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  • Writer's pictureDavid Baker

Goodbye, Punisher

Marvel offs one of its most popular (and controversial) characters


"The Punisher is no more."


In the face of mounting controversy and criticism, Marvel has discontinued the Punisher comic book series. However, rather than killing off the antihero, Frank Castle, the most recent series of comics featuring the character wound up the entire story arc in an unusual way.



Written by Jason Aaron with art by Jesús Saíz and Paul Azaceta, Marvel's latest Punisher series launched in May 2022 ends with Issue 12. Castle becomes the Highslayer of The Hand, an evil ninja organization, granting him supernatural powers as the "Fist of the Beast." The Hand convinces Castle to take on this role by resurrecting his wife, Maria Castle, along with the intent to do the same for his two dead children. However, fed up with the atrocities he's committed, Maria shoots her husband with a mystical gun at the end of Issue 11, and the series' final issue reveals his ultimate fate while sending him on a new path within the Marvel Universe.



The Punisher cheats death


The Punisher survives his gunshot wounds thanks to Doctor Strange, but loses his supernatural powers as a result. The Sorcerer Supreme and the heroes Captain America/Steve Rogers, Black Widow/Natasha Romanova, Wolverine and Moon Knight capture the wounded Frank at The Hand's compound, and imprison him within the basement of Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum. There, Strange pays a visit to Frank, and presents him with the mystical bullets that were removed from his body. The two discuss how Maria shot Frank, and that her revival is unnatural because, as Strange puts it, "When they reanimated her corpse, The Hand perverted all the laws of Earth and Heaven."


Despite this, Frank insists that the heroes help Maria and not return her to the grave. Maria is the last to have a one-on-one visit with Frank, and explains that she sold off all his assets with Black Widow's help, keeping half the money for herself while donating the rest to charity. She declares their marriage over and leaves to begin a new life, but doesn't tell the Punisher that she’s pregnant. Before the heroes can share with Frank what fate they've decided for him, he uses the remaining magic within the bullets removed from his body to set himself ablaze, disappearing without a trace.



Frank Castle ends the series on a new journey in another dimension


After the Punisher vanishes, Doctor Strange says, "He is no longer within this plane of existence," adding, "The Punisher is no more." Although it seems that Frank kills himself, in actuality, he is transported to another realm: Weirdworld (sorta seems like the world he just left was pretty weird, too). The epilogue of Punisher 12 shows that Frank now protects orphans and those in danger within Weirdworld, dropping the "Punisher" moniker and using his real first name instead.



Who was The Punisher?


The Punisher was a fictional character who first appeared in comic books published by Marvel Comics. Created by writer Gerry Conway and artists John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru, the Punisher made his debut in The Amazing Spider-Man #129 in 1974.


The Punisher's real name is Frank Castle, a former Marine Corps Force Recon who became a vigilante after his family was killed by the mob for witnessing a killing in New York City's Central Park. Driven by grief and a desire for justice, Castle takes on the persona of the Punisher and wages a one-man war against crime, particularly targeting organized crime syndicates and corrupt individuals.


Castle is known for his distinctive skull symbol that he wears on his chest, and he is recognized for his use of lethal methods and arsenal of firearms. Unlike many other superheroes, the Punisher does not possess superhuman abilities. Instead, he relies on his exceptional combat skills, tactical expertise, and relentless determination to eliminate criminals.


Over the years, the Punisher has appeared in numerous comic book series, graphic novels, and crossover events within the Marvel Universe. His stories often explore themes of crime, justice, and the moral complexities of vigilantism. The Punisher has also been adapted into various media, including films, television series, and video games, further expanding his popularity and impact in popular culture.



Why is The Punisher controversial?


The Punisher character has been the subject of controversy for several reasons.

For example, The Punisher's extreme methods of dispensing justice, which often involve excessive violence and lethal force, have raised concerns about glorifying vigilantism and promoting extrajudicial violence as a means of resolving societal issues. Critics argue that the character's actions undermine the rule of law and can be seen as endorsing a dangerous and morally ambiguous approach to justice.


The Punisher's iconic skull symbol has been adopted by certain real-world groups and individuals, such as some members of law enforcement, military personnel, and even extremist movements. This has led to debates about the symbol's meaning and unintended consequences. Some argue that its use by these groups can create a perception of support for violence or an abuse of authority, while others view it as a symbol of resistance against injustice.


Due to the Punisher's morally gray nature and his focus on targeting criminals, the character has been interpreted differently by different people, leading to political controversies. Some view the Punisher as a symbol of right-wing ideology, while others see him as a critique of systemic corruption and social inequality. These conflicting interpretations have resulted in debates over the character's intentions and messages.


In certain instances, individuals committing violent acts, such as mass shootings or acts of terrorism, have been seen wearing or displaying the Punisher's symbol. This association with real-world violence has led to concerns about the character's impact on impressionable individuals and the potential for misinterpretation or misrepresentation of his values.



Why It Matters.


While it is not unheard of, it also is not common for a fictional comic character to be “retired” because it has become too violent or too associated with the “wrong elements” of society. But it has happened.


Here are a few examples:


The Original Ghost Rider

The original version of Ghost Rider, which first appeared in the 1970s, featured Johnny Blaze as a stunt motorcyclist who made a pact with a demon, becoming a flaming-skulled vigilante. Due to concerns about the character's demonic imagery and violent content, the series was canceled in the mid-1980s. Ghost Rider eventually returned in a new incarnation with a different character, Danny Ketch.


Azrael as Batman

In the 1990s, the Batman series introduced a new character named Jean-Paul Valley, who took on the mantle of Batman during a storyline called "Knightfall." However, Jean-Paul's violent and brutal methods as Batman drew criticism from readers and resulted in a controversial storyline. Eventually, the character was reformed and returned to his original identity as Azrael.


Hitman

Hitman was a DC Comics series created by Garth Ennis and John McCrea in the late 1990s. It followed the story of Tommy Monaghan, a contract killer with superhuman abilities. The series was known for its dark humor, excessive violence, and mature themes. While it gained a dedicated fanbase, it was not a mainstream success and ultimately ended after 61 issues.



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