The Thunderbolts – Underrated and Underappreciated

I wanted to take today to talk about one my favourite teams to ever come out of the Marvel comic universe and that would be the Thunderbolts. Most people aren’t very familiar with them if at all, and those that are familiar tend to view them as Marvel’s Suicide Squad.  While the Suicide Squad did come first by quite a few years, the Thunderbolts have been right smack in the middle of some of the Marvel comic universe’s biggest events and played a big part in the original Civil War.

The Marvel Thunderbolts is a team made up (originally) of Super Villains that masqueraded as heroes and fooled the world into believing they were heroes. It was revealed in the final page of Incredible Hulk #449 from January 1997, that they were a team of villains (the Masters of Evil) led by Baron Zemo.  Throughout their early publication the team became more and more heroic to the point where they ousted their leader Zemo and became heroes in their own right. Eventually Hawkeye led the team and continued to do so for many years. The team went through many re-launches and revamps through their short publication history until Warren Ellis took over the title making the team a black ops government sanctioned team that was tasked with rounding up fugitive superheroes during Civil War. This was by far the most successful run of the team and they even appeared in several tie in runs with Secret Invasion. The team was revamped during the MarvelNow! publications to operate as singular unit functioning outside the law and government sanction.

The team has gone through so many incarnations and revamps that it would take forever to list the teams and their respective rosters. That being said the following three rosters are the most popular from their publication history and have been present for some of the biggest events in Marvel Comic history.

#1 – Zemo and his Thunderbolts

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This first incarnation of the team as stated before were the Masters of Evil masquerading as heroes after many of the heroes had been killed by the Onslaught event.  This team consisted of: Baron Zemo, Goliath, Beetle, Fixer, Moonstone, and Screaming Mimi. As previously stated during their first foray into production, the team donned heroic personas to act as heroes after Onslaught had killed most of the main continuity heroes. The heroic personas they took were as follows:

Baron Zemo – Citizen V

Goliath – Atlas

Beetle – MACH-1

Fixer -Techno

Moonstone –  Kept her name

Screaming Mimi – Songbird

The team’s first mission was to rescue Goliath and kill the Avengers, obviously with the Avengers having been killed by Onslaught the team decided to fill the void left, learn the secrets of the Avengers and SHIELD and sell the secrets to the Criminal underworld.

#2 – Osborn’s Thunderbolts

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The next most popular incarnation of the team is the one that came to popularity immediately after the events of Civil War. This team was led my Norman Osborn and served as the first step to him eventually being named director of SHIELD ( which he renamed HAMMER) and his Dark Avengers. Osborn assumed control over the team and began hunting down the remaining fugitive heroes who avoided the Superhuman Registration Act. One of the heroes that they attempted to take down after he killed Black Knight at a Pro- Registration rally to save the innocent people attending (more on that in a later post) was Moon Knight; at that point the team was made up of the following members:

Norman Osborn (Green Goblin) – Leader

Moonstone – Field Leader

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Penance – Speedball from the new Warriors who caused the Civil War

Radioactive Man

Songbird

Swordsman

Venom

This is arguable the most popular incarnation after the team. I say arguably because the original team led by Zemo was fairly popular and their reveal of who they really are is #11 on the Greatest Comic Moments Ever. 

This team went on to repel the Skrull invasion on Washington D.C. during Secret Invasion and was played up to have had a much larger impact on the outcome of the invasion by Osborn. After Secret Invasion the team wen through a few more line-up changes most notably when Luke Cage handpicked the new Thunderbolts from Raft prisoners and became their field leader.

#3 – Red Hulk and the Thunderbolts

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The third most popular team comes from the MarvelNow! run which was a complete revamp of the team and was made up of anti-heroes and a few villains. The team was recruited by Red Hulk and their mission were decided at a turn by turn basis. Each member put their names in a hat and General Ross (Red Hulk) would draw one name out, whoever he drew got to pick the mission and nobody could complain or say otherwise. Once your mission was done your name was left out of the next draw until everyone had a chance to pick a mission and then everyone’s names went back in. The system worked for the entire run with only a few minor hiccups. This team consisted of:

Red Hulk

Punisher

Deadpool

Elektra

Agent Venom

The Leader – After the first issue

Abigail Mercy – Midway through the run

 

Eventually during their run Ghost Rider (Johnny Blaze) would join the team and assist them in some supernatural missions as well as testing their security. One such example was when the team tested if they could take down the Venom symbiote should it become unattached from Flash Thompson (Agent Venom). The battle was a little bit of a one sided event with the symbiote dominating until the Leader stepped in and subdued it. Punisher eventually quits the team and is almost killed by a bomb that was placed in one of his hideouts, in retaliation he goes after the Thunderbolts and takes them down 1 by 1.  The run ends with Ross disbanding the team once the true culprit behind the attempted murder of Frank is revealed.

 

The Thunderbolts are one of my favourite teams of all time and I will admit that while I do enjoy the Suicide Squad the Thunderbolts still rank higher in my opinion. The Squad is great and their chemistry is apparent (sometimes) but the Thunderbolts just have that redemption quality that makes you want to believe in them. They started off being heroes in disguise and liked it so much they kicked out their Super Villain leader to be heroes full time, if that doesn’t just warm your heart than nothing will. Not only are most members great redemption stories, they also battle a lot of personal demons and do a lot of growth in the limited number of issues in each run. My favourite  incarnation of the team is probably the Red Hulk’s but that’s because of Deadpool, Punisher and Agent Venom, not to mention GHOST RIDER!!!! I will admit that I haven’t picked up any of the newest incarnation from the All New All Different Marvel, but I have read that Winter Soldier is the new leader of the team, so that can only be a good thing.

 

 

Anti-Heroes: More Realistic Than Classic Superheroes

Superheroes provide hope, and idea to strive towards. They’re someone you can always look up to and can trust that no matter what is facing them, they will do the right thing. While this is an admirable stance to take, even if it’s not very realistic. Finding someone who is good for the sake of being good is a one in a million chance. Most people like to think that they are good at heart but when the chips are down and their back is against the wall they will do whatever it takes to win, even if it is sometimes a very morally grey area. I’m not trying to say that I think people are evil, they’re not. People are just people and each person has a breaking point. A point where self preservation takes the driver’s seat and everything else takes a side seat. Some people can reach this point very quickly, while others take quite some time to get there.

If any of you have seen the movie American Sniper, you’re probably familiar with the little speech Chris’ father gives him after saving his brother from a bully. “There are 3 kinds of people in this world, there’s wolves, sheep, and sheep dogs. Wolves try to hurt the sheep and it’s the sheep dogs job to protect them, so are you a wolf or a sheep dog?” I’m paraphrasing the speech, but that’s what it boils down to. This little tid bit is actually taken from a book by LTC retired Dave Grossman titled “On Killing”, the books is quite extensive and dives deeper into the comparison of sheep, wolves and sheep dogs. There is also a quote from Heraclitus that goes like this…

“Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back”

To bring this back to my main point if Superheroes are the sheep dogs then anti-heroes are like wild dogs. They may attack the sheep on occasion but for the most part they only go after the wolves. There are quite a few heroes that fall into both categories (Wolverine, Ghost Rider, Arsenal), there are also quite a few that stay far past the line (Punisher, Grifter, Deadpool, Red Hood). While superheroes tend to have tragic backstories, anti-heroes tend to have a backstory so caked in violence and blood that it’s amazing they didn’t turn into a villain themselves. Three of my favourite anti-heroes are Deadpool, Red Hood, and Punisher, because of everything that happened to them they still somehow come through in the end (even if just barely).

One of the defining traits that all anti-heroes seem to possess is the innate knowledge that no matter how hard you try, you can’t save everyone every time. This also goes hand in hand with the belief that sometimes in order to save someone you need to use lethal force. One of my favourite lines comes from MarvelNow! Punisher: War Zone, wherein Frank Castle (Punisher) has pissed off the Avengers for the last time. Before the final showdown with the Avengers, Wolverine is approached by Captain America. Cap basically tells Wolverine that because of his close relationship with Frank that he will have to sit this one out. They banter back and forth and the final line comes from Wolverine when he says ” The difference between guys like us and guys like you Cap… is that we understand sometimes… people have to die”. This one line perfectly illustrates what makes anti-heroes so much more relatable than clean cut superheroes, they understand that some people are just bad and they will continue to be bad until they are stopped.

Batman once said “If you kill a killer , the number of killers in this world remains the same”.  While this philosophy might work for Batman and potentially other heroes like him (Superman, Flash, Captain America, Spider-Man, etc) one has to ask how many people died because they refused to do what was necessary. There is a quote from Wonder Woman on her New 52 run that goes like this ” There’s a reason why I don’t have a list of enemies as long as yours, or Bruce’s or even Barry’s, because when i deal with them.. I DEAL with them”. Wonder Woman is one of the few clean cut superheroes who takes lives, but she also doesn’t do it willy nilly. She heavily weighs the cost of her actions against whether or not it’s for the greater good. If the greater good wins she acts, there have been a few exceptions (Maxwell Lord pre Infinite Crisis) for example, where her emotions got the better of her, but they are few and far between.

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One of the questions I get asked quite a bit when explaining comics to people is “Why doesn’t Batman just kill the Joker?”. Without going into a HUGE debate on the psychology of the two of them there really is no right answer. Batman doesn’t kill the Joker because then Joker wins, but Joker won’t stop until Batman kills him, it’s a catch 22. The animated film Under the Red Hood actually introduced a lot of people to the Red Hood for the first time. Jason Todd (Robin #2) was beat with a crowbar to near death and then blown up by the Joker. Feeling guilty for having brought Joker into it Ra’as Al Ghul revived Jason using a Lazarus Pit. Jason came back but was pretty insane and fled for several years. He begins taking over the Gotham underworld until the final confrontation with Batman and the Joker. The final confrontation has a particular line that hits the issue to the core ” Why is he still alive? Ignoring the friends he’s crippled the graveyards he’s filled…”; Jason delivers that line while pointing at the Joker. Batman tells him that if he kills the Joker he will never stop killing. This is what draws me to Batman as much as other characters like Punisher and Ghost Rider, he is a Superhero, but he is barely past the line between anti-hero and superhero and on several occasions he has crossed that line.

The 2008 film Punisher: War Zone showed us just how gritty and brutal a Punisher film could be if done right. I stand by Thomas Jane and the 2004 film with John Travolta, but Ray Stevenson just looked the part. It also brought a great line from a police detective who tried to “stop” the Punisher. When talking with Detective Soap, he basically says that the reason the Punisher hasn’t been caught is because the police don’t want him to be caught. He gets to do to those guys (mob families and criminals) what cops only dream of getting to do. While this train of thought might extend to superheroes as well normally the police forces of the comic worlds are stuck behind red tape and can’t act on someone they know is guilty. anti-heroes don’t care. They will find out if you’re guilty and they will make you pay.

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I realize it seems like I’m saying anti-heroes don’t have a conscience, but that is very wrong. while some like Punisher and Red Hood have become so jaded they no longer care, some like Deadpool use humour to cover up their true feelings, and sometimes they don’t cover them at all. In Deadpool’s brief stint on the X-Force he quickly came to butt heads with Wolverine. They were tasked with killing the reincarnated Apocalypse, the only problem was that he was reincarnated into a kid named Evan who was still in primary school. Wade immediately objected and voiced his objections, Wolverine and the rest of X-Force knew what a full grown Apocalypse could do and were resigned to killing Evan. Wolverine and Deadpool had some words and Wolverine called Deadpool “…a soulless, spineless, money grubbing mercenary”; as Wade turned to walk away he responded with ” Ya. But I never killed a kid”. This altercation caused Fantomex to regret his decision and clone Evan (it’s get weird just go with it) and teach Evan right from wrong enough to get Evan enlisted in Xavier’s school for Gifted Youngsters.

Superheroes come in all shapes, sizes and abilities; they can be star spangled awesome like Captain America, the big blue boy scout like Superman, or a tortured human like Batman. No matter who they are, superheroes give us something to strive toward. They provide us with a direction to orient ourselves towards, a light to find our way in the darkness. But sometimes the darkness is fought with darkness, while superheroes are the light, anti-heroes are the shade. The grey area between the darkness and the light, not fully dark themselves but not fully light either. They’re willing to plunge their hands in the filth so that others can keep their clean. While most of us strive to be an incorruptible and perfect hero we know that sometimes we’re not perfect. We can’t all be sheep dogs after all, but we’ll be damned if we’re going to become wolves.

Moon Knight – Next Logical Step for the Marvel Netflix Universe

With the release of the next installment of the Marvel Netflix series, Defenders, due out in August, I can’t help but ask what their next step should be? Every time I think about it the next step is clear… Moon Knight.

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The Marvel Netflix universe will reach it’s culmination with the release of the Defenders, a show they’ve been building up to since Daredevil first began streaming in 2015. Since that first season we have received a second season of Daredevil as well as individual seasons for each member of the Defenders team.  Daredevil will take the role of Tony Stark in that he will be the driving force behind the team. Luke Cage the righteous street warrior of Harlem will balance him out as the surrogate Captain America. With that being said the title Defenders does have a little bit of a different roster when you look at the Marvel Comics releases.

DEFENDERS

The original Defenders team consisted of Dr. Strange, Namor the Sub Mariner and the Hulk. The team was originally formed to combat a interplanar threat from the Undying Ones. Due to the popularity of the series Marvel Comics continued publishing the series and added Valkyrie to the team to “provide extra texture to the group” as stated by Steve Engleheart (one of the original writers of the series). Throughout their publication history since their first inception in December of 1971, the team has gone through many different incarnations and variations. Most recently the team consisted of Valkyrie, Misty Knight, Danielle Moonstar, and Warrior Woman and adopted the moniker of Fearless Defenders (2013). To coincide with the release of the Netflix series of the Defenders, Marvel Comics revamped the team to consist of Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist; this series is due to release in August around the same time as the series comes out on Netflix.

During the Secret Empire series it is unclear what has happened to the Defenders after they were last seen combating villains for what happened at Pleasant Hill, they disappeared after Nitro detonated himself.

Moon Knight

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Moon Knight has been in Marvel publication since he was first introduced in August of 1975 in Werewolf by Night as a villain hired by the Secret Empire (no relatio nto the current Marvel event) to kill the main character in a two issue story arc. Due to the popularity of the character Moon Knight was brought back again in a limited series under the Marvel Spotlight title. By 1978 he was recast as a hero who had masqueraded as a villain in order to infiltrate the Secret Empire and dismantle it from within. he briefly joined the Defenders when they were fighting the Zodiac Cartel but wasn’t given his own solo series until 1980. Since that first series he has gone on to have many different series’ and many different teams of which he is an active member.  As I said before he has been a member of the Defenders, Avengers, Marvel Knights, and even Captain America’s Secret Avengers. His most recent series is written by Jeff Lemire written under the All New, All Different Marvel title card.

Why Moon Knight?

The reason I think that Moon Knight would make a great addition to the Marvel Netflix universe is the tone and content of his comic. Whether you read his classic stories or his more modern tales (Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s run is the best in my opinion), his content always leans towards a more mature audience due to its graphic content.  The character of Moon Knight suffers from MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder) he has 4 distinct personalities: Steven Grant (billionaire fat cat), Marc Spector (ex mercenary and black ops soldier), Jake Lockley (New York cabby), and Khonshu (Egyptian God of the Moon and Revenge). His real personality (as in his identity) is Marc Spector, son of a Rabbi who lied about his age to enlist in the marines. After his extensive career in the marines as well as a CIA black team operative he became a Mercenary where he met his long time ally Henri Duchamp (Frenchie). In a botched raid on  an Egyptian temple Spector had a change of heart and tried to help the prisoners, he was killed by his group’s leader, Raoul Bushman. Spector ended up saving the prisoners but suffering from multiple gunshot wounds in the process. Spector crawled to the feet of the statue of Khonshu and died in the arms of one of the prisoners, Marlene Alraune. Khonshu appeared to Spector in an after death sequence and promised him life he would be his avatar on Earth. Spector agreed and was revived by the God. He donned the mantle of the Moon’s Knight and used his fortune from his years a mercenary to set up in New York City.

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The brutality and the graphic content of his comics would fit right at home in the Marvel Netflix Universe, not to mention his cross overs with the Punisher.

Moon Knight & The Punisher

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At the end of the 2006 run which saw Moon Knight as a card carrying member of the Avengers, hunted by the Thunderbolts, fake his death after killing Carson Knowles; he ran down south and hid out in Mexico. During his exile in Mexico he moonlighted as a bare knuckle boxer to make cash and kept his head down. It wasn’t until a member of the local cartel saw him fight that he was hired by the cartel leader to get his daughter back from the police. He initially agreed until he learned what the daughter was being held for, as state’s witness against her father for his crimes. He allies with the daughter but not before incurring the wrath of the cartel and their hired thugs. He runs into the Punisher who is there to take out the Cartel and they team up for the final assault.

They literally already have a story made that can introduce him into the Netflix universe! At the end of the Punisher series (which we are getting in November of this year) have him run to Mexico to hide out and run into Spector. Have Frank ask him what he’s doing there and just have Spector reply with ” It’s a long story… we’re gonna need more tequila”  BOOM! Moon knight series kicks off with him explaining why he is hiding out in Mexico and every episode is a flashback until the final episode when he decides to head back to New York.

It might just be my own bias because of my love for the character but i cannot stress enough how perfectly Moon Knight would fit into the Marvel Netflix Universe. His dark and gritty stories, not to mention his brutality would fit perfect and it would create for some interesting dynamics amongst the other characters. Daredevil would be appalled whereas Iron Fist would agree that sometimes the only way to stop someone is to kill them.  It could potentially set up their own version of a civil war, not that I’m hoping for that, that would be a stupid idea… or would it?

Marvel Knights – The Failed Productions

With the success of the MCU as a whole, it’s hard to forget that Marvel made some pretty left field choices when they were still a struggling company. From the selling of some of their most major characters ( X-Men to Fox, Spider-Man to Sony, Namor to Universal) they also tried some hit and miss productions, mostly miss.  Daredevil from 2003 was the beginning of the slump for Marvel which lasted until the release of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance in 2011. Strangely enough this slump was also during some of their greatest success, which begs to ask… what caused the slump?

The slump was caused by an off shoot subsidiary production company of Marvel titled Marvel Knights. This production card appeared in only 2 marvel films to date Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and Punisher: War Zone.  For obvious reasons (critical reception and failure) the Marvel Knights banner was scrapped and the darker heroes that they had focused on were moved to other forms of media. Punisher found success in the Netflix universe being a secondary character in season 2 of Daredevil and receiving his own show later this year, and Ghost Rider moved to Agents of SHIELD and was widely regarded as the best part of the series thus far.

For those unfamiliar with the Marvel Knights, it was actually the name given to the superhero team formed by Daredevil in order to take down and capture the Punisher. At the time of it’s printing the team consisted of: Daredevil, Black Widow, Dagger, Moon Knight (who acted as the Bank Roller for the team), Shang-Chi and Luke Cage. The run didn’t have it’s exclusive title (like Avengers or X-Force), rather each hero on the team had it’s own title with the sub imprint of Marvel Knights. That alone makes it very hard for collectors to get every issue as they never made it to graphic novel form with the exception of the Marvel Knights 2099.

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Let’s look at the two films produced under this banner to get a better idea of why it failed.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

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The first Ghost Rider was produced under the main Marvel studios banner and it wasn’t until they decided to give GR another shot that it was dropped under the Knights production banner. Where to start with why this movie failed… Let’s start with the obvious answer, Nic Cage. Nicholas Cage tends to be hit and miss with his movies (mostly always a miss) and this was no exception. His overacting and butchery of the character are second to only Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor (in case you haven’t noticed I really don’t like that casting). The story also falls pretty flat on itself by trying to incorporate too much into the film all at once. Rather than focusing on the redemption of GR they brought in Danny Ketch (who takes over the mantle of GR when Johnny Blaze dies) as the son of “Satan” really Mephisto, but they call him Rourke in the movie? Not only that, but they brought in the whole fallen angel aspect to the Zarathos mythos as well as Blackout being a poor two bit villain that lasted all of 20 minutes. I will say this, apart from the weird idea to have him piss as a flamethrower? the CGI for Ghost Rider was pretty spot on. They did away with the horrible CGI skull and flames from the first movie and gave him a much more burned and charred look which I think works better for the character. He is supposed to be a fiery demon from hell after all. If he can melt metal with his hands it would make sense that his clothing gets a little charred when he changes. The scene where he takes control of the massive digger in the mine and turns it into a hell machine is also just badass no matter who you are. They also really brought in the fact that Ghost Rider is pretty much indestructible. He takes a javelin rocket right on and keeps coming, he swallows an entire magazine of bullets and then spits them back out and demolishes an entire crew, and those are just a couple of the badass things he can do. Regardless of how much I love the character, I can recognize that both Ghost Rider 1 & 2 are horrible movies, but I will continue to love them none the less.

Punicher: War Zone

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For anyone who saw the 2004 Punisher film starring John Travolta and Thomas Jane this movie felt like a knife to the back. In the 4 years it took between this one and the previous movie the production was plagued with problems. From script re-writes to the star (Thomas Jane) walking off the set and tearing his contract up 3 weeks into shooting, to directorial issue the movie was doomed to fail from the start. Once Jane had walked off the set the casting team scrambled to find someone who could replace him as Frank Castle, enter Ray Stevenson. Now for the record Stevenson did a great job with what he was given to work with. When the studio got a new actor to play Castle, they treated the entire production as a soft reboot and went back to the original comic roots for his origin. While I did like the updated massacre they used in the 2004 movie, the comic roots are still the best when trying to adapt any movie. The story alone was ridiculous at best and sometimes brought in outrageous elements just for shock value (Looney Bin Jim ripping out the orderly’s kidneys and eating them while he was still alive?). Dominic West was another actor who did well with what he was given. He played the main villain mob boss Billy Russo who later after a run in with Castle gets disfigured and takes on the moniker of Jigsaw. The supporting cast was great and offered some comic relief when sought. The main problem with this film was the stagnant plot until the last 20 minutes of the movie for the final assault. I will say that the final assault conducted by Castle is still one o the best action sequences I’ve seen in any comic book movie.  In addition to the stagnant plot and the gratuitous violence comes the gore. You can still make a badass movie without throwing in ridiculous amounts of gore, the 2004 movie is a prime example. The main problem for this movie’s success was all these factors combined gave it a solid R/18A rating making it impossible for most of the population to view it.

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So following the release of the Spirit of Vengeance, Marvel Studios scrapped the Knights banner and absorbed all that property to be used at a later date (see Netflix Marvel Universe). The one character from the Knights that I’m holding out on getting his own solo series is Moon Knight. As one of my all time favourite characters, his brutality and narrative would be at home in the Netflix universe and would compliment the other characters in that medium very well. I won’t hold my breathe though, Marvel doesn’t like to take risks when it comes to not so well known characters.

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Is the Punisher Right?

By now, everyone has had a chance to watch Season 2 of Daredevil on Netflix. If not, I strongly urge that you do, because it is awesome! Also, this article will contain spoilers for those who haven’t seen it yet, so, you have been warned!

The season kicks off with a bang (literally), when an Irish mob gathering is ambushed by an unknown assailant, who proceeds to massacre the entire squad with the exception of one lowly member named Grotto. Now it isn’t revealed until the second episode, but the unknown assailant is none other than Frank Castle aka the Punisher. The Punisher is a famous anti-hero from Marvel comics who uses his extensive military training to wage a one man war on organized crime. To date he has received several live action adaptations, being portrayed by the likes of: Dolph Lundgren, Thomas Jane, Ray Stevenson and now John Bernthal. He is a very complex character with a staunch moral code that some might consider fairly askew. Moral code and ethics aside, one has to wonder if he actually has a good point.

In episode 3, the Punisher has captured Daredevil and chained him to a chimney on a rooftop overlooking the Dogs of Hell club house. While he prepares to draw the club members into an ambush and slaughter them all, he has a moral debate with the staunchly catholic Daredevil. The debate begins with Daredevil asking Frank why he is doing what he’s doing (killing gangs) and Frank calmly replies  with ” Because someone has to” while preparing for his ambush. Back and forth they continue to debate on how frank is able to sleep at night knowing what he has done.  Frank asks Daredevil what he thinks the difference is between them, Daredevil staunchly replies with “I don’t kill people”. The debate continues back and forth for a few minutes as tempers become elevated. The hard hitting line comes from Frank when he tells Daredevil that he (Daredevil) will never win. ” You wanna know what I think? I think you’re a half measure… You hit them and they get back up, I hit them and they stay down! … You know you’re one bad day away from being me.”

This final line actually draws a very interesting parallel with the Joker mythos in Batman: The Killing Joke. In that story, Joker tries to prove that anyone can become as crazy as he is with just one bad day. He targets Commissioner Gordon in an attempt to bring (arguably) Batman’s strongest ally down into Insanity. He kidnaps him after shooting his daughter through the spine paralyzing her, strips her naked and photographs her while she bleeds on the ground, then uses these images to torture the commissioner over and over again in an effort to make him crack.  One could argue that every superhero story begins with one bad day, and that the worth of the person dictates how they go about the rest of their life after that day. Bruce Wayne became Batman, Peter Parker became Spider-Man and Tony Stark became Iron Man; these heroes took what happened to them and used it as a driving force to make a change.

The question you have to ask yourself is, Do you think the Punisher is right?

Does his stance represent the only true way to deal with crime?

The character of Frank Castle experienced a trauma so horrific it changed him from inside out. He was picnicking with his family in central park when they stumbled onto a mob hit (in Season 2 of Daredevil they change it to a STING operation gone bad), which resulted in his 2 kids and wife being brutally murdered in front of his eyes. He survived the ordeal, and used his extensive career in the military to wage a one man war on crime.  His brutal methods have often put him at odds with the Avengers and other classic heroes because they view his methods as extreme and criminal. There are certain heroes who understand that Punisher does what needs to be done. An example of this would be in the Marvel Now! story line of Punisher: Warzone.

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In this run, Spider-Man convinces the Avengers that they need to deal with Punisher after Frank accosted and incapacitated Spider-Man to steal one of his web shooters, in order to use it in a hit he had planned . Knowing the relationship with Frank and tendencies fellow Avenger Wolverine has, Captain America visits him personally to tell him to sit this one out. When he confronts Logan about it Logan tells him “… the difference between you and me Captain… is that I understand sometimes… people have to die”. The run is amazing, and is frankly one of the better Punisher stories that I’ve ever read, I would highly recommend you read it.

Another Example of this would be from the DCAU movie Batman: Under the Red Hood. This is the story of how Joker murdered the second Robin, Jason Todd; and Jason’s subsequent resurrection and donning of his new persona the Red Hood. This movie concludes with a heart wrenching confrontation between Bruce and Jason (who had abducted the Joker) during which Jason says “Bruce, I forgive you for not saving me. But why on God’s good earth.. is he still alive?! Blatantly ignoring the graveyards he’s filled, the friends he’s crippled, if he had taken you I would’ve hunted him down and sent him off to hell! I would’ve thought… I would’ve thought I would be the last person you would let him hurt…”. Bruce admits to wanting to kill Joker, but he says ” If I do that, if I go down into that dark place… I’ll never come out”. This line is what firmly defines what the difference between superhero and anti-hero is.

Anti-heroes like: Red Hood, Punisher, Grifter, Moon Knight, Ghost Rider, Deadpool and even Green Arrow (on some occasions*), toe the line between hero and villain every chance they get. While their methods often revolve around maiming/killing, they only do it to criminals and those few people who deserve it.

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, but regardless of what they look like they are heroes because they work for the greater good. Because you don’t agree with how someone carries about their heroing, doesn’t make them wrong. It could be argued that anti-heroes see a larger impact on criminality than clean cut superheroes do. With that in mind..which side do you fall on, is the Punisher right?

*See Arrow Season 1 and Justice League: Cry for Justice

Ethically/Morally Difficult Choices In Comics

Comic books, whether they be DC or Marvel or any imprint in between, have been utilizing their ability to discuss hot button topics to the greater population. From DC comics tackling drug habits with the Green Lantern/Green Arrow story arc of Snowbirds Don’t Fly, to Iron Man’s Demon In A Bottle story arc from Marvel which tackles alcoholism  and its effects, to the most recent Marvel event Civil War 2; comics have brought everyday struggles to the forefront.  Probably the most recurring theme in comics, besides the struggle between good and evil, is the making of ethically and morally grey choices. Each company has made characters that toe this line as a profession: Red Hood, Punisher, Rorschach, Deadpool, Moon Knight, and Wolverine to just name a few.

One of the most prevalent examples of this kind of choice comes from the Remender run on Uncanny X-Force. In this run the X-Force is tasked with killing the reincarnated version of Apocalypse, one of their big bads. The problem with this mission, the reincarnated Apocalypse is just a small boy named Evan. When the team finally learns all of the facts surrounding their mission it divides them down the middle. Half of them believe that the child has done nothing wrong and therefore doesn’t deserve death, the other half believe that the mere fact he is capable of such evil is enough to warrant the hit. An argument breaks out between Deadpool and Wolverine on what should be done. During the argument, team member Fantomex, “takes care of the problem” as he puts it so nobody else would have to deal with that on their conscience. Deadpool is understandably upset and admits that he is a soulless, money hungry, good for nothing mercenary but he also adds ” I’ve never killed a kid”.

The guilt weighs on Fantomex so much that without the team knowing he clones Evan and raises him on a secret farm. When Fantomex dies on  a mission the team finds the farm and the reincarnated Evan.  While Evan did have some close calls with the darkness within him he ultimately held on to the teachings of his “father”, enough so to earn him an acceptance to the School for Gifted Mutants.  Deadpool visits Evan in his dorm room and they have a very heart to heart chat. Deadpool tells Evan to stop referring to himself as Apocalypse because that’s not who is. Evan thanks Deadpool and tells him that ” at my lowest point.. you were the hero that showed up to save me”, this comment leaves Deadpool at a loss for words because nobody has ever called him a hero before. Deadpool ends the encounter in a fashion that only he could, by stealing the meditation book recommended by Wolverine and leaving porno mags as he shouts ” I left you something you’ll get more use out of!”

This type of dilemma is becoming more and more mainstream in comics as more and more laws are being questioned in our own societies. The arc from Civil War 2 by Marvel deals with preemptive strikes as well as their consequences. A brief rundown of the Bendis run is as follows: A new Inhuman named Ulysses is given the power of foresight. Nobody knows how accurate his visions are but Ms. Marvel and a group of fellow Avengers don’t want to take that chance, so they use the visions to launch a counter attack. Their first strike puts them against Thanos, the big bad that the MCU has been alluding to for the past 5 years, and it does not go the way they want it to. It ends with She-Hulk taking a rocket to the chest and ending up in a coma and War Machine getting punched full force by Thanos and severing his spine. Despite the casualties the team prevails and defeats Thanos. This doesn’t bode well with Iron Man as his best friend has been murdered on an unsanctioned mission. The entire event comes out of the statement Steve Rogers made when shown project Insight in the Winter Soldier movie “I thought the punishment came after the crime”. Iron Man and his side believe that Ulysses powers are too untested to use as a preemptive strike tool and Ms. Marvel and her side don’t want to risk innocent lives if something can be stopped before it starts.

An example of a dilemma experienced by a singular character would be the instance where Daredevil had the choice to shoot Punisher in the head or let the Punisher kill a gang of criminals. This hit hard for Daredevil because, as one of the most religious and conflicted characters in comics, he has a strict policy of no killing. To say he is a little messed up is an understatement, he is devoutly catholic but runs around in a red devil themed suit beating on criminals… Putting that aside, this stands as one of the biggest moments for the character of Daredevil. He has the chance to stop the Punisher with one pull of a trigger, but it would compromise everything he has come to know and believe in his entire life. Netflix’s Daredevil show did a great job of illustrating this interaction in Season 2. The interaction from the show comes with a line that will echo with Daredevil for the rest of his career through his numerous moments of doubting whether he is making a difference and if he should give in like the Punisher has. The line is delivered by the Punisher as he is preparing for an assault on the Dogs of Hell, he says ” …the difference between you and me is that when you hit them they get back up; when I hit them they stay down!”; to add insult to injury he then sits down and stares at Daredevil saying ” You’re one bad day away from being me”.  This alone causes Daredevil to questions his methods and his impact on the city he so much loves and is willing to die to protect.

There are so many examples of ethically ambiguous choices in comics that I can’t hope to mention them all, but rest assured that most of them causing some sort of title wide event that will change their respective universes at its conclusion.