Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle.
Image: Netflix

Because of Frank Castle’s military background with the Marines and his penchant for enforcing justice using guns, iconography related to the Punisher has become particularly popular amongst certain groups of active law enforcement and those in the armed services. The character’s creator Gerry Conway thinks that’s ill-advised and offensive.

In a recent interview with Syfy Wire, Conway—who created the Punisher with artists John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru in the early ‘70s—reflected on how many police offers and members of the military have co-opted the character’s skull logo as a symbol. Conway told them he never meant for the character to be seen as someone to emulate or look up to. Frank Castle, he explained, represents everything broken and wrong with our justice system, and it’s “disturbing” to see authority figures embracing the symbol:

[The Punisher is] supposed to indict the collapse of social moral authority and the reality some people can’t depend on institutions like the police or the military to act in a just and capable way.

The vigilante anti-hero is fundamentally a critique of the justice sysytem, an eample of social failure, so when cops put Punisher skulls on their cars or members of the military wear Punisher skull patches, they’re basically sides with an enemy of the system. They are embracing an outlaw mentality. Whether you think the Punisher is justified or not, whether you admire his code of ethics, he is an outlaw. He is a criminal. Police should not be embracing a criminal as their symbol.

It goes without saying. In a way, it’s as offensive as putting a Confederate flag on a government building.

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It’s easy to understand why some people gravitate towards the Punisher, especially those whose lives have been shaped by their service in similar ways to Frank’s. But the fact of the matter is that Frank Castle is a vigilante who runs around killing people he deems to be worthy of death and he operates entirely outside of the law. Conway said anyone putting a criminal’s symbol on a police car is “making a very ill-advised statement about their understanding of the law.”

Within the world of comics, you can twist yourself into knots justifying his actions and claiming that the character never kills innocent people. But the same cannot be said of police officers and military people, who are entrusted with the responsibility of protecting the public and (sometimes, but nowhere near often enough) held accountable for gross overuses of power here in the real world.

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