By Kelly Kanayama
Well, it is. And it does.
I mean, come on: after all the continuity torture they’ve put Frank Castle through – like casting him as the Cosmic Ghost Rider, or turning him into a Frankenstein, or taking him out of Vietnam and dropping him in Afghanistan so the readers don’t have to face the inevitable passage of time and their own aging, or making up an entire country (Siancong) for him to do war in instead so he could still come home with an Orientalist/Full Metal Jacket-esque experience but without the need for historical accuracy – the least that Marvel could do is let him keep the damn skull. Not slap whatever this is on his chest:
Look at his color-coordinated swords! And his shiny pants! What material is that?! It does not look like it allows for freedom of movement (unless he stole them from a mid-tier dance crew in the year 2004) or airflow. I bet it’s like the Everglades in there. This outfit is less “merciless agent of death” and more “guy at the comic con who is definitely going to tell me his unsolicited opinions about anime”. The Weebisher, if you will.
Most egregious of all, though, is that stupid logo. I get that it’s meant to represent the mythical beast that the Hand worships, because the Punisher has joined the Hand now for some dumbass reason, but if they’re going to let him wear his own outfit, there’s no reason he can’t also keep the skull the way it was, i.e. recognizably human.
CBR has suggested that by distancing the character from the classic skull, which has been appropriated by cops and white supremacists (yes, Venn diagram, circle, etc.), the logo change will make it easier for Marvel to continue using the Punisher in the MCU. On one hand I can see the possible rationale behind this; on the other, man, that new logo is so stupid.
And it completely misses the point.
Not surprising, since Marvel itself has often been strangely coy about the whole murder thing when it comes to the Punisher, such as in his most recent screen outings on Netflix. Despite the entire show being dedicated to a man whose superpower is being very good at killing people, it was a remarkably bloodless outing, especially considering how much of the show drew on characters and events from Garth Ennis’ Punisher MAX. Eleven episodes it took before we got to see Frank do any actual Punishing: laying traps, calculating the logistics of taking human lives, all the good stuff we tuned in for in the first place. (Tell me you’re afraid to talk about death without telling me you’re afraid to talk about death.)
What is a skull, anyway? It’s a symbol of mortality, of course, but why? A skull is what’s revealed when everything else has rotted away, what hides beneath the skin we wear in life.
It’s Punisher MAX: Born that made this clear to me.
This is a man who has chosen an existence of everlasting war and barters away the lives of his family – his last tethers to true human connection – to get it.
Yes, I DO keep these screenshots on my computer ready to go. You never know when you’ll need them.
While fighting for his life in Vietnam, Frank makes a deal with some dark force (the devil, maybe, or death; its identity is left ambiguous) to get “what [he’s] wanted all these years”: “A war that lasts forever, a war that never ends”. There’s a price, he’s told, but he never asks what that price is, because it doesn’t matter to him. At his core, he’s willing to pay anything as long as he can get that war for the rest of his life.
Importantly, the dark force emphasizes, “you have to say the word” for the bargain to be struck. In other words, he enters into this life by choice; unlike Marvel’s Netflix offerings, it isn’t just “one bad day” – i.e. something that could happen to anyone – that turns him into the Punisher, but a deal he makes of his own volition.
So why does his family end up being the price he pays?
It makes perfect, terrible sense once you consider that war is an exercise in dehumanization. To wage war means reducing an entire population to an abstract concept, “the enemy,” instead of viewing them as people with hopes and dreams and loves and futures. If you dedicate your entire existence to eternal war, you have to give yourself over fully to that dehumanization, which means forsaking your strongest ties to the people who help you retain your humanity.
Driving this home are the covers for Born. If you look at issue #1 by itself as above, it could come off as a basic reference to Frank Castle a) being in the military and b) becoming the skull logo guy:
But if you look at the covers in reverse order, from issue #4 to issue #1, a chilling narrative emerges:
- Captain Frank Castle was a guy – a troubled guy with darkness deep in his soul, but a guy nonetheless – with a wife and kids back home….
- War happened 😦
- He gave away his humanity…
- And now his animus is wholly governed by death and war (which is why he’s allowed to keep part of the helmet), by what lies beneath the flesh that makes us human.
The point is, the Punisher is the skull, what’s left of a person once humanity is stripped away. The skull emblem reminds us that his actions aren’t something a cool dude does to impress others with how cool he is, but rather are the path of a man who has come from and is only going back to the grave. You do not want to be this person. Not if you want to have a family or friends or find joy in anything ever. It’s not aspirational; it’s cautionary.
This new logo takes a big old dump on all that, forsaking the chilling significance of the skull for horns and fangs and general weebery. Then again, even the dumbest revamp is better than having to actually confront what violence means, right? We can still enjoy the murder man as long as we never think about our own flawed natures, as long as we don’t wonder what “saying the word” would mean. Take us away from that, Marvel. Bring us the stupid new logo. Anything to keep us from digging even the tiniest bit under the surface and discovering what our own skulls might be.
Punisher Born #4
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Darick Robertson
Inked by Tom Palmer
Coloured by Paul Mounts
Lettered by Russ Wooton
Kelly Kanayama is a writer and comics scholar who is literally writing the book on Garth Ennis. Don’t believe me? Have a look at her Patreon page here! You can also find Kelly on Twitter here!
This post was made possible thanks to the Shelfdust Patreon! To find out more, head to our Patreon page here!
This article was brilliant. I forgot what it was like having articles that actually unpack the very real and interesting questions on life that our stories (used to) portray.
Every other article on the logo change is some kindergarten, “you go marvel!”, or “it’s about time!” nonsense. The authors in those articles can’t actually make coherent arguments so they just call things “problematic” without explaining what problems are caused, why those things are problems, etc. and then celebrate that the evil problematic thing has been expunged from our society. They’re not wise or intelligent, they’re just in a cult. Sometimes I think internet content is made exclusively by teenagers with zero life experience.
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