An all-new Punisher series is coming to the Marvel Universe in March of 2022, and with it comes a major change to the vigilante superhero’s iconic logo. In a strange step back from the well-established symbol, Marvel has decided to distance the company from fans who opt for the elongated skull over Superman’s “S” or the Bat symbol. The move was apparently a long time coming.
Following the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, images surfaced of rioters wearing the Punisher’s skull. Two days later, in an interview with Syfy Wire, Punisher writer Garth Ennis condemned the appropriation of the logo.
“The people wearing the logo in this context are kidding themselves, just like the police officers who wore it over the summer,” Ennis said. “What they actually want is to wear an apparently scary symbol on a T-shirt, throw their weight around a bit, then go home to the wife and kids and resume everyday life. They’ve thought no harder about the Punisher symbol than the halfwits I saw [on Jan. 6], the ones waving the Stars & Stripes while invading the Capitol building.”
Ennis is right to criticize the criminals who dragged his character’s logo through the mud by attacking American democracy, but he’s wrong in his sweeping condemnation of police officers.
Frank Castle, aka the Punisher, is a beloved comic book antihero who gets bloodied in the name of justice and revenge. He does what other superheroes won’t, getting his hands (and morals) dirty along the way. A veteran of the Marine Corps who takes on the mob after they murder his family, Castle is a damaged soul hellbent on stopping organized crime by any means necessary. Like the Boondock Saints or virtually any Clint Eastwood character, the Punisher is not unique in his story of vigilante justice. By scrapping the iconic logo altogether, Marvel is missing the mark.
I used to associate the superhero’s skull with Navy SEALs. Cadillac Platoon of SEAL Team 3 was the first military unit to widely adopt Marvel’s vigilante symbol when they began spray-painting the Punisher logo on their vehicles and body armor during their 2006 deployment to Ramadi, Iraq. Despite frogmen making the fictional character’s logo cool among real-life warriors, it only made sense for Marines to follow suit. After all, Castle was a Marine.
When I enlisted into the Marine Corps in 2009, the Punisher logo was still everywhere in the military. Junior Marines sported T-shirts that combined the iconic skull with cheesy slogans. A significant number of the Ford Mustangs and Jeep Wranglers that filled the barracks’ parking lot had Punisher decals on the rear bumper. The Post Exchange sold water bottles, hats, and every other kind of junk a new Marine might waste money on with the logo of Marvel’s most violent superhero. The only symbol more prevalent on Camp Lejeune was the USMC’s own Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. But even in 2009, the Punisher skull was falling out of vogue and the majority of Marines still brandishing the unique skull with long teeth were those furthest removed from combat.
A decade after watching the logo’s popularity wane in the military, I encountered a second wave of Punisher fanatics. The day after swearing in as a police officer, I found myself experiencing a bit of déjà vu. Like the parking lot of the infantry barracks, the parking lot of the police precinct had more than one Punisher logo dotting the bumpers of officers’ personal vehicles.
After a reflexive eye roll from seeing the played-out tough guy skull again, my next thought was that Marvel’s ultraviolent vigilante didn’t mesh with the values of law enforcement. Frank Castle subverts the law; police officers uphold it. While I was right in the eye roll, I was wrong in my assumption of what cops saw in the comic book character.
Police officers who own a Punisher hat or sticker don’t actually fancy themselves vigilante antiheroes, just like people wearing Superman shirts don’t mistake themselves for the laser-gazing man of steel. In reality, people whose job involves exposure to violence on a regular basis (cops) can better relate to the gritty Marvel superhero than to an alien in tights who lifts trains in the air or a web-shooting teenager dressed as a spider. Most superheroes are a little more PG and a little less relatable to the men and women who carry a gun and walk a beat.
Officers with Punisher decals on their car are obviously not condoning subversion of the law, and to infer that they are is irresponsible and small-minded. The only thing they’re guilty of is ruining their own vehicle’s paint job with a stupid decal. Those same officers Ennis loops in with “halfwits” dedicate their lives to upholding the law. In fact, they’re the same people who risked their lives on Jan. 6 to stop the very criminals Ennis associates them with. In 2021, 487 officers sacrificed their lives demonstrating an unparalleled level of devotion to the law.
Marvel may have felt the heat of cancel culture and taken the easy shot of saying police and service members who like the fictional character of Frank Castle are missing the point of the comic, but what’s far sillier than a cop fantasizing about being able to stop criminals without the restraints of procedures and legal loopholes is Marvel trying to distance its ultraviolent, trigger-happy superhero from the real heroes who demonstrate restraint and professionalism in the face of violence every day.
Marvel’s move to abandon the logo allows the criminals who attacked the Capitol to win. No longer will the complex comic book character be associated with real heroes like SEALs and police officers who championed the symbol long before January 2021. Instead, Marvel easily submitted to the conspiracy theorists and extremists who commandeered it.