Marvel Comics has had a Punisher problem for quite some time. The murderous vigilante’s skull logo has been appropriated for years by police officers and members of the military services who seemingly admire the character’s ability to act outside of the justice system as judge, jury, and executioner and still technically be called one of Marvel’s heroes—and the company might be trying to change that.
While July 2019's The Punisher #13 (by Matthew Rosenberg, Szymon Kudranski, Antonio Fabela, and Cory Petit) featured the character ripping his skull icon off of a police officer’s car in clear hopes of distancing him from real-world authority figures who have taken it as their own, Jason Aaron’s new 13-issue series Punisher sounds like it’s going to take a different approach by distancing Frank Castle from, well, himself. Here’s the synopsis:
“As the Punisher, Frank Castle has become the most accomplished killer the world has ever seen. After a shocking secret pushes him to become the warlord of the Hand, he now serves the Beast, a role he’s been fated to fulfill. Tragedy, war, and rage come together as he takes up his sword and his new armor with the most notorious clan of assassins in the Marvel Universe. Will it mean an end for the Punisher? Or a whole new bloody beginning?”
By putting the character under the direct employ of a literal demon as part of a group of evil assassins, it seems like Marvel is doing two things here. The first is moving the Punisher away from the “mundane” world of murdering mobsters and criminals, and making his character more fantastical in nature—note that he’ll be wielding a sword and wearing armor—which is something the company has tried in fits and starts before. He also is getting a new skull logo on his chest, representative of his new boss:
The second thing is that it sounds like this latest series is moving away from the idea that the Punisher is a hero in any way, shape, or form, and interrogating Frank’s long past of grappling with being seen as such—whether that’s on the page or in the real-world narratives around him. The fact that the official press release calls Frank Castle “the most accomplished killer the world has ever seen” feels incredibly pointed. And here’s what Aaron had to say about the series:
“After writing the Punisher over the years, I’ve always been fascinated by the character of Frank Castle. What moments made him the Punisher, even before that fateful day in the park? And how far will he go to win the war that has consumed his life? Spoiler: as far as it damn well takes. This story is the destined next step in the dark and tragic evolution of Frank Castle, from troubled kid to heroic soldier to revenge-driven vigilante… to the duly anointed King of Killers.”
Again, no mention of Punisher being a hero or vigilante, just that he’s a killer. If Castle is transforming into something worse than he already is, the logical next step is surely something more deliberately darker than the grey world he’s existed in up to this point. Punisher #1 will be drawn by Jesús Saiz and Paul Azaceta, who will divvy up duties by respectively handling the present-day action and flashbacks, and hits stands in March of next year.
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