill the rotten bastards who staged the murder of his family in a botched attempt to kill him (BTW, you never see the actual murders of his family, just enough to know what happened. Which is an odd bit of restraint). The rotten bastards want to kill him because Frank is a former Marine Recon member of an assassination unit illegally set up by the CIA to take out terrorists in Afghanistan. Cleaning up the loose ends, doncha know. The CIA effs it up, leaving Frank Castle alive and berserk. Hoo boy, is he berserk.
Helped by an equally-savaged innocent bystander named Micro, Frank goes out to balance ledgers. And balance them he does. And it’s not pretty. Really, if you like your killings frequent and forensically correct, you’ll love this because every episode is murder porn and over-the-top violence with Frank taking and taking severe damage (which he recovers from in astonishing time, like he’s Wolverine or something). Add torture, great sex scenes, and various other forms of mayhem, and you’re in for an evening.
A lot of fun, but I don’t think murder and mayhem is what this series is about. No, it’s there’s no more justice. Not anymore. Not since the various government agencies discarded public accountability and became rogue departments with agendas and intents unto themselves, at the same time the courts became a way for lawyers to amuse and impress each other rather than the means of ensuring a just recompense for we Little People. Don’t you peasants know there are bigger Deep State and Elitist concerns than mere nuisances like your family’s murder? Yes, yes, regrettable, those murders, but you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. You peasants.
If your family is murdered in a regrettable but necessary covert action to cover up a government screw-up, you’re gonna have to get your own justice. You must become Frank Castle because it’s not that the police and the courts and the government don’t care as much as has other interests, like getting and retaining power and control, and your petty little bourgeois problems distract from that. Only DHS Agent Madani, played by the gorgeous Amber Rose Revah, wants to right the numerous wrongs, and she’s treated like she’s some kind of naïve idiot by bosses and other supervisors for so wanting. She eventually has to ally with Frank to get anything like justice done.
Is this what we’ve come to?
Pish posh, no, it’s not, you say, this is mere over-the-top TV show exploitation of current events and besides, what Frank is doing is revenge, not justice.
What, exactly, is the difference?
Because the courts and the police and trials and jails were all developed to ensure passionate revenge was taken out of our individual hands to become dispassionate justice meted out appropriate to the crime and, more importantly, on the right person. Whenever someone does us wrong, from scraping the side of our car to murdering our entire family, our frustrated sense of outrage and lust for vengeance is mollified because these agencies resolve the situation, maybe not to our complete satisfaction, but as long as the result is reasonable, we’re usually okay with it. Until it is no longer reasonable. Until our concerns are given increasingly short shrift.
Consider, we now have agencies that spy on us without warrants or justification, that ruin us with innuendo, that apply the law to one class of people but not to another, and courts that let murderers go because of political ideology. We do not believe what the government or the press says about anything anymore. And the law abiding are increasingly blamed for the non-law abiding. I can see why people would go all Frank Castle on your ass.
And that ain’t good.