“Si vis pacem, para bellum.” – “If you want peace, prepare for war.”
The Punisher is arguably one of the most intriguing anti-heroes in the history of the comic book medium. His unrelenting pursuit of vengeance by punishing those he deems guilty has made him the manifestation of the deep-seated desire for uncompromising justice inherent in the American cultural consciousness.
When he first appeared in 1974, Frank Castle’s Punisher was characterized as a Vietnam veteran for whom the war would never end. His martial prowess, specifically his skills as a master sniper, made him a formidable adversary whose traumatized psyche reflected a deep, festering wound in America’s psyche. At the time, mental health professionals had not yet created a name for what we now know to be post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD would not be added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders until 1978, and wouldn’t be classified in it’s final form until the mid-80s. However, a long-term reading of Punisher stories shows that Frank Castle very obviously suffers from the disorder. The onset of the disorder in Frank is directly related to his service in the Vietnam War. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that “Almost 31 percent of Vietnam veterans” suffer from PTSD. The number of diagnosed cases drops substantially for future conflicts, but veterans of the most recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are estimated to suffer from the disorder at rates between 10 and 18%.
We live at a time when America has been at war for a longer, more sustained period than at any time in the nation’s history. The Afghanistan War began in 2001 and officially ended in 2014. The Iraq War began in 2003 and officially ended in 2011. Technically, those wars are over, and their veterans have come home. That said, the United States retains standing forces of more than 20,000 in Iraq and nearly 10,000 in Afghanistan. America continues to fight the war that will seemingly never end.
It is from this war that the newest version of Frank Castle seems to hail. The high-and-tight haircut sported by actor John Berenthal strongly suggests that this version of the Punisher will continue to have a background in military service and, given his age, it is all but certain that he is a veteran of one or both conflicts.
The knee-jerk reaction to this could easily be one of outrage. Veterans groups decry the public perception of PTSD sufferers as dangerous or unbalanced. If the creative team behind Daredevil does one thing well, however, it is making certain that it’s “villains” are anything but one-dimensional. In the first season of Daredevil, Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin was arguably a far more compelling and relatable character than the titular protagonist of the series. His story is the most personal and poignant in the entire series, something entirely unexpected given the Kingpin’s published history.
The Punisher who will appear on Daredevil, if he receives the same sort of care as his predecessor, could be a tremendously insightful look inside the mind of a traumatized man. Marvel Studios’ Netflix properties have thus far not shied away from problematic issues like PTSD. The first season of Jessica Jones showcased a character suffering from PTSD following her exit from a manipulative and abusive relationship. It therefore seems highly unlikely that such a rich reservoir of character will go ignored when it comes to Frank Castle. If the writers and producers do choose to go that direction, then they will be doing a great service to the silent sufferers among us. Studies have found that “With respect to OIF/OEF Veterans, PTSD has been found to be a risk factor for suicidal ideation.”
Think about it for a moment. If you live in the United States, you can most likely easily name ten people you know who served in the wars of the last decade-and-a-half. If the statistics are correct, then at least one of those ten suffers from PTSD. Anything, whether it is a comic book, television show, or song, which might prompt you to consider that is a worthy endeavor.
If Netflix doesn’t miss the mark, then The Punisher has the chance to be the hero who many really, truly need.