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Marvel Comics is facing renewed pressure to retire the signature symbol of one of its most popular characters. During the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C., multiple observers noted that several of the rioters inside the U.S. Capitol were sporting the skull symbol worn by Frank Castle, a.k.a. the Punisher, the gun-toting anti-hero who has been waging a one-man war on crime since originally targeting Spider-Man in 1974. (Yahoo Entertainment has reached out to Marvel Comics for comment, but has not yet received a response; we will update our story if we hear back.)
While Marvel has yet to comment on the controversy, Jon Bernthal — who played Frank Castle in the live-action Punisher series that ran for two seasons on Netflix — has made it clear that he’s not happy with the way his alter ego’s symbol has been appropriated. “These people are misguided and lost,” he remarked on Twitter referring to the Capitol rioters. “They have nothing to do with what Frank stands for or is about.”
Celebrated comics writer Garth Ennis, who had a well-received run on the comic in the early 2000s, has also criticized those who view the Punisher as a heroic figure. "I’ve said this before a couple of times, but no one actually wants to be the Punisher," Ennis, who also created The Boys franshise, remarked to Syfy Wire in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot. “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 Wednesday], the ones waving the Stars & Stripes while invading the Capitol building.”
In recent years, the Punisher’s logo has been adopted by members of law enforcement, much to the consternation of the character’s co-creator, Gerry Conway. When multiple police officers were seen wearing the skull symbol during last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, the writer set out to reclaim the logo by launching a fundraising project benefitting activists. “It’s disturbing whenever I see authority figures embracing Punisher iconography because the Punisher represents a failure of the justice system,” Conway told Syfy Wire last year. “He’s supposed to indict the collapse of social moral authority, and the reality is some people can't depend on institutions like the police or the military to act in a just and capable way.”
To date, the closest the Disney-owned Marvel has come to directly acknowledging the unnerving embrace of the character by police officers and right-wing protestors was in the pages of a 2019 issue of the current Punisher comic. Written by Matthew Rosenberg, the issue features a pointed scene where Castle encounters a group of New York City cops who boast about having a decal of his symbol on their car. “We believe in you,” one of them remarks.
But the Punisher immediately rejects their hero worship, ripping their prized decal to shreds. “I’ll say this once. We’re not the same,” he remarks. “You took an oath to uphold the law. You help people. I gave all that up a long time ago. You don’t do what I do. Nobody does.”
The Punisher is currently streaming on Netflix
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