The Punisher — boiling toads in water slowly till they burst gorily!

The Punisher & Karen; The Punisher & Russo
The Punisher & Karen, The Punisher & Russo,

When Daredevil Season One appeared, I thought the TV series culled off the Marvel comic books was formidable, incredible, fantabulous …add your own adjectives here… It was worth every minute because the plot pitted the blind lawyer Matt Murdock as Daredevil against a super-suave, sophisticated villain named Wilson Fisk (Kingpin). It was tight, controlled, intelligent, exact.

When The Punisher appeared in Daredevil Season Two, there was a slight shift in focus. One was uncertain whether Frank Castle as The Punisher was indeed a villain. Wasn’t he just another vigilante except that he preferred, unlike Daredevil, to dispatch his criminal victims to the Netherworld? In fact, some of us perhaps preferred the violent vigilante over the licit lawyer superhero.

Now Netflix has done us all a favour by giving The Punisher his own series and it’s welcome for those of us who have always been fans of the Marvel Universe. And The Punisher has been familiar to me since the 70s when he was first introduced in Marvel comics.

It was celebratory to live in times when comics books from the Marvel, DC, Vertigo, Dark Horse and other such ‘universes’ were, at least to me, far more exciting than much of what appeared on the silver screen. More so, because, from indulging in superheroes who fought supervillains with whom one sometimes identified (Lex Luthor, for instance), one was suddenly introduced to strong antiheroes and plunged into ambiguous spaces.

The Punisher was one of the first such antiheroes I encountered and loved for he seemed to be morally justified in wreaking vengeance on criminals given given his tragic past and troubled soul.

Then again, I was no fan of Dolph Lundgren who played The Punisher in the 1989 action movie, a far cry from the ‘hero’ I had come to empathise with in the comic books.

The Punisher TV series was satisfying. It began slowly with flashbacks taking us back to his traumas about his having to kill an innocent Afghan and then the murder of his family. The series took an interesting approach, varying the pacing and then building up to explode into seeping suspense and ferocious action, slipping in the right new characters — Micro, Madani, Rafi, Lewis Walcott, Rawlins, etc —at the right time to keep the pot boiling.

The toads in the pot, of course, were the CIA eviling William Rawlins and The Punisher’s ‘brother’ in the Marines, Billy Russo. Waiting for them to die was excruciating, in the least!

It’s one thing that The Punisher kills (or ought it to be cannibalises) Rawlins after he is tortured by the baddie. It is another that The Punisher destroys Russo’s pretty, charming face by dragging it through the shards of a broken mirror and we are shown a gruesome glimpse of him bandaged up.

In the Batman comics and film, Harvey Dent was portrayed as a good man, an attorney, who, after his face was destroyed by acid, turned into the demented criminal Two-Face. Will Russo appear in an even more vengeful, vicious avatar in The Punisher Season Two?

The Punisher had copious amounts of pain and gore. But it was otherwise well-tempered by the tender moments between the vigilante and Micro, the hacker, whose life and family The Punisher saves. Then there is the ex-marine Curtis, the black counsellor of damaged veterans.

There is also the closeness that develops between Micro’s wife (who is considered dead) and The Punisher, including the famous kiss between them that Micro watches over closed circuit TV.

But The Punisher’s most poignant moments are with journalist Karen Page, erstwhile love of the Daredevil. Are they in love? Yes, perhaps, but then will The Punisher ever get over his memories of his wife to consider another woman? When Rawlins is torturing him, for instance, he distances himself from the pain by remembering her making love to him.

And yeah, there are some soft sex scenes in The Punisher and that is how it ought to be because, psychologically speaking, Eros and Thanatos go together.

Well, in the end, The Punisher is cleared of all charges of being a terrorist or evil-doer or whatever by the US government, given a packet of money and a new identity and asked to disappear into thin air. Justice has been meted out.

What next? All one can think is, long live The Punisher and may he return from obscurity and oblivion to entertain us again!