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Daredevil: The Punishment Due

By Bert Ehrmann

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Fort Wayne Reader

2016-03-17


The first season of Daredevil was the finest live-action superhero TV series since … well, since forever. The series creators flawlessly built a show around a strong and skilled yet non-superpowered lead living in a world of superheroes like Thor, Captain America and Iron Man. And the latest season brings the introduction of one of Daredevil’s biggest foes; the Punisher.

The character of Punisher has a bit of a checkered history. He first appeared in issues of The Amazing Spider-Man where he was portrayed as a sort of dimwitted assassin who could be tricked into going after heroes like Spider-Man by less dimwitted villains. Over time the Punisher’s history would expand and be filled in.

Originally created in 1974, Frank Castle aka the Punisher, was a Vietnam vet living in New York City who’s family was gunned down in Central Park by mobsters. Afterwards, Castle, with nothing to lose, decided to battle crime expecting that it would one day cost him his life. A b-list character at the start, it wasn’t until the mid-‘80s that the character of the Punisher would find popularity. So popular that for a time in the early ‘90s there were three different Punisher comic titles all being produced simultaneously.

The comic book The Punisher was a sort of Death Wish-like series of adventures where the Punisher would destroy various drug cartels, street gangs and even military contractors skimming from Uncle Sam. The Punisher War Journal was like a Tom Clancy-like techno-thriller where the Punisher, along with a host of gadgets like his “battle van” and with help from computer expert Micro would battle a high-tech criminal element. And Punisher War Zone had Punisher infiltrating the mob in order to take it down from the inside.

How comic book readers could accept essentially three different versions of the character at the same time in these titles is beyond me, but we did!

As the Punisher comic series went on over the years he would be used to prop up lower selling comics titles. But as the Punisher appeared alongside the then very unpopular The Avengers and in the pages of the Vietnam war comic The ‘Nam he would lose more and more of his edge.

As the years went by and Punisher’s popularity began to wain, more recent comics turned Frank Castle into Frankenstein in (no joke) Frankencastle and a doughy-eyed serial killer of criminals ala the horror icon Jason in later Punisher series.

Three low-rated movies would also be made of the Punisher over the years; The Punisher in both 1989 and 2004 and Punisher: War Zone in 2008. I consider myself a Punisher super-fan — he’s always been one of my favorite characters and I can’t imagine how much money I’ve spend on Punisher comics. I watched the first two Punisher movies but couldn’t bring myself to watch even a minute of the crappy-campy looking Punisher: War Zone.

While early runs of The Punisher by Mike Baron and War Journal by Carl Potts might be some of my favorite comics books, to me the Punisher works best when he’s the antagonist in some other character’s comic. Like when he was Daredevil’s nemesis in early ‘80s issues of Daredevil by Frank Miller.

Maybe “nemesis” is too strong a word. Really, both Daredevil and Punisher want the same thing — an end to crime. But Punisher is willing to kill people as a means to an end whereas Daredevil is not — and will actively try to stop the Punisher from doing so. Which is where much of the two character’s conflicts arises.

In Miller’s Daredevil, rather than having entire stories developed around the Punisher he would just show up and cause havoc before disappearing for a while. Which to me is how he’s handled best and is how the Punisher is being handled in the second season of Daredevil.

This TV Punisher, played by Jon Bernthal, is a kind of ally and kind of enemy at the same time. Someone who might help Daredevil one minute but be enemies the next when he’s trying to murder someone Daredevil’s trying to protect and take to justice.

All episodes of the latest second season of Daredevil are currently streaming on Netflix.

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