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Why the Punisher is more relatable than Superman: "Anger is an easier feeling"

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16.02.2019

Created by Gerry Conway, the Marvel comic book character the Punisher debuted in 1974 as a throw away guest villain of the week in "The Amazing Spider-Man" #129. The Punisher (whose real name is Frank Castle) was a street vigilante evocative of Charles Bronson in the "Death Wish" movies or Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" series. Contrary to Marvel's initial expectations readers could not get enough of the Punisher. In the almost 40 years since his debut the Punisher has become one of Marvel's most enduring and popular characters appearing in numerous comic book series, several films and now his own series — where he is depicted by Jon Bernthal — on Netflix.

But the Punisher is so much more than a righteous and innocent man who lost his family to the mafia and then decided to use his skills as a former Marine (or FBI agent, depending on a given writer's version of the character) to wage a one-man war on crime. In that simplicity there is complexity: In his heart, Frank Castle "the Punisher" actually wants peace, but he is inexorably compelled towards violence, vengeance and his own version of justice.

What is the role of an antihero such as the Punisher in an American society which is experiencing such very dark and troubling times? And what does this tell us about the cultural power of superheroes and comic books? Do antiheroes provide a type of cultural therapy by providing permission to indulge in our darkest desires and impulses in a society where such behavior is usually forbidden? How does Jon Bernthal channel Frank Castle and what does this reveal about a certain type of masculinity? Are antiheroes more fun to write than heroes?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Steve Lightfoot. He is the writer and executive producer of the Netflix TV series "The Punisher" which is now in its second season. Lightfoot was also the writer and executive producer of the NBC TV series "Hannibal."

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Given all of your success with TV shows such as "Hannibal" and now the "The Punisher" as well as your other creative work, how do you learn to let go of a project? To accept that it is done and now it will be out in the world and take on a life all its own?

I am always sitting in the final mix of a show doing the sound and I see something in the cut and I think to myself, "Actually I can do that differently.” One of the frustrations and also one of the joys of television is that the schedules are pretty tight. You have to get it done and move on. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” But the good part about such a tight TV schedule........

© Salon