Monday, February 05, 2007

1974 and the Punisher

1974 was a year that changed how action was handled in comic books. Mainly it was because of the creation of two characters. Those characters were the Punisher and Wolverine and both were from Marvel comics. Both first appeared in 1974 and at that time it seemed that they would only be guest stars in the Marvel books. I don’t believe that their creators had any conscious intentions to make comic books more violent but in many ways that was the end result. Mostly I will talk about the Punisher as this month is the anniversary of his first being published in Amazing Spider-Man #128. The Punisher was created by Gerry Conway and Ross Andru. John Romita Sr. was Marvel’s art director and helped Gerry Conway create the design of the Punishers costume. All comic book fans know that Frank Castle was an ex-Marine who was out on a picnic with his family when they witnessed a murder and those crooks shot them to keep them quiet. Frank lived and became the Punisher to stop all criminals to have revenge for the murder of his family. While this feeling is understandable and can make for a great action/adventure book Frank, by killing his enemies does them and perhaps his world a great injustice. He takes away any chance for the criminals to change. They can no longer pay any debt to society that they owe and become good citizens. Also, what if one time it turned out he was wrong about a person and he killed someone who was innocent? His whole publication history is filled with violence, revenge and at times insanity. In many ways he is Batman gone one step too far. Bruce Wayne has only been known to kill to save his life or someone else’s life. For a time they tried to make readers believe that the Punisher was only knocking them out with what he called mercy bullets. A young and na├»ve child like myself at the time believed that. It really is to their credit that they did this but after awhile that was gone. When I was younger if Punisher or Wolverine would say they took care of the guard I thought they had just knocked them out and tied them up. After awhile they started to indicate that it meant that they killed the guard.
In his first appearance Frank Castle is hired by the villain the Jackal to kill Spider-Man. Believing the editorials of J. Jonah Jameson in the Daily Bugle that Spider-Man is a menace he takes it not knowing the Jackal is really the bad guy. Once he sees the truth he lets Spider-Man go but warns him if Spidey does change sides that the Punisher will come after him.
The Punisher was a hit and made many guest appearance in the Spider-Man family of books. In the 1980’s he was finally given his shot in a mini-series. Marvel did it reluctantly as he was really a cold blooded serial killer. But Mike Zeck and Steve Grant pleaded their case and won. The series was a hit and soon he had his own ongoing series. It ran for 104 issues before being canceled in 1995. It also spawned two other series The Punisher War Journal ran from 1988-1995 and The Punisher War Zone ran from 1992-1995. He even had a couple of black and white magazines that were for more adult readers. They were The Punisher magazine and The Punisher Armory. Since the cancellation of all of his books he has been a guest in books like Daredevil, Captain America, the Nam and the hard to believe cross over with Frank Castle meeting Archie Andrews. He has had his own mini-series again and was a staple of the Marvel Knights family of characters. Recently he has been in the Civil War series as a reluctant solider following Captain America’s orders.
None of this is to say that violence in comic books stared with the Punisher. When comic books started many of the heroes were pretty violent. Batman even carried a gun for awhile. However, most of the heroes had to have a good reason to use violence. Most of the violence was acceptable since many of the heroes were helping to fight World War II. Since the 1950’s and the creation of the Comics Code Authority most violence was kept in check until the 1970’s. It is just my humble opinion that you could point to 1974 as the year when unnecessary violence started to make its comeback with the creation of the Punisher and later Wolverine. Don’t get me wrong I was like a lot of people. I bought many of the Punisher books and some of the copy cats that later appeared. Many of my family and friends thought it was odd that a non-violent person that I was would enjoy these books. Like I said before it was pretty good fiction for adults. I just hope a younger more impressionable reader didn’t think this was the way justice or law and order should be handled in real life.

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