When the Punisher first entered the world of Marvel Comics, in a 1974 issue of The Amazing-Spider Man, he was supposed to be called “Assassin.” The series’s writer, Gerry Conway, envisioned the character as a villain who would eventually become an antihero, but Marvel’s Stan Lee advised against the name, saying it could never be used for a good guy. Lee, at least as he told Alter Ego magazine in a 2005 interview, suggested “The Punisher” instead.
In both that 1974 issue and the second season of Netflix’s Daredevil (which premiered this month), the Punisher is undoubtedly an assassin, gunning down New York mobsters with impunity. But his appeal is all thanks to Stan Lee’s clever name: Here, finally, is a disciplinarian who will set the bad guys straight.
As played by Jon Bernthal, Daredevil’s Punisher makes his intentions very clear from the start. Initially, when gangsters are first being murdered all over the city, he’s mistaken for a paramilitary organization with exceptional force, but it turns out that he’s just one man, with a lot of weapons and an extraordinarily deadly aim. If the mob has a meeting, he’s there with military-grade assault rifles. He occasionally stores the bodies of his victims on meat hooks. He has no sympathy for Daredevil (Charlie Cox), who’s been fighting organized crime in Hell’s Kitchen for a year now, deriding him as a “half-measure” and shooting him off a roof the first time they meet. Totally uncompromising in his mission, the Punisher is undoubtedly a hero for the Donald Trump era: a take-no-prisoners mercenary whose methods are remarkably simple and disturbingly easy to root for.