What to do with The Punisher?
My old pal El Mayimbe has launched a new site, Heroic Hollywood, and one of his first articles is a nice rundown of Marvel TV’s “Phase Two” plans and hopes. He writes:
The powers that be at Marvel have also been toying with the idea of adding characters like Punisher, Bladeand Ghost Rider, but there are risks with each of those characters. Not only are they darker and more violent, but two of them require supernatural elements in order to tell their stories. The inclusion of these characters could send Netflix over to the goofy side, which is something they’re very afraid of Ghost Rider would also rely on CGI too much for the studio’s taste.
It would also be difficult to incorporate the stories of these characters smoothly. Blade and Punisher are perceived to be rather one-note to carry a series on their own. The heavy level of violence is also perceived to be a risk. They want a “hard PG-13,” instead of an R. And since none of the Defenders actively kill, throwing Punisher into the mix could be a challenge.
It would be a challenge… if Marvel TV approached The Punisher as a hero who belongs with The Defenders. But what if they approached him correctly - as a grey area bad guy who gets in the way of The Defenders?
It’s not obvious to readers today, but The Punisher was introduced as a villain (in the same year that Death Wish came out, which means America was hot for vigilantes in 1974). He was willing to kill gangsters, something that was incredibly unusual in the comic book world in the 70s, and in his first appearance he was actually trying to kill Spider-Man, who was wanted for the murder of Norman Osborne.
That’s the right angle to take with The Punisher on Netflix - have him be after one of The Defenders. Daredevil is your best bet, and you would have Daredevil fight a villain to the death in season two - not really murder him, but do one of those oh-so-comic book things where the villain gets stuck in the death trap he created for our hero. It’s a fist fight in a collapsing building and only a badly injured Matt Murdock makes it out alive! Whatever the cause, have The Punisher set his sights on DD and come at him with deadly force. Or bring in The Punisher as he hunts the assassin Elektra, sticking Matt between these two.
The Punisher really works in the world established in the Daredevil show because the question of lethal force has been so important from the start. Having a guy doing the right thing - stopping legitimate evildoers - but in the wrong way is dramatically interesting. It could make for a great schism between The Defenders, as some of them point out the results The Punisher is getting with his methods. There’s a great ethical debate that exists in the comic book Marvel Universe, one where characters like Spider-Man and Daredevil and Captain America allow The Punisher - surely one of the most prolific serial killers in the history of the world - to operate right under their noses. You would assume that the New York City based Avengers could deal with Frank Castle over the course of a lunch hour… if they wanted to.
I’m no fan of The Punisher as a regularly appearing character with his own title (the ethical quandry he presents the heroes actually, in my opinion, breaks the heroes), but in the limited series world of the Netflix shows he’s a great foil. Bringing in supernatural characters could be a challenge for the Netflix tone, but The Punisher is so correct for this world I have to believe we will see him before 2017.