My favorite Punisher comics are when he turns into your dad (or, as they say up here in Cal-Hab, “yer da”) on Facebook, complaining groundlessly about “liberals” while he beats up bad guys.
No, wait — my favorites are the ones where he infiltrates high schools to stop kids from taking drugs, and beats up children and/or spies on them from his unmarked van in the process.
Then again, I also have a soft spot for Punisher: Armory, which takes ten full issues to detail the specs of his many weapons while using far too many exclamation points and words like “hooboy”.
It’s not a rational concept, is my point, which is why I like it.
There isn’t much you can do in the way of realism when it comes to the Punisher; you can mirror real-world events, such as the late 80s post-Jonestown story about a suicide cult in South America, but you can’t ask readers to realistically cheer on murder. It’s a power fantasy. That’s the appeal.
…especially for me, because as a woman of color, as an Asian woman, I don’t obviously see those very often.
I’m not just talking about power in terms of guns or ass-kicking. White straight guy characters are relatively free of the burden of representation, which allows them to be individuals rather than ambassadors for an entire race, gender, nationality, etc. If they screw it up, countless white straight guys will be next in line to pick up the slack, so they only have to be themselves.
An Asian character whose shtick revolves around killing bad guys would at least be some sort of mystery shadow ninja. If they were female? A mystery shadow ninja/sexy murder geisha. I can’t imagine what a white-guy world would make of a black character whose house was full of guns and went around shooting the evil rich.
The Punisher is. He’s been called a force of nature, which is not only accurate but highlights his role as something natural/unconstructed/unbounded by ninja bullshit (okay, he did go to a “Ninja Training Camp” for a few issues in 1989, but he got the hell out of there because it was fake ninja bullshit). If I could see more characters who looked like me being described as natural, without excessive reference to Mt. Fuji or dragons or whatever, that would be ideal.
Not that I want to be a white guy. I’m comfortable as an Asian woman, proud of my heritage, and at ease with my gender identity. But in public life I’m continuously looking over my shoulder to ensure that I don’t misrepresent, that I don’t put forth a bad image of my race(s), gender, or nationality as a whole, and it’s exhausting. Frank Castle and implacable white male avengers like him have never had to worry about that. What they do stands alone. I wish I had that kind of access to institutional power, where I can stand as an individual and not as a de facto representative for several marginalized groups, often all at once.
That’s the power fantasy I’m talking about. And maybe I shouldn’t want that; in fact, I’m sure it’s hugely problematic. But until I see more characters like me at the center of that fantasy, Frank and his ilk are kind of all I have.