Patricia Ng | November 22, 2017
The Punisher couldn’t have returned to Netflix at a better time. With a series of incidents involving gun violence in the past few months and the debate over gun control roaming the air, the famous Marvel anti-hero becomes an even more controversial figure. Yet, it is precisely because of the situation in America now that Frank Castle’s reappearance needs special attention.
One of the major antagonists in season 2 of Netflix’s Daredevil, ex-marine Frank Castle, starts hunting down the criminals responsible for the deaths of his wife and children, who were the innocent victims of a mob fight in Central Park. His horrendous murders catch the attention of the media and Matt Murdock, the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. When he is finally caught, Matt and the associates from his law firm volunteer to represent him in court, hoping to reduce the terms of his sentence by suggesting that he has Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is easy to dismiss Frank as another traumatized war veteran whose actions stem from his psychological issues. However, just as Frank says such a claim is an insult to those who are suffering from PTSD, the entire narrative is never about Frank’s psyche.
Daredevil is a series about justice and its imperfections. Hell’s Kitchen, just like Batman’s Gotham, is a criminal’s den, and the judicial system is negligent in protecting the citizens from crime. As we can see in Season 1, Wilson Fisk has no trouble bribing the police to secure his illegal businesses. Even Matt, a lawyer by profession, can see that the law cannot save everyone, which is why he dresses up as Daredevil at night to fight crime, just so he can finish the work he cannot do during the day.
But if season 1 is about crime that occurs when most people are asleep in bed, season 2 is about bringing the city’s injustice into the light. Frank Castle’s murders aren’t simply a campaign against the villains who killed his family. They are a protest against the failure of the legal system to protect his family from harm. Frank has just come back from a war which demands him to be brutal and merciless in order to survive and get back home. But what he comes back to is another battlefield, one that happens within his family, his one comfort. He has never left the war zone. People are surprised that a good family man, and a war hero, can turn into a wanted murderer. But if you think about it, Frank is simply acting his role as a soldier, using the weapons he has to eliminate the enemy, only this time, his killings don’t take place in Afghanistan, but in New York City. He is declaring war against the criminals who the law has failed to apprehend, and his actions reveal the violence and injustice that are already present in the city. Frank Castle’s killing spree makes the dangers within the city – something that is buried by the city’s prosperity – felt among the public. Foggy Nelson says this in the opening statement of Frank’s trial:
“Frank Castle returned from the hell of war wanting nothing more than to pick up his life. But his wife, young son and daughter were brutally murdered by criminals, and no one, not the police and certainly not the District Attorney stepped up to make it right. See, Frank Castle never came home. He just traded in one war zone for another. This trial isn’t about vigilantes. It’s about the failure of the justice system. And how one man, Frank Castle, is being used as a pawn to cover up the system’s mistakes.”
Frank Castle’s actions are by no means right. There is nothing right in using violence against violence, in using guns for personal revenge. But we can’t call him a psychopath. We may think we live in a peaceful metropolis, miles away from the real war zone, but Frank is here to dig out what the city tries to ignore. He is here to remind us that the peace we take for granted is an illusion.
When another gun is fired, or when another life is lost, perhaps it’s a warning for us not to merely shake our heads in dismay then turn away, but to look more closely at the problem that is staring us in the face.
I wish to be a sorceress practicing ancient magic and raising kittens in a shire. For the time being, I am doing my MSc in Literature and Modernity at the University of Edinburgh and drowning in one story after another. I particularly like contemporary fiction and fantastic narratives.
Article edited by Dhanya Baird and Lucy Hargrave
Goddard, Drew, creator. Marvel’s Daredevil. Netflix, 2015-16.