By now, you have heard just how much everyone seems to love Marvel’s Daredevil series on Netflix. Hell, I’m sure you have enjoyed some, if not all, of the first season by now like I have. The show is a surprising departure from the rather fantastical and family-friendly approach Marvel has taken with their properties since Marvel Studios became a reality. No, Marvel’s films have not exactly been G-Rated, but there is far more swearing, blood, disturbing violence, and hints of partial nudity in the first few episodes of Daredevil than any of the Avengers movies have had so far. So with Marvel showing they can succeed at dark and gritty as well, what could it mean for some of their other less family-friendly properties?
Despite regaining the rights to some of their mature characters, like The Punisher, Blade, and Ghost Rider two years ago, it seemed Marvel would sit on them for a while. After each of the characters had their share of poorly-received films, it seemed Marvel just wanted them tucked away and safe at home. Now, thanks to Daredevil, these properties have another chance. I, for one, hope it could mean a resurgence of one of my favorite characters, The Punisher. Sure, he has had two different movies made (The Lundgren movie doesn’t count) and they have each been good and bad in their own ways, but I think with the right people, and the proper respect, The Punisher could be a success. Here is how I propose it could be done.
The problem that both 2004’s The Punisher and 2008’s Punisher: War Zone suffered from was they were being based on a character whose comics, at the time, were nothing more than an excuse for excessive violence, swearing, and occasional nudity. “Frank The Tank” found more over-the-top and gruesome ways to roll his way over stereotypical gangster after stereotypical gangster. Now, this is not meant to say the comic was entirely useless. Garth Ennis’s stories brought a real grounded reality to Frank, but in order to do that he had to create a comic where there were no such things as superheroes. In order to be a part of Marvel’s extended Cinematic Universe, that is not an option, so these realistic marine-vs-crime stories have to be able to play in the same world as The Avengers. Daredevil has already proved that can work.
I think The Punisher, like Daredevil, fits better as a television or Netflix series than it would for a movie. The extended time gives a chance to deeper explore the character, his capabilities, and let him grow. This is tough to do in a 2 hour movie, and tougher to do when very little of his source material does this in the first place. I do believe, however, that there are some comic-arcs that have since come into existence after the previous films that Marvel could use, and maybe even combine, to create a Punisher series. Namely, two of the newest volumes written by Greg Rucka and Nathan Edmondson.
The Punisher series from 2011 through 2012, written by Rucka, is by far one of the best ones that the character has ever had, and it is because Rucka decide to ground the character back into as realistic a world as possible while not running away from the fact that it is a world filled with superheroes. He doesn’t try to put Frank Castle on the same level as The Avengers with over-powered super weapons or make him a large mass of muscle like some series did before. In fact, this version of Frank looks like he is based on Tom Jane from the 2004 film. The modest arsenal, equipment stolen from other heroes, and the spray-painted skulls make it obvious this version is not a superhero by any means. He makes Frank as human as possible, capable of getting injured gravely, as is the case when he loses an eye in issue 3. Rucka’s Punisher was cold, calculating, and unrelenting. He described himself as a dead man on a mission and therefore cut away all distractions that did not pertain to his war against crime. The story saw him take on a protege of sorts in Sgt. Rachel Cole-Alves, a Marine whose entire family was killed on her wedding day by a gangland attack. Frank molds Rachel into a new weapon in his war, but must first break her of the emotional need for revenge. The two have a dynamic that makes for great moments of tension, emotion, and humor through the series that makes their final separation so much more satisfying to see Frank grow to care about someone else again.
[Art by Marco Checchetto]
This type of bare bones story about characters and not strictly about the action and violence offers a place to connect with a killing machine on an emotional level, or at the very least offers the audience an outside perspective through the eyes of Sgt. Cole-Alves. The only down side there might be to Rucka’s version of The Punisher is that his version of Frank is so detached and distant that it would be hard to get a general audience to enjoy him. There is only so much that Cole-Alves could do to humanize him, but it wouldn’t be her show so it would be detrimental to have her be the soul in the story. This is where Edmondson’s storyline comes in.
After Marvel cancelled Rucka’s story to allow Daniel Way to use the character in his Thunderbolts series, Marvel relaunched the solo title early last year with Nathan Edmondson writing. Edmondson’s take on the character sees a subtle mix of Rucka’s style with the action movie roots seen in previous Punisher comics. There is a wry sense of humor involved that puts more of a personality back into Frank and little bit more of a charm in the anti-hero construct of his character. He is still a regular man able to be hurt, hence his choice of full military gear as an outfit, but he also is able to call in favors and get his hands on some big artillery when he needs it. Relocated to L.A. instead of New York, Frank uncovers a deadly conspiracy being carried out by the Dos Soles drug cartel and the terrorist network known as A.I.M. Meanwhile, the elite black-ops team know as The Howling Commandos have just been ordered to take Castle out as a high value target.
[Art by Mitch Gerads]
Edmondson’s high stake concepts and characterizations fused with Rucka’s street-level warfare and emotional investment are the elements that could truly make a Punisher story worth seeing. They even lend themselves to interaction with other characters and superheroes as the story continues. Rucka has Frank work alongside Daredevil and Spider-Man for a short crossover, lose his eye in battle with Vulture, and ends his series with Frank taking on The Avengers in order to save Rachel’s life. Edmondson pits Frank against Electro in an epic showdown that could mean the destruction of Los Angeles, and maybe more, if he fails. Who wouldn’t want something like that on screen?
I know seeing The Punisher again soon is a bit of a slim chance, even with the rumors and theories that he was “in” the second Captain America film. I also know it seems like an even slimmer chance that he will get his own show or film. Hell, we’ve seen plenty of Black Widow and she hasn’t gotten a damn thing of her own yet. So, for now, if anything, I will cross my fingers that he shows up in at least an episode of Daredevil within the next season or two. Hell, I’d even be willing to write it if given the chance. Yes, that is a shameless plug, and no, I do not feel sorry.
Let us know in the comments below what character you think deserves a show or movie the most. You can also chat with me about it, or if you work for Marvel and want to offer me a job writing for Daredevil or Punisher, you can do so over on Twitter, @MattDelhauer.