Prolific Punisher writer Carl Potts, who helmed The Punisher War Journal back in the late 80s, explained just who The Punisher is and why fans are attracted to his stories.
Potts explained the essence of The Punisher during an introduction to Steven Grant, Mike Zeck, and Mike Vosburg’s four-issue The Punisher run collected as Punisher: Circle Of Blood. Potts was the editor on the book.
He wrote the introduction back in 1988 and began it by asking, “Over the last several years, the Punisher has become one of Marvel’s most popular characters. Why is this? Just what is it the readers are getting from or identifying with here?”
From there Potts goes on to answer the question referencing popular films at the time like Lethal Weapon and Rambo as well as Frank Castle’s backstory and his origin as The Punisher.
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Following a brief description of his origin as The Punisher, Potts really delved into the core of the character writing, “With both his family and ideals killed, there were no longer any restraints on Castle’s actions-oriented and violent nature. This combined with Castle’s strong revenge motive, gave birth to the Punisher.”
Potts continued, “Obviously he’s a man obsessed. It would be one thing for him to avenge his family by killing those directly responsible for their deaths. But why does he go after all criminals?”
“He feels guilty for not being able to protect his own family. He not only needs to avenge them but he needs to be punisher for failing them,” Potts answered his own question.
He went on to elaborate, “He punishes himself by constantly putting himself into dangerous situations when he takes on criminals. This way he cannot lose–either he wins and kills more of the types who killed his family, or he gets killed pays the penalty for failing to protect his own. It’s an odd death with.
“This obsession also denies him any real life or relationships. This is also a punishment,” he asserted.
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From there Potts discussed why readers and fans are so attracted to The Punisher’s stories. He explained, “There are some universal themes of guilt and responsibility for readers to identiy with here. Also, most people have at some time, found themselves obsessed (or close to it) by a mission or dogma that the light of reason could not conquer.”
He further opined, “Maybe the aspect most people are attracted to in the Punisher’s stories is ‘poetic justice.’ Seeing criminals who can’t be collared by our three branches of government get what’s coming to them is pleasurable. We might wish that this happened more often in the real world.”
“Hopefully, at the same time, we all realize that in reality the Punisher’s type of justice would probably lead to chaos. However, we can enjoy the cathartic effect the fiction brings us,” he concluded.
In an interview with Marvel.com back in January 2019, Potts would provide more details about his vision for The Punisher revealing he attempted to quash a number of stories that only provided a surface level look at The Punisher.
He stated, “When the character got popular, many editors and writers wanted to guest star the Punisher in their titles. Some of them saw only the character’s surface – a very serious man with lots of weaponry who shot criminals.”
“This surface view led some writers to come up with plots where Castle goes after any law breaker, including jaywalkers and litter bugs! One writer had the Punisher enjoy bear hunting, belonging to a gun club, using a torture chamber in his warehouse and other things that were quite out of line with my view of the character,” he explained.
Potts then asserted, “I did my best to make sure most of these tales did not see the light of day.”
He would also reiterate his view of The Punisher as not only punishing criminals, but also punishing himself. “The title of the series could just as easily have been called ‘The Punished’ and refer to Frank Castle as well as his targets,” he remarked.
Potts went on to detail Castle’s psyche following the mob hit, “Castle feels tremendous guilt over failing to protect his family from the mob rubout. He suffers even more guilt for having survived when his family did not.”
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The writer and editor then explained the types of criminals The Punisher goes after and why, “Consciously, Castle goes after violent criminals who, for whatever reason, are beyond the reach of law enforcement. He does so in order to prevent the criminals from causing the same types of tragedies that that took the lives of his innocent family.”
“On a more subconscious level, Castle attacks violent criminals in the hopes that he will eventually be maimed and/or killed – thus paying the price he should have paid for failing to protect his family,” he added.
“This is why his war on violent criminals extends far beyond bringing his brand of justice to those who were immediately responsible for the death of his family,” Potts explained.
The prolific Punisher writer would also elaborate on his view of why The Punisher doesn’t have a real life or relationships saying, “Anyone Castle gets close to is usually is not long for this world.”
He added, “Their association with the Punisher, his violent life and numerous enemies mean they will usually meet with a tragic end.”
He then touched on Castle’s emotional response to his war on these violent criminals, ” Castle gets no sense of satisfaction when a successful mission is completed. His mission will not be complete until he is dead.”
“Often, the Punisher’s missions do not resolve long-term problems with violent criminals. Instead, they create or perpetuate ongoing cycles of violence, revenge and death. Kill a bad guy and his/her associates or family will take over and will hunt the Punisher for revenge,” he continued.
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He then summarized his view of the character, “As the Punisher, part of Castle’s motivation for attacking violent criminals is his death wish for failing to save his family. As the Punisher, part of Castle’s motivation for attacking violent criminals is his death wish for failing to save his family”
“Both aspects of his motivation help keep him from thinking too deeply about his loss and his guilt. So, his mission is part of his coping mechanism,” he remarked.
Potts would then reiterate his closing thoughts from the Punisher: Circle of Blood introduction, “Frank Castle’s story is a cautionary tale of what happens when vigilantes take the law into their own hands.”
He explained, “We thrill to his exploits, and get cathartic enjoyment seeing extremely bad people who are beyond the reach of the law get what’s coming to them. However, in real life, Punisher-style vigilantism would create chaos, perpetuate ongoing cycles of violence and cause injury and death to many innocents/bystanders.”
He concluded his interview with Marvel stating, “Different creators and editors have their own take on the character. Whatever their take, as long as the stories are exciting, innovative, have strong internal logic, are cathartic and make it clear the Punisher’s path is not something to be emulated, the character should be able to maintain his popularity for the long haul.”
What do you make of Carl Potts’ vision of The Punisher? Do you think Marvel is living up to that vision or do we need Potts to return to the editing room and make sure modern Punisher stories never see the light of day?
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