Frank Castle, aka “the Punisher,” was never much of a good guy, even though he is ostensibly the hero in the comic books, films, and TV shows featuring him. Since debuting in 1974, he’s been portrayed as an angry vigilante hellbent on fighting crime using any tactics necessary. He’s variously tortured and kidnapped enemies, and forget him about adhering to the traditional law or legal system.
So what does a mostly wholesome entertainment company like Marvel do then when this fictional face of ruthless anger is adopted as a symbol of very real and very dangerous violence? That’s what a lot of people have been wondering in the aftermath of the violent riot at the U.S. Capitol. There were multiple claims on social media about rioters wearing the same skull logo that adorns the Punisher’s costume, and at least one very clear photo exists of someone brandishing the symbol.
Though it’s hard to tell from a distance, if one does a close-up of the Getty photo below, the Punisher’s white skull logo is apparent on the American flag patch on his chest.
The white skull emblem, as well as the Punisher himself, is a popular symbol among the Proud Boys and other extremists. This had led to even some ardent fans of the Punisher to call for Marvel to change the logo, halt Punisher projects for the time being, or even outright retire the character.
The pop culture site Bleeding Cool theorized over the weekend that Marvel may have secretly done away with the Punisher without telling anyone. It noted there haven’t been any new Punisher comic books published since November. Also, Netflix‘s The Punisher show starring Jon Bernthal was cancelled in 2019, and no known film or television projects are on the horizon for Mr. Castle.
However, there are still collections of Punisher comics scheduled for this year, and rumors surfaced in December of Bernthal returning as the Punisher in a rebooted Daredevil project. (Marvel reportedly has to wait for the screen rights Netflix owns on the character to expire before they can use him again.)
In light of rioters wearing the symbol, many people took to Twitter to ask Marvel to consider doing away with the character now associated by many to hate.
Marvel, at this point you’ve lost the Punisher logo to the worst people. Just change his logo and don’t use the stretched skull anymore.
— Parker (@jeffparker) January 8, 2021
I dont say this lightly.It’s time for @Marvel to put The Punisher out to pasture.The concept is corrupted.
— Jamal Yaseem Igle (@JAMALIGLE) January 7, 2021
Since so many online companies sell American flags adorned with the Punisher skull, as well as police and pro-Trump merchandise with, one Twitter user wondered why Marvel’s parent company Disney doesn’t bother suing over its use. (Walmart even sells a camouflage MAGA hat that clearly incorporates the skull.)
At what point does Disney actually pursue IP litigation over the Punisher logo?
— Evan (@evan7257) January 8, 2021
Last week wasn’t the first time people on the right have noticeably used the Punisher’s imagery. Literature promoting QAnon events has used the skull and some white supremacists wore the symbol during the violent march in Charlottesville in 2017 that resulted in the three deaths. (Asked during a 2018 Esquire interview about the marchers wearing the skull, Jon Bernthal said, “F*ck them!”)
“The people wearing the logo in this context are kidding themselves…” said Garth Ennis to Syfy Wire. Ennis had a multi-year run writing for the Punisher character, and he spoke about why he thought people commandeered the skull logo. “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.”
Bernthal and Ennis aren’t the only prominent names attached to the official Punisher upset about extremists trying to adopt the character. Co-creator of the character, Gerry Conway, decided to take action when he saw the skull symbol appropriated for hate this past summer by those fighting against the Black Lives Matter movement, including some aggressive police officers. Conway launched a fundraising initiative for BLM that called on artists of color to create their own T-shirt designs that incorporate the skull.
“This character and symbol was never intended as a symbol of oppression. This is a symbol of a systematic failure of equal justice,” Conway said in a statement last June. “It’s time to claim this symbol for the cause of equal justice and Black Lives Matter.”
Marvel Faces Calls to Retire the Punisher After Capitol Rioters Were Seen Wearing His Logo The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Newsweek.