Don’t cancel the Punisher

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With important world events, or rather one specific domestic event unfolding, it’s weird to write a blog about comic books. I feel like there’s too many important things that require our time and focus. But then again, life doesn’t stop. We’re still in a pandemic, and we’re still allowed to enjoy this life of ours. At least the last time I checked. Including comic books.

But even so. Comics aren’t entirely missing from this current conversation. We saw images of comic book characters, such as Captain America and the Punisher, being used by the rioters who stormed the capital last week. These individuals used these symbols as they attempted to overthrow Congress and delegitmize a legitimate election. And it’s rattling because when I look at Captain America and the Punisher, I see completely different things. It simply reminds me and reminds us all that these characters aren’t one sided. They’re complicated. Do I think Captain America and the Punisher should be used in this context? Hell no. But it’s being used regardless and it looks like we have a choice to make.

Because there are calls to cancel The Punisher. Bleeding Cool ran an article that it might have been cancelled already. The Punisher symbol was being used by a lot of different groups in the past, including police officers and the military, that were accused of brutality or who believe that there’s nothing wrong with instigating violence against another group of people. These groups used The Punisher image as a symbol for heavy handed justice. And through this symbol they attempted to make this violence legitimate. And of course many, including Gerry Conway the creator of the Punisher, quickly interjected to state, no, this isn’t how the symbol should be used at all and should stop.

Comics are a medium that you can produce quickly. When you’re running your storylines you can actually take very current events and write or draw them and people will read them not very long after that. This also means you can use characters as a conversation piece to portray your own outlook on the events that are unfolding, or basically your own viewpoint. This of course has been met with controversy that I won’t get into.

But we can agree that this isn’t anything new. But it does make me think about censorship. A topic which has since become a very difficult and overly complicated one to talk about. Especially in light of Twitter banning President Trump from the platform. I am no fan of Donald Trump, but should his right to use this platform be taken away? Or was Twitter right in the ban, citing the fact that he did instigate the rioters that caused bloodshed and five deaths at our Nation’s capital? Depending on who you follow on the platform you may have a different answer. But in reality, the conversation is still difficult.

But here’s the thing. Should a difficult conversation be enough for us not to have it? Absolutely not. And it’s the same with The Punisher. I don’t think Marvel should cancel it. But I do think they need to use this opportunity and take a stance. And this stance is simple. His symbol should not be used by individuals who wish harm to innocent people or who want to undermine our democracy.

Censorship is a fickle thing. If you use it, then you stop the conversation. You allow one side to dominate it and frankly, you let the other side win. You create an empty chair and if that chair stays empty long enough, people will forget what you stood for and what you had to say in the first place. Your opinions become irrelevant. And that is the exact purpose of censorship. 

We need The Punisher now more than ever and we need him to make a point that counteracts these abuses. Granted, The Punisher is a very complicated case, because he’s a very complicated character. He takes the law into his own hands and deals out his own form of justice. This motivation is simple vengeance as a result of his family being murdered by a mob.   Some see justice in what he does and others see horror. But can’t you find both? Can’t you, at the same time, understand the motivations of the character but also understand the horror that he inflicts on others? 

Do we want to allow individuals who instigate harm on innocent people have the right to take a symbol and use it for their purpose? No, because his symbol isn’t theirs to take. Because if we allow them to take it, where does it end?

In many ways the Punisher reminds me a lot of Judge Dredd. It’s a character that can be seen in many different ways. Different groups can use it as an analogy in how they think justice should be served. While others see it as a stern lesson of what could happen if we allow things to go too far. And it’s the same with The Punisher. But we wouldn’t know that if we silence him.

Life is so complicated and so are the people that are in it. But for some reason, we as human beings have the desire and urge to simplify things to the point of everything being binary. Ones and zeroes. Black and white. But in reality it’s not the case. But it could become that if we keep cancelling things and not allowing counterpoints to be heard. We need to have the other side and the other point of view. But really, we need nuance again.

Don’t let others take these characters and make them their own. Especially if they want to use them for evil. Fight back. Write, draw, and publish. Keep having the conversation no matter how difficult it may become. It’s not over, and it never will be. But that doesn’t mean we should stop fighting. Don’t cancel The Punisher. Get more of his books out because we need them now more than ever.

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