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Wednesday, November 08, 2017 

Times-Record gives poor coverage of the Punisher's history

The Fort Smith Times-Record of Arkansas published a pretty weak piece about Frank Castle's history of characterization, not giving any specific locations where the early stories were published, in a column preceding the release of another Netflix TV show based on Marvel's stable of heroes:
When “Marvel’s The Punisher” drops at Netflix Nov. 17, rest assured that what’s on screen will be the best of the many versions of Frank Castle that have appeared in the comics.
Better in every way, shape and form than the comics? Is that suggesting a TV show is superior simply because it's of a different medium? If anything, I don't see why the live action series has to be what to cherish while the comics are wallowing in terrible abuse by ultra-leftists.
Frank (né Francis Castiglione) at his core is a fairly generic character, with more than a passing similarity to Don Pendleton’s Mack “The Executioner” Bolan. As an archetype without much of a personality, Frank has always been fair game for ambitious writers to stretch his concept — and the reader’s credulity. As a result, Frank has been presented in some mighty strange ways.
The strangest of all which aren't mentioned here: the times when he was exploited by pretentious writers like Garth Ennis for the sake of their far-left politics, and even Matt Fraction did some pretty awful work to boot. And why exactly does this state Frank's lacking in personality? As established a year after his debut in 1974, he became a dedicated crimefighter after his family was murdered by mobsters in a park.
Zero tolerance

Completely ignored today is a short period in Frank’s publishing history when he seemed to embrace the “broken windows” theory with — as usual — a vengeance. That’s the idea that links little crimes like vandalism with more serious crimes, due to a theoretical rise in incivility and respect for law.

Or as Frank himself put it in this 1983 story:

“Crime, if left unpunished, breeds further crime. A man’s crime of battery against his wife today ... makes him capable of committing a crime against others tomorrow. I can’t allow that escalation.”

As good as his word, Frank shoots a wife-beater. And a cab driver who runs a red light. And a litterer. “Littering is a crime against society,” he thinks, as he sprays the street with an automatic weapon.

If you think that’s crazy, you’re not wrong. Two issues later, a judge declares Frank insane, which explains this weird divergence from his regular modus operandi. Better yet, by Frank’s next appearance this storyline had dropped down the memory hole completely.
I believe the story from 1983 whose location the columnist fails to specify came from Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #78-83 (possibly excepting issue #80, where Frank did not appear), written by Bill Mantlo, and reportedly, he came up with the story because (drumroll) he didn't like the character. While Mantlo had some impressive moments in his career as a comics writer, I think this was in awfully poor judgement and taste, not to mention blaming a fictional character entirely for how he was characterized (besides, didn't Daredevil also sometimes mete out stern justice, even if he usually refrained from killing?). What's really crazy is why Mantlo thought the Punisher had to be burdened with such an embarrassing moment in writing. It's one thing if he blasts a spousal abuser, but another entirely if he kills somebody for violating traffic coordination and littering. I think that was in bad scripting judgement and the editors should've objected, but to the company's credit at the time, when Steven Grant wrote the 1986 Punisher miniseries preceding the ongoing begun by Mike Baron, he retconned Mantlo's renditions to one where Frank was injected with drugs that made him insane. Something not mentioned here either, so how is the audience supposed to judge regardless?

That said, depending on how Mantlo's story was handled and followed up on, I do think it was otherwise ill-advised to turn Frank that tunnelvisioned and thus complicate the ability of future writers to make better use out of the character without having to go to the pains of deciding how to retcon away what could be a poor direction. Why cause so much trouble for writers who might have better ideas how to handle any character?
Corporal punishment

In a 1980 story, Spider-Man discovers Frank using rubber bullets against mobsters. It’s entirely likely that this story was simply a case of Marvel getting cold feet about a “hero” who is a merciless killer.

We used to be so naïve, y’all.

Frank was back to using real ammo soon enough. Even so, The Punisher has since used rubber bullets for plausible, in-story reasons on other occasions — specifically when the character is forced into team-ups with superheroes like Spider-Man or Daredevil. I mean, it’s weird enough that these “nobody dies on my watch” types haven’t gone all out to put The Punisher behind bars (or in a psych ward). So Frank’s careful around them. He doesn’t force them to act by displaying his homicidal inclinations under their costumed noses.
Umm, if I'm correct, when Frank Miller was writing Daredevil, he wrote up a story where Hornhead captured Frank and sent him to prison (and he escaped from the pen in the Mantlo material). Furthermore, I'm sure it was written in-story that most of the other superheroes knew, in some way or other, that Frank used deadly force, and if it was against murderers and rapists, that's why, if I were in their shoes, I wouldn't worry too much. Say, didn't Wolverine use deadly force too at times? Not always, of course, but there were occasions when he did, although I must take a moment to note that some of those storylines where he killed after the mid-90s were in very poor taste. Certainly the stuff written by hacks like Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza (Even Daredevil may have been established by Miller as having killed a few times in self-defense.)
“For Frank to exist in the (Marvel Universe) and do what he does, he’s got to stay below the radar,” writer Greg Rucka explained in a 2012 interview with CBR.com. “I think for Frank to survive, he’s got to know that. He’s got to know that if he keeps his profile low, Thor is less likely to come and hit him on the head with his hammer because Thor is going to be busy hitting other people with his hammer who are trying to eat the Earth.”

Well, yeah. That’s just common sense.
Oh, is it? What, is he suggesting Thor should have literal objections to killing the worst of criminal vermin? What I do know is this ignores the fact Thor's dealt with smaller-time criminals himself in better days, even if he didn't kill them. And again, if Wolverine's killed, how come he doesn't have to stay below the radar? Because in the 40-plus years Logan's been around, he's been anything but that. Same with Daredevil.
Angel of death

In 1998, Frank had been dead for a while, but was resurrected. (That happens more often than you’d think.) He was returned to life by an angel — the guardian angel of Frank’s family, who had failed at his job and was seeking redemption.

Gadriel, as he was called, gave Frank heavenly weaponry that he could summon from inside his trenchcoat, plus glowing red eyes, resistance to all injury (including bullets and Wolverine’s claws), an Aramaic symbol on his forehead and a new mission. Frank doesn’t seem to mind.

Frank: These guns kill demons?

Gadriel: Of course.

Frank: Let’s do it.

This version lasted a total of eight issues — a four-part miniseries, then a second one guest-starring Wolverine. Because it was the 1990s, when Wolverine was in everything.
And again, as mentioned earlier, Logan's killed people at times too. So what's the point? How come the Punisher gets all the brunt of left-wing criticism while Wolverine gets a pass?
It’s alive!

In 2009, Frank was killed and resurrected. (See, I told you this happens a lot.)

Frank had been killed by Logan’s son, Daken, who used his Wolverine-like claws to dismember and decapitate him. Luckily, though, his dead parts were reassembled and brought back to life by Morbius, the Living Vampire, who was hiding with the Legion of Monsters in the sewers under New York City, and given hydraulic limbs and gigantic guns to defend the Monster Metropolis from monster-hunting samurai and Nazi zombies led by a mummified skeleton named Hellsgaard, who sought revenge on all monsters because his family was killed by werewolves.

I hope that sentence was as much fun for you to read as it was for me to write.
No, it was not. And, why is it okay for Frank to be resurrected, but not for some other characters who've been killed off in poor taste, if anything? Oh, and how come no clear stressing whether the above Daken dimwittery was a bad story or not? Most likely it is, as Marvel's output has been for years now.
This updated version of Frank was immediately dubbed “Franken-Castle,” which eventually became the name of the book. But obviously it didn’t last. Two months after the last issue of “Franken-Castle,” Frank was back to his old self in a new series.

Needless to say, he doesn’t talk about this much.
But when news writers do, how come they can't at least inform the consumers this is a terrible story? Apart from which, such a bad item should be dropped down the memory hole, much like the following example, supposedly a non-canon story produced in the mid-90s:
‒ “Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe” (1995): The set-up of this one-shot is that Frank’s family gets killed not by the mob, but as collateral damage in a superhero-supervillain battle. Naturally, this inspires Frank to murder everyone in a costume. Highlights include shooting Captain America in the back, dropping a nuke on the X-Men and killing Dr. Doom with a sledge hammer to his metal face mask (“Klang Klang Klang Squitch”). Not for the faint-hearted.
Not for anybody who really likes the Punisher. This is disgusting, and chillingly reminiscent of the later Civil War, where the New Warriors accidentally lead to deaths during a battle with supervillains. And what's this about Frank "naturally" taking to murder everyone, or, more precisely, failing to make distinctions between friend and foe? I can see now where things went wrong with the Punisher.
All of the above should serve to make us grateful that Netflix chose to use the most enduring and popular version of Frank. That’s the one best exemplified by the 12 issues written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Steve Dillon in 2000-01, returning the vigilante to his pulpy, noir roots. It’s collected in a trade paperback titled “Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank,” and if you only read one Punisher story in your life, that’s probably the one you want.
Ennis is the recommendation, and not Mike Baron or Chuck Dixon? Figures. Ennis is said to dislike superheroes, but that's no excuse for drawing up sensationalized atrocities. The column ends with this insult:
Or you could wait until later this month, when Frank returns in a new series wielding the War Machine armor in his crusade against criminals. I kid thee not. Writer Matthew Rosenberg told Newsarama.com in August that the series is about what happens when James Rhodes’ Iron Man-style armor “falls into the wrong hands.”

And are there any hands wronger than those of Frank Castle?
Are their any writers wronger than both the modern writers/editors and reporters who comment on this dreck? It's a terrible shame leftist social justice mentality's led to the cheapening of a once workable character, who was anything but insane under better writers in the late 80s-early 90s. Of course, the reason Castle's become one of Marvel's most badly misused cast members today is partly because even his own creator, Gerry Conway, evidently doesn't have faith in him, potentially explaining why Mantlo was able to get his story greenlighted in the early 80s (Jim Shooter as EIC must've lacked faith in Punisher too). Which is a shame, of course, but that's probably the saddest thing about these work-for-hire types.

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"And why exactly does this state Frank's lacking in personality? As established a year after his debut in 1974, he became a dedicated crimefighter after his family was murdered by mobsters in a park."
That is the same origin as Mack Bolan's Executioner, from whom the Punisher was copied. It is also more or less (without the park) the origin of Batman, Robin and the Huntress; of the Lone Ranger; of Spider-Man and Marvel's Daredevil. Substitute Nazis for mobsters and you get Blackhawk. That is not a personality; it is a very old cliché.

Wolverine kills when necessary in a combat situation, or perhaps when he loses control; he does not make it his life's mission to play judge jury and executioner and kill whoever he decides does not deserve to live. Punisher was introduced as a character of questionable morality, to play off Spider-Man; his ethics became more problematic for the writers when he took center stage.

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