Only days prior to this season's New York Comic Con, Marvel and Netflix cancelled their panel for The Punisher. The mass shooting in Las Vegas a couple of days before had left 58 people dead and more than 500 injured and “it wouldn't be proper” for its violent, gun-heavy show to participate in the convention at that time, the companies said in a statement.
Tomorrow, a little more than a month after NYCC, The Punisher eventually hits Netflix. Time has passed since the Las Vegas shooting, but rsquo & the harbor. Over two weeks before, a mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas left 26 dead and another 20 wounded. Five people were murdered by a gunman in Northern California before this week, and the US has averaged roughly one mass shooting event per day in 2017. All of that is to say, if it wasn't suitable to market Netflix's latest Marvel adaptation in a comic book convention because it was in the wake of a horrific incident of gun violence, can it be appropriate to release the show itself after another one? Moreover, if there are constantly mass shootings in America, will there ever be a acceptable time to launch The Punisher?
Questions about the intersection of entertainment and real-world violence come up often. Folks asked them when Suicide Squad came to theaters so soon after last year's Orlando nightclub shooting. They were incredibly salient following the 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooting, which occurred during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. And still, the creators of The Punisher–a show named after the alter-ego of all gun-toting vigilante Frank Castle–apparently didn't give them much consideration when creating the sequence. In fact, in a recent interview using Syfy.com showrunner Steve Lightfoot reported the issues of mass shootings and gun control weren't believed by the writing team in any way.
“In regards to specific recent events, we started making the show a year and a half ago,” Lightfoot explained. “We wrote most of this show before the election so I think we'd need to think back to then if we started and the brief answer isn’t really. We had just started with the character.” Lightfoot said he also didn't consider that the fandom law enforcement officials have for the character: “I can speculate about why the Punisher resonates so strongly with them, but I sort of didn't give it too much thought as we were writing.”
That the guy in charge of a Punisher show didn't give such things “too much thought” is telling. It's suggestive of a feeling that Lightfoot, and perhaps Marvel as a complete, doesn't need to engage with the idea of Frank Castle as anything aside from a busted, but ultimately sympathetic, antihero–one who does anything necessary to find the bad guys. For them, seeing Castle as any sort of reflection of reality is a step too far.
That's their prerogative. The Punisher is a literary character, and #x 27 & it;s around Marvel and Netflix to determine just how deep those stories go in interacting with the world and how to tell his stories. It’s not like Thor and Squirrel Girl are expected to function as comment on the current political climate–what's the big deal if the Punisher is treated as only a Death Wish-esque dream character? (Death Wish, obviously, started as something far more sober than its later sequels would suggest, also it's worth pointing out that its upcoming movie is under fire for its seeming political stance.)
The Punisher isn't Squirrel or Thor Girl, though. #x 27 & he;s not even Iron Man or Spider-Man. He’s a street-level character dwelling in Marvel' version of the world, without any powers but his arsenal. (The closest another Marvel character gets to the Punisher's contemporary cultural significance is Captain America, which's just because he had been temporarily a Nazi) In a nation where gun violence is permanently an issue, albeit one never fully analyzed or discussed, the Punisher's modus operandi of channelling his frustration throughout firearms means he ends up representing–or at least reminding people of–real-world issues, whether his creators want to admit it or not. It's understandable that Marvel would like to avoid the problem if at all possible, but ducking the query may not do the job, especially when the cancellation of this New York Comic Con panel proved that the company is mindful of the character's wider cultural context.
There may be another alternative, though. In NYCC, Marvel's publishing arm devoted part of its panel to the relaunch of this Punisher comic book, that includes the Punisher using old Iron Man armor to overthrow a European despot for S.H.I.E.L.D.. This vision of the Punisher may be outside the Frank Castle norm, but it points to a potential for its character that doesn't evoke so much grief. If Netflix grants The Punisher a second season, this new version of Castle might only warrant some thought.
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