The Punisher has always been depicted as someone who takes the law into his own hands in the most brutal ways imaginable, and while some Marvel fans enjoy the gritty tales of his gruesome conquests, others are critical about the Punisher’s sociological impact in the real world. One storyline actually touches on the Punisher’s real world criticism and even agrees with the dangers associated with the Punisher’s potential influence on society.
Frank Castle’s metamorphosis into the Punisher was a painful one. After serving as a United States Marine and returning home from war, Frank and his family were gunned down while at a local park. Frank survived, his wife and children did not. From that moment on, Castle used everything he learned throughout his time in the military to put an end to crime in his city the best way he knew how–by killing every single criminal he ever came into contact with and thereby fully becoming the Punisher.
Punisher Vol. 5 #5 by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, three more deadly Marvel vigilantes are introduced who were clearly inspired by the Punisher. One of them was a man who was a self-proclaimed representative of the working class known as Payback who kills members of the corporate elite. Another was a man called Elite who killed any person he deemed ‘undesirable’ who came into his upper-class New York neighborhood, whether they were doing anything illegal or not. The third, and most violently terrifying of the three, was a priest who had a darkness inside of him that he couldn’t get rid of even through faith. The priest would kill anyone who confessed to truly terrible crimes rather than assigning them penance (as in they’re not forgiven until they turn themselves in). Instead of trying to stop, the priest thanks God that the Punisher exists as his presence made him feel less isolated in his homicidal tendencies. This Punisher story highlights the dangers of society idolizing someone as dark and violent as the Punisher. Even though the people the Punisher kills are the worst kind of humans, like murderers, drug traffickers, crime bosses, and child molesters, killing them is still, in and of itself, wrong. Just as Daredevil has always tried to impart onto Frank, the justice system isn’t perfect, but it’s the best thing they have to maintain law and order. If people take their version of morality into their own hands and kill people who don’t align with what they believe is right, then there will be nothing but chaos.
While the Punisher’s influence over real world violent crimes is virtually non-existent and should therefore not raise any concerns, this storyline is a clear message that the Punisher should not be looked up to or emulated in any way–and that message is from the Punisher himself. The Punisher was never meant to be an inspiration to anyone. He is very clearly a remorseless murderer and meets anyone who admires him for his work– including the three people inspired by him in this story–with utter disdain and disgust. Punisher’s darkest story confirms Marvel agrees with Frank’s real critics, and as it turns out, so does the Punisher.