The Fifth Color | Punishing by committee
A Punisher team-up still seems like a really bad idea. No matter who’s book he guest stars in, the Punisher is just not the guy you want to stand next to for any real length of time. Not only is he a loner by nature, but your average superhero is immediately at odds with something as simple and dangerous as a man with a gun. His motivations just don’t jibe with the code one has to follow to be a hero, let alone a sane human being. To paraphrase Ray Stevenson, who played Frank Castle in Punisher: War Zone, no one should want to be the Punisher, but everyone should be glad he’s out there.
That movie title is catchy because it’s very apropos; Frank Castle truly is a one-man war zone. Please note the one-man part. In recent years, there has been some absolutely brilliant comics work showing you just how strange and solitary the Punisher is. Greg Rucka has brought us the pure poetry of life at Punisher’s right hand. Jason Aaron on PunisherMAX drove us right on through how cruel a world can get to create the Punisher. And, of course, Garth Ennis showed us Frank Castle as a force of nature, something that happened to the worst of the criminal element. Not a bogeyman or a fable but cold, dark fact.
So I can’t say the idea of the Punisher as we’ve come to know and love him in recent years would be signing up for a matching uniform to run around with Ross’ Thunderbolts. He’s not a team player. He certainly doesn’t seem like a man who could even tolerate Deadpool for more than it would take to put air in his lungs. How could a one-man war zone work well with others? Well, let me take a moment of your time, Dear Reader, to theorize with you. I think there’s enough duty and dignity to Frank Castle to will allow him to co-exist with comrades-in-arms.
WARNING: One of my examples comes from the absolutely gorgeous Punisher #16 that was released this week, so grab your copy and read along!
Let me give you a quick-and-dirty catch-up on Rucka’s Punisher: Widowed Marine Rachel Cole-Alves has just killed a cop in a moment of chaos. All the revenge she took in killing the criminals that murdered her husband weighs down on her, and the death of Detective Bolt by her own hand is the last straw. Unable to cope with what’s become of her, Rachel Alves is a liability. She and the Punisher split up and Alves makes a suicide call to her last friend, explaining everything. Waiting for the legion of law enforcement after her, she gives in, not up, to the weight of what she’s done. But despite her sniper-clear location, despite her wish to die and her determination to see it through, pointing a gun at another officer, Rachel lives. The Punisher ensures it by having removed the firing pin from her gun earlier and clearing out the snipers. She curses his name as the Punisher watches, alone in the distance.
Writer Julien Smith of Trust Agents and the Flinch recently said there are two major reasons for doing absolutely anything in the world: happiness and duty. While debatable philosophically, it can be said the idea fits Frank Castle to a T. Or a skull. Whatever works for you. It can be said the small smiles and the lengths to kill the criminal element derive from a type of sadism; the Punisher first and foremost has made it his self-appointed duty to punish the guilty. Letting Alves live is part of that duty: He judged her from the moment she was tossed into this criminal cycle, he respected her enough to bring her in on his personal mission and he took away her ability to go out at a suicidal moment. Alves’ story will continue, she’ll be punished, but that she will live is the most important part. She wasn’t guilty enough to die.
Face value says the Punisher kills criminals. That’s his goal, his modus operandi, his raison d’etre. More to that, the Punisher judges others. He undertakes law enforcement without legal authority, but by a moral code. He knows right, he knows wrong and what should be done for either. Without people, the Punisher has nothing. Even in the cruel world that Aaron created for PunisherMAX, Frank Castle has to die. There has to be something greater than himself by which to measure the guilty.
In Civil War, the Punisher followed Captain America and helped the Resistance until it came into direct conflict with his personal duty. Captain America tossed him out on his ear after the Punisher shot two criminals the Resistance was about to work with, and that was that. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t go very well but it did prove the Punisher could exist under a higher authority. Now, imagine if that higher authority actually shares the Punisher’s duty and values …
Enter Thunderbolt Ross. This man has waged his own one-man war against an unstoppable threat to all he holds dear. As the Red Hulk, he tried to personally assassinate Cyclops during Avengers vs. X-Men, taking this dirty task upon himself to keep the Avengers’ hands clean. He’s a decorated general and could probably swap a war story or two with Frank Castle. Most importantly, General Ross has a similar if not matching devotion to the acts he considers his duty and the ones undertaken with that special shade of sadism. Violence doesn’t bother him one bit and, against the enemy, all the sweeter.
The Punisher won’t be climbing on the Avengers bus, but he might drive down the same road for a while. He couldn’t fall under the leadership of Captain America because they don’t share the same values anymore, no matter how much respect there might be. Thunderbolt Ross shares those values and isn’t foolish enough to grab a handful of anti-heroes for his team without knowing if they’re going to fall in step with him. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.
Still not sure about Deadpool, though.