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Friday, January 11, 2019 

Gerry Conway's still ashamed he created the Punisher

This is hardly new, but in an interview with the SyFy channel, veteran Conway still dislikes the notion anyone would be inspired by what Frank Castle is about, and detests that they'd use similar symbols. First, what does he say about the killing of Gwen Stacy, which is at least the good part here:
What are your thoughts on Amazing Spider-Man #121 so many years later? I know you got a lot of heat for it when it happened but how do you look back on killing Gwen Stacy? What do you think of her return as Spider-Gwen?

I'm really proud of my work on that issue — and the work of Gil Kane and John Romita. We had no idea that story would end up having the legacy it's had, but even at the time I was conscious of wanting to drive home what I believed was the core theme of Marvel's approach to superhero storytelling: that being a superhero doesn't make you immune to tragedy, that superpowers don't make you infallible, and that real life doesn't always produce happy endings.

Unfortunately, Gwen's death also inspired some terrible stories, including the "girl-in-a-refrigerator" trope women in comics rightfully decry. I'd like to think that our approach to Gwen's death wasn't a cheap shot to create sympathy for our male hero, especially because I tried to use that tragedy more as a motivation for the emotional growth of the woman who would become the most significant female in Peter Parker's life, Mary Jane Watson.

But creators don't control the response to their work. We can only stand back and observe. It's astonishing to me that forty-five years later readers are still responding powerfully to that story. Astonishing and gratifying. As for Spider-Gwen... I love her, she's a terrific addition to the Spider-Verse.
It's not just women who rightfully decry the cliche. Men find it offensive too. Of course, that's why it's a pity his leftist politics keep him from showing concern about the horrors going in real life, exactly why it's a head-scratcher he'd complain about the women in the fridge cliches.

Now, let's turn to the main matter, Conway's view of the anti-hero he created:
What's your take on the Netflix Punisher series? How do you think the showrunners interpreted the character?

I wasn't involved with the show at all. I did speak with the showrunner of the show and I do love what they did with the show.

The Punisher was originally conceived as a villain and was not intended to be an anti-hero. But in the course of writing the first story, I realized that's what he was -- an anti-hero. He had a moral code I could use to resolve story points. And, it was a simpler time in the '70s. You had a very black and white canvas on which to draw and to write --the storylines didn't go into psychological depth of these characters. Mostly, we worked in broad strokes.

Today though, given what we know about PTSD, what we understand about how soldiers are affected our ongoing, multi-generational war in Afghanistan, a character like the Punisher can speak to something that's important for us to come to grips with as writers and artists. The way the writers approached the Punisher as a character in the show, was just perfect. They embraced the insanity and violence of the character but also revealed the depths of pain and anguish he was experiencing. They made him a heroic, damaged figure, someone you wouldn't want your kids to emulate but who you could understand. That was a high tightrope to walk and they did it.

What are your thoughts on the Punisher symbol being co-opted by police or the military?

I've talked about this in other interviews. To me, it's disturbing whenever I see authority figures embracing Punisher iconography because the Punisher represents a failure of the Justice system. He's supposed to indict the collapse of social moral authority and the reality some people can't depend on institutions like the police or the military to act in a just and capable way.

The vigilante anti-hero is fundamentally a critique of the justice system, an example of social failure, so when cops put Punisher skulls on their cars or members of the military wear Punisher skull patches, they're basically sides with an enemy of the system. They are embracing an outlaw mentality. Whether you think the Punisher is justified or not, whether you admire his code of ethics, he is an outlaw. He is a criminal. Police should not be embracing a criminal as their symbol.

It goes without saying. In a way, it's as offensive as putting a Confederate flag on a government building. My point of view is, the Punisher is an anti-hero, someone we might root for while remembering he's also an outlaw and criminal. If an officer of the law, representing the justice system puts a criminal's symbol on his police car, or shares challenge coins honoring a criminal he or she is making a very ill-advised statement about their understanding of the law.
This is honestly sad he's now comparing the skull symbol to a Confederate flag. And didn't Conway and Ross Andru get the idea for the Punisher from Charles Bronson's role in the 1974 Death Wish movie? If so, why say he's a villain when that wasn't exactly the case with the film they drew from? I don't think he even understands anything about justice so long as he remains so boilerplate leftist. From what I can tell, Conway sounds like he's against the notion of killing altogether, not even if the targets happen to be the most repellent of criminal elements who're virtually asking to be wiped off the face of the globe. Such bizarre rejection of justice by termination is practically what led to an early MAX story where Frank shuns a request to go after al Qaeda terrorists.

And if Conway views the Punisher as a hero in any way, why doesn't he want authorities to do the same? Seems weird he'd imply police and military can't be fans of Frank Castle. Does that mean nobody else can either? If the Punisher began as a character meant to be disliked, and he winds up being embraced instead, then Conway's only got himself to blame for bothering in the first place.

It's too bad Conway still sticks by a mega-liberal viewpoint that's making him reject his past creations, and doesn't even seem to respect law enforcement's appreciation for what the Punisher does, which is to take the steps they're shackled from doing. Similarly, it's a shame that ever since Garth Ennis got his mitts on Frank in the early 2000s, he's been turned into a mockery of what he used to be. Conway's liberalism echoes that of other Hollywood types who relish in making violent entertainment, then have the absurd hypocrisy to support gun control. Speaking out of both sides of their mouth doesn't avail any.

Interestingly enough, he also stated:
Are you still a fan of superhero comics?

The problem I have with mainstream comics these days is that mythologies have become so dense it's hard to get invested in characters and storylines to the same degree as I was when I was younger. Mostly, because of the business practice of these yearly and bi-yearly story events blow things up and destroy continuity.
And yet, he shuns the Comicsgate campaign, whose goals were to protest the alarming abuse of superhero franchises and call for better merit-based writing. Whether or not he believes Comicsgate is a hatemongering movement, what's the use of complaining if he rejects something intended to stand up for what we thought he upheld? For all we know, he probably rejects Power Girl as much as he does the Punisher, and believes he did wrong to conceive a parallel world take on Supergirl who became a fan-favorite sex symbol in her own right (though much of that's been destroyed since by terrible writers in later years.) And at the end of article, he says:
What's it like to see your creations on the TV or in a movie?

It's surreal. When I wrote comics full time, starting in my middle teens, through my young adulthood into my early 30s -- For most of that period, my peers and I thought comics as a business was on the verge of collapse. It looked like a dying business. Our numbers were going down rapidly with no end in sight. For most of us, we hoped the business would last as long as possible but honestly we didn't know where we'd end up.
That almost perfectly describes the 2010s. Now there's specialty stores closing down due to lack of customers, and you have folks like these wondering why, yet not serious about turning things around at all. Worst, if somebody even dares make the arguments for the better, they're all but rejected. Though Conway's statements do confirm what I'd realized myself for a while: the industry was never as successful as we'd like to think, if there were thousands of individual titles that sold well under a million copies each for decades already, amounting to about as much as the circulation of a local suburban newspaper. On which note, it's funny Conway would lament the decline, yet if he never championed any vision to change stuff for the better, there's no point to his comment.

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The Punisher was based on Don Pendleton's series of paperback novels about The Executioner, Mack Bolan. The basic back story was the same and the name was similar.

Private extra-judicial killing is murder. Its no defense for a lynch mob to say that the guy deserved it; it is not up to them to make that decision. In fiction, the writer can play God and make sure that guys like Frank only kill evil bad guys who deserve to die; in real life, it is not that simple, and for a cop to take him as a role model and play God is a sign that the cop should be taken off the force before he does real damage, to innocent people and to the police force.

Conservatives believe in law and order. They don't believe in vigilantes wearing skulls murdering on the street people who the vigilante has decided deserve to die for their crimes.

Has anybody added up the number of people Castle has murdered over the past 45 years?

Speaking of the Stuffed into the Fridge trope, Kyle's girlfriend wasn't the first girlfriend of a Green Lantern killed by a villain: https://www.cbr.com/green-lantern-katma-tui-john-stewart-women-refrigerators/

Not only is it horrible, but also a black mark against Carol Ferris as the Star Sapphire to boot.

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