Ups and Downs and Loop-De-Loops, or, The Punisher

thepunisher

Spooky attack!

Do you like roller coasters?

Metaphorical roller coasters?

The Punisher, Netflix’s latest Marvel television series, is something of a ride. You know what it is before you go on it. You can look at it from the outside and get the gist, and you’re opinion of it, I suspect, will largely hinge on your eagerness to get on the ride to begin with.

The roller coaster in question? One of the oldest around: revenge. Straight-up, brutal, Old Testament vengeance.

Like any good revenge narrative, The Punisher isn’t necessarily a fun ride, but it’s one that is easy to insert yourself into because of the primal nature of the story and the out of this world portrayal of the titular vigilante Frank Castle by Jon Bernthal.

In many ways Castle is an agent of fantasy, of wish fulfillment. While the healthy majority of us hopefully aren’t chomping at the bit to have our families murdered, or to beat a guy to death with a sledgehammer, there’s likely a little Punisher in each of us. Whether it’s the feeling we get being cut off in traffic or the simmering resignation forced upon us when we see power abused without consequence there’s a universality to what The Punisher can offer: a world in which justice and one’s own righteousness are intertwined and absolute, in which they are elemental forces of sheer will tapped from a bottomless, primordial well.

Bernthal finds the fine balance between embodying those forces like a bloody monument and portraying the misery of a battered and broken human being. His grunts and silences and screams and scowls breathe life into Frank Castle so that we are able to not only tap into the aforementioned universality of his motivations, but his humanity as well. He is one of easily one of the greatest casting decisions the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever made. We can move through the story with him, in some respects we can move through the story as him. He is the car on the tracks of this rollercoaster and it is exactly the car you want to be in.

If, that is, you want to be on a rollercoaster.

Like any other revenge yarn, engaging with The Punisher is chasing a dragon of sorts. Fully immersing yourself in Frank Castle’s quest requires a suspension of one’s better angles in the hopes of achieving that sweet nirvana of vicariously reaping brutal revenge. Inconsequential means to an inconsequential end, given that we’re talking about watching a television show, but a bargain that still isn’t for everyone.

The Punisher is also fueled by the sort of superhuman masculinity at the center of many revenge yarns that may turn some viewers off, though it makes efforts to explore and subvert that trope and its potential toxicity

If you like the character of Frank Castle, smart money says you’ll enjoy Netflix’s take on The Punisher, and even if you aren’t a fan of the character there still might be a chance that Bernthal’s stellar performance could win you over. Like any metaphorical roller coaster, you don’t have to get on to get a pretty good idea of what you’re getting in to. It goes up. It goes down. It does loops and spins. If that isn’t for you it isn’t for you, but man if it is for you holy crap the ups and downs and loops and spins on this thing are insane.

 

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Daredevil Season 2, or, Turns Out I’ve Been Playing “Seven Minutes in Heaven” Wrong

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Marvel’s Daredevil

A quick note before the piece proper: while I don’t go into specific plot points here there’s perhaps “thematic spoilers” regarding Season 2 of Daredevil, which is to say I do go into how I feel some of themes of the season resolve. So, I don’t know. That happens.

In a summer blockbuster season poised to be a war of battles between superhero ideologies last weekend’s opening salvo may ultimately prove to be an early and decisive victory.

This week Batman and Superman will duke it out over “what it means to be a man” and in May, Captain America and Iron Man will clobber each other over government oversight, but Dawn of Justice and Civil War both have their work cut out for them, because the second season of Netflix’s Daredevil has the Man Without Fear and The Punisher waging an ideological fist fight between life and death. It’s a conflict that not only proves exciting for a Daredevil story, but ultimately necessary for the health of the superhero narrative at large.

There is no perfect superhero. Whether their code is one of great responsibility or sheer willpower or truth and justice there is no superhero that can take on every shade of evil world has to offer. For instance, heroic as he is there’s a cruelty to Hell’s Kitchen that Daredevil’s acrobatic beatings just can’t account for. There are crimes that a black eye can’t avenge. Rather than cover up this glaring hole in Daredevil’s modus operandi and let it slowly eat away at the credibility of the character and his world Daredevil Season 2 shines a skull-shaped spotlight on it in the form of The Punisher.

The Punisher is the kind of guy who’d call Batman out on his bullshit and blow the Joker’s brains out with a sawed off. He ends crime by ending criminals. Season 2 of Daredevil is largely built on top of the fundamental conflict between The Punisher’s more absolute methodology and Daredevil’s “Beat The Shit Out Of ‘Em And Let God And/Or The Criminal Justice System Sort ‘Em Out While They Recover In A Hospital Bed” strategy.

As a society we want to believe in Daredevil’s methods because in a sense civilization depends on Daredevil’s methods. Civilization depends on a belief there’s a good reason Batman doesn’t kill the Joker. We want to believe that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, but it’s an argument that never completely closes the loop around that last gnawing inch, that feral, animal cruelty of the world that defies logic and philosophy. There’s a certain inhuman brutality the world can display that Batman and Daredevil just can’t salve. A brutality that can seemingly only be punished with an equal and opposite severity.

Enter The Punisher.

Jon Bernthal turns in what may be his best performance, no small feat for an actor of his caliber, as The Punisher. His Frank Castle is the fourth live action iteration of the character but the first to really take on The Punisher’s larger mythological connotations – the personification of the Old Testament justice that stirs in our gut in the face of particularly pungent sadism. The Punisher’s world is one of absolutes. It’s a streamlined world free of checks and balances but it’s also free of accountability. It’s free of aspiration and hope and ascendance because it depends on reacting to the world we have rather than striving for the one we want.

Daredevil’s methods may leave victims wanting, and it may let the worst society has to offer off easy, but they also account for higher ideals like hope and redemption. Daredevil’s ideology hinges on a faith in the world that The Punisher’s doesn’t allow for.

Matt Murdock and Frank Castle’s philosophical fisticuffs boast no shortage of thrills and excitement but they also prove incredibly thoughtful. The master stroke of the show’s second season is that Daredevil is never proven right and the Punisher is never proven wrong. The end result is a nuanced and open-ended meditation on the imperfections of justice that proves to be one of the best stories Marvel has ever put on film.

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 15, or, Murder

Hey look! It’s a day early this week. You’re welcome! A lot of books this week. Possibly more than ever before. And yet, by and large, there’s but a singular resounding theme throughout them (almost) all…

This week: Action Comics, Afterlife with Archive, Detective Comics, Forever Evil, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Magneto, Moon Knight, The Punisher, She-Hulk, Swamp Thing

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 13, or, Buddy Baker’s Dozen

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Get it? Get it? Oh, you’ll figure it out. The rant portion of the podcast is almost as stretched out as the hapless brainstorming this week. It’s great! Boat horns? A co-host? Anything is possible when you’re thinking out loud and recording it!

This week: Animal Man, Batman and Two-Face, Daredevil, Justice League, The Punisher, Superior Spider-Man Team-Up and Wonder Woman

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 11, or, Drug Use

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Still double digits! This week I cover more books than ever before and said books cover more topics than ever before: dead rabbit puppets, political correctness, crocodile murder and mild to severe drug use to name a few. Good times.

This week: Action Comics, Black Widow, Detective Comics, Forever Evil, Green Lantern/Red Lanterns, Ms. Marvel, New Avengers, The Punisher, The Superior Foes of Spider-Man and Swamp Thing.