TV I’m Watching: The Punisher

By Shamus
on Nov 26, 2017
Filed under:
Television

The Netflix Punisher series came out recently. I guess I liked it. I can’t think of anything major that I disliked, anyway. It’s not a bad show, but it’s bad at being a comic book show.

For those of you who never really got into this particular antihero: The Punisher is a guy named Frank Castle. He’s basically a distillation of all the revenge fantasy tropes. His family was murdered by the mob, and so he returns to his roots as a special ops badass soldier to hunt down the guilty and kill them all. He’s a bit like a murderous version of Batman. He’s stoic, he wears all black, he’s driven by guilt and rage, and in the comics he does a lot of inner monologue stuff to walk you through his plans. By hunting down despicable predators and bringing them to justice, both characters feed into the same desire for cathartic fantasy justice. The only difference is that Batman puts them in jail where they will miraculously escape, while the Punisher kills them and they’re miraculously replaced by someone just as dangerous.

I haven’t read a lot of Punisher over the years, but the best ones seem to map to your typical 80s cop shows / movies.

  1. Introduce a bad guy and make us hate him.
  2. Have the hero track him down. They face off, but the bad guy escapes or wins so we hate him even more.
  3. At the finale they face off again and the hero brings him to justice.

That three-act structure makes for a really good TV episode or movie. It guarantees the audience will always get both drama and action. But for some reason, this isn’t how Netflix has decided to run their superhero shows.

GO PUT ON YOUR COSTUME AND SHOOT SOME BAD GUYS YA BIG MOPE.

GO PUT ON YOUR COSTUME AND SHOOT SOME BAD GUYS YA BIG MOPE.

Instead of making each episode a self-contained story with a clear arc and dramatic payoff, they make a gigantic soap opera. Sure, the “bring the bad guys to justice” story is in there, but it’s diluted over 13 episodes that clock in at just under an hour. So to fill time there are side-stories and a large cast of secondary characters for us to follow around. The Punisher is a character designed for action and here they have him in a drama with glacial pacing.

In the entire series, we only get to see the Punisher once. Sure, we see lots of Frank Castle moping around, punching people, and doing the occasional shooting, but that’s like watching Bruce Wayne getting into fistfights. It’s not the same thing. The Punisher doesn’t really show up until episode 12 when he finally puts on the costume and has to take out a warehouse full of dudes using his cunning, experience, and forethought.

Netflix has realized that without the normal constraints of television, they’re free to make long-running serialized stories. That’s great, but not all stories benefit from that. In fact, a lot of comic book heroes were designed around the more short-form type storytelling: Introduce a bad guy, show us his plan, have the hero stop it. Even when comics do have long-running plots, they’re usually running in the background while the storyteller does the standard “villain of the week” type stuff in the foreground.

I think this is the big shortcoming of the Netflix Marvel stuff. They have characters built for short stories and they’re trying to tell soap operas about them. The runtime is filled with poe-faced characters having dreary conversations. The few action scenes we do get are unevenly spaced and often unsatisfying because the writer can’t afford to let the plot move forward.

I would have liked it a lot better if they took this 13 episode revenge plot, pulled out all the padding, and turned it into a two-episode story. They could have filled the other 11 episodes with similar one or two episode stories. Some stories work really well as long-form dramas, but I don’t think that includes costumed crimefighters.

I said at the start of the article that I liked the show, but in the course of writing this I’ve basically talked myself out of it. The show is getting a lot of praise in the circles I follow, but if Netflix dropped another 13 episodes right now I would not be in a hurry to start watching. Thirteen episodes is a long time to wait for the resolution to the central conflict, and the journey itself isn’t terribly witty or exciting.

No, Netflix doesn’t need to follow the standard one-hour episode format of classic television. But maybe there are times when they should.

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From the Archives:

  1. Christopher says:

    Punisher has always been a hard sell for me, as a guy that prefers regular old nice heroes. I was recommended an arc in Punisher MAX years ago as a really killer Punisher story, and in it he hunts down the ringmen behind a trafficking operation. The problem for me was that no matter what kind of human scum he was hunting, I still feel bad for them if Punisher has drugged them up and tied their intestines around a tree before interrogating them. He’s one hell of a jerk to have running around in the same circles as Spider-Man.

    Sounds like it would have livened up the Netflix show, though.

    • Somniorum says:

      There’s an interesting run of The Punisher going right now that MAYBE you would like – it’s an origins story, basically. It’s about his experiences in the Vietnam War, and he isn’t the narrator – some of his subordinates in his platoon are, decades after the fact, talking to a journalist.

      It’s told as a straight-up war story, rather than the typical Punisher thing – it’s just that we all know what Castle turns into, and he’s proving himself to be a very competent military leader. There’s also a perspective of his opponents that keeps popping up – a woman who is clearly being built up into becoming his major opponent (in terms of “he will eventually personally fight her”, although the fight could end up taking many forms – like, say, a sniper duel), and her commanding officer who is a stoic, thoughtful, and generally likeable man.

      Both sides are depicted as relatively regular, decent people who are caught up in something terrible. You don’t (at least so far – only three issues are out) see any of that typical Punisher psychotic sadism that upset you.

      Of course, it’s not really a *superhero* story, that said.

    • Rolo says:

      I recently binged the entire MAX series, and while it is subtle in the early episodes, there is little doubt as the end approaches that none of this is supposed to be a good thing.

      Castle is an unlikeable and sadistic asshole, his excuse for being a mass murderer (his family) is eventually shown as hypocritical and overdone, and in the end he is just a broken old man who has accomplished nothing, alienated (or killed) all of his friends and allies, and is getting called out on it by everyone.

      Seeing him as a good character is completely wrong, but so is not realising he is not supposed to be. In the mainstream series, I have seen arguments that he is presented as a good guy by the authors even though he really shouldn’t (like you said).

      At least in the MAX series, it is impossible to hold such a position, the authors have little sympathy for him and even less and less as we get closer to the conclusion: his only good aspect is that he is, to a degree, on the side of law and order. Otherwise, he is just a sadistic and dysfunctional monster who just happens to go after bigger monsters than himself… and even then, not all the time.

  2. NoneCallMeTim says:

    I wonder how much of the structure of the stories they are telling is down to budget.

    I don’t have Netflix, but have seen some of their shows, and tey seem to have a similar level of production quality as really high quality YouTube channels.

    Making superhero stuff is expensive, so maybe partly the reason for the lack of Punisher is to cut back costs of big set pieces?

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      As Shamus has said,the subscription to netflix is on a monthly basis,not an hourly one.So what does it matter if he watches 20 shows during that month or just a single one?Quality over quantity should be their thing.

      • assmangler says:

        Although, Shamus’ viewing habits are not necessarily reflective of everyone’s. Some people will simply cancel their sub if there isn’t a constant drip feed of entertainment they want to watch.

        In contrast I use netflix to watch about two shows (black mirror and stranger things) and nothing else has been remotely interesting to me, but I still keep my sub going.

        Of course they are motivated to have hours upon hours of content to keep people paying. With the way we binge on the content we enjoy, they are highly pressured to keep pumping shit out.

        Not saying it’s a good thing – but that’s why. In my mind, netflix would have just said to whoever was making punishment guy that they should make x hours/episodes, and that’s probably about it.

      • NoneCallMeTim says:

        True, but if you only expect to have a fixed number of people watching a series, therefore you only have a fixed budget for a series.

        If you commit to, say, 12 episodes but only have budget for 5 big action set pieces, how do you fill the rest of the running time?

  3. gunther says:

    Yeah, the pacing was my big problem with the show as well. It isn’t helped by the predictability of a lot of the sub-plots, which go in REALLY obvious directions. If you haven’t seen the show and don’t care about spoilers, try to predict how these plots are resolved:

    Lewis is established as a violent, PTSD afflicted veteran on the verge of suicide. He has a breakdown, starts killing people and eventually commits suicide

    Russo is an old friend of Castle’s who has since become a rich, connected owner of a mercenary company with a sinister name. Turns out he’s actually a bad guy!

    Madani is an honest cop investigating a mysterious murder but her superiors don’t seem to want her to succeed. She also has a doggedly loyal comedy-sidekick partner. her partner dies, her superiors are evil and she ends up helping the Punisher.

    These aren’t one episode arcs – they’re all introduced in the first episode then play out in the most obvious possible way over the course of the season. I started skipping through whenever Frank or Micro aren’t on screen, because those parts are so unnecessary and predictable.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      her partner dies, her superiors are evil and she ends up helping the Punisher.

      Aha!We have you there!Only one of her superiors is evil,and he is killed early one.But the second one is actually a good guy,and he ends up supporting her cause.

      So your whole argument fails./joke

    • Flux Casey says:

      You must hate any monomyth stories. Just because a story is predictable doesn’t mean it’s bad. Lewis’ story at the very least was well told. The only problem I had with Russo was they didn’t do enough to establish his character.

      • Bloodsquirrel says:

        “monomyth” != “predictable”

        The entire point of the monomyth was that it was an underlying structure that all sorts of very different stories from very different cultures fell into. There’s massive room within the structure for surprise, and not all stories have to follow each and every step perfectly. These stories were, after all, being written by people long before Campbell ever came along to write his book about them.

        • Flux Casey says:

          Granted, but that just feeds into my point. Yes, some of the plot threads in Punisher are somewhat predictable. You can figure out they’re going to go a certain way but how they get there is as important if not more so than where they end up. Otherwise damn near all superhero fare can be likewise summed up as “bad guys enact evil scheme, take hostage a person important to the hero, hero wins and saves them”.

          I find “predictable” to be a little useless as far as commentary goes. All it tells me is you figured out the story in advance. Good for you. Not only is that not necessarily true for everybody (I didn’t see where Lewis and to a lesser extent Madani were going), it doesn’t tell me whether you found the telling of that story you predicted to be entertaining or engaging or thought-provoking.

          • ehlijen says:

            Predictable doesn’t just mean you figured out the story in advance, it also means it failed to engage you. If all a viewer does is analyse the metanarrative, that means the narrative didn’t draw them in. Truly unforeseen twists are rare, but foreseeable ones can still shock people if they empathise with the characters enough.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    It’s not a bad show, but it’s bad at being a comic book show.

    To me,the punisher himself is an anomaly.So we have a world with smart guys in sci fi metallic suits,ubermen,magic,space aliens and actual gods,and here comes the punisher,who is just some guy fighting other just some guys.Regardless of the quality of his stories,thats just weird and out of place.

    • Torsten says:

      Punisher is the Hawkeye of the Marvel Netflix series, normal guy – with extraordinary skills – in a world with superpowered humans. It is a little shame there was nothing of that side of the universe in the series, he was so great in Daredevil second season.

  5. Zanfib says:

    Does the actor playing Frank always look as sad as the pictures here make him look?

    I kinda feel like the Punisher should look more angry.

    • BlueHorus says:

      Yes. And as mentioned above, he was in Daredevil season 2, and was a lot better…
      I really don’t think it’s the actors fault. When needed, he could portray the furious, kill-crazy, barely-holding-back Punisher really well. Even be a bit scary.

      But for this series (I’ll admit I only got 3 episodes in before giving up) we get him moping around, staring meaningfully into the distance, playing blues guitar and having just waaaaay too many saccharine flashbacks of his dead wife and kids.

      This is NOT what I’m here for, show.

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I think this is the big shortcoming of the Netflix Marvel stuff.

    Agreed.Why always 13?This one did not have to be 13 episodes long.Heck,seeing how there are two villains that the punisher faces in this season,why wasnt it split into two sequential parts instead of one being in the middle of the other?

    And while the punisher seemed the least stuffed out of all of these(with the exception of maaaaybe the first daredevil),it still had an overly stretched finale which couldve been done in 1 hour(or less) instead of 1 hour 40 minutes.

    Its really weird how netflix boasts that without the usual constraints of regular tv their shows are free to do whatever,and here we have a whole bunch of shows that are all constrained by a single model that does not fit any of them.

    • BlueHorus says:

      Ugh. THIS. There’s two formulas that really annoy me about the marvel netflix shows.

      -One is the 6/7 episode story stretched out to fit 13 episodes: the story’s not bad, really, it’s just so padded. There’s almost always a mid-season time-waster plot, wherein the characters sudenly start being really dumb or bickering amonst themselves for no real reason. It takes ages and goes nowhere, adding nothing but runtime.

      (Personal favorite: The Jessica Jones plot where Nuke wants to take some red steroid pills for some reason I forget.
      Nuke’s CO: No, you can’t take these. They’ll make you go crazy and attack your friends. That said, I’m gonna leave them here beside your hospital bed, and then leave. Make sure you don’t take those pills now!
      +Bear in mind that Nuke is in hospital for overdosing on red pills. Three guesses as to what happens next+)

      -Two, the episode structure. Resolve last episode’s cliffhanger, move the plot forward as little as possible. Then stretch out the middle until five minutes before the end – then BOOM, sudden reveal or cliffhanger! Better start watching that next episode!
      If the plot were cocaine, you know exactly where they decided to stir in the powdered milk to make it last longer.

      • Shoeboxjeddy says:

        Nuke wants to take “The Reds” because they give him super strength and damage resistance. It’s not confusing why he’d want them. And the kind of CO who would be irresponsible enough to MAKE such a concoction as “super steroids” (with super expressed side effects that steroids usually have like brain damage and over-aggression) might be the kind of person who would be under-handed or just not cautious. He gives Nuke Reds in order to force him back into service. He doesn’t give a shit who is hurt as a consequence of doing this (that whole character was a comic book version of Agent Orange and various other CIA skullduggery).

        • BlueHorus says:

          Oh, okay. I was thinking as I was recalling it/writing it down ‘No, no-one’s that stupid, he must have done that deliberately’. Kind of uncharitable/silly of me to not see that.

          That still doesn’t stop it being a pointless detour from the central plot of Jessica Jones: Her struggles with/regarding Kilgrave. Or entirely predictable in its consequences.
          Just make the cast fight each other, gotta stretch that runtime out.

          • Shoeboxjeddy says:

            If you see the show as ONLY about Jessica vs. Killgrave, then yes, Nuke is a time-filler. But I think this is a mistake. The show isn’t ONLY about that, it’s about toxic masculinity and rape culture in modern society. Examples:
            -Killgrave is assumed to not exist in a society that has Gods of Lightning and aliens attacking because people would rather assume his victims are liars or crazies than confront how scary the issue is.
            -Nuke cannot conceive of the problem until he experiences it himself. Once he has experienced it, he tries to reassert his masculinity, even when doing so is unethical or unhelpful. He tries to “help” other victims by controlling them, lying to them, or trying to force his will over theirs. Which is sadly the exact thing that victimized himself and others.
            -Jessica feels that she cannot go to others for help, that she will be blamed for what happened to her. Jessica is absolutely correct about this. Even someone that SHOULD KNOW BETTER (the lawyer) ignores all of the testimony of all the victims she has collected and puts herself into a terrible situation and makes the problem worse by refusing to listen.

            Nuke’s sense of self is ruined when he is left helpless. To reassert that, he takes drugs, conducts illegal surveillance, and attempts murder, all of which involves ignoring the expert in this kind of trauma (Jessica) and assuming that she is STILL wrong, even though she risked her life to help him. What started as a positive relationship with Trish becomes toxic when he ignores her guidance and decides he can control her actions at will. The same set of behaviors guiding Killgrave live inside Nuke, he is JUST as entitled and selfish. He just can’t control minds.

            • BlueHorus says:

              Huh. Alright. He represents the parts of society that can’t imagine being in that situation and thus don’t get it. ‘Well I’ve never seen it/it’s never happened to me/I’d fight back, therefore it’s not there/her fault’ kind of thing. And then the metaphor extends.

              Maybe I’ll rewatch Jessica Jones. It’s been a while, and she was definitely one of my favourite things about the Defenders: her sarcastic remarks about the central plot almost exactly mirrored my sentiments.

      • Falterfire says:

        Yeah, the must-have-13-episodes thing has been the biggest drag on my enjoyment. It kinda reached the logical extreme in Luke Cage, where two back to back episodes ended on the same cliffhanger of Luke Cage being shot by the super bullets that can actually hurt him and left for dead. (And to make it worse, both were resolved in the next episode basically immediately with “J/K it’s all fine, back to going nowhere fast.”)

        I think The Good Place is currently my favorite example of actually getting this sort of thing right: Not only is each episode engaging on its own and focused around a central plot, but they also tend to throw in new twists often enough that it (for me at least) doesn’t get stale or feel like it’s just going in circles. (The only downside is that the rate of change is such that you literally can’t discuss any part of Season 2 with somebody who hasn’t finished Season 1 yet without spoiling major things)

    • Ryan says:

      Why always 13? This one did not have to be 13 episodes long.

      What’s worst about this is that they’ve already demonstrated that they know how to break that pattern — The Defenders was only 8 episodes and was better for that choice — but seem afraid to do so twice.

      • Matt Downie says:

        I’d guess it’s one of these bureaucratic things where they negotiate the budget, then decide on the number of episodes (fewer if you’re making The Defenders and expect a higher budget-per-episode), and only then do the writers get involved.

      • Benjamin Hilton says:

        I actually disagree about defenders being better for being shorter. With so many characters I found myself sitting there thinking that it felt too rushed and that the different characters should have had more time to work in different pairings and all together. To me its all backwards, the one show that should have been longer was the shortest.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    And here is my thought upon watching one of the episodes of the punisher:

    – What do you wanna do?Nothing?
    – Its better than doing something stupid.

    Wow!The freaking punisher says one of the smartest and most sensible things,while the supposedly smart people in practically every movie or a show Ive seen are always yelling the old “I cant just do nothing!” mantra.Who knew that the punisher might be the wisest (anti)hero ever invented.

    • Matt Downie says:

      I’m guessing that’s something he says shortly before being forced to change his mind.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Not really.It is said shortly before idiot karen says “I couldnt have just done nothing”.But when the punisher is later forced to act he manages to save one person,BY TALKING*,and then manages to save two more people before the bad guy snuffs it.

        *Yes,the punisher TALKS his way out of a bad situation.Shocking,I know.

    • Redrock says:

      I mean…everyone making the smart decisions all the time would probaby make for really short movies and tv episodes, don’t you think? And/or some pretty grim endings. Indy would just stay home and enjoy tenure. Bruce Banner certainly wouldn’t conduct dangerous experiments on himself. Thor will just do zero thoring in any of his movies. Clinical stupidity and borderline bipolar disorder is the baseline for any character in most genre fiction. Otherwise you just get 13 hours of television of which about half, if you are lucky, are pure and utter boredom. I assume. Haven’t gotten to actually watching it yet, unfortunately.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        I mean…everyone making the smart decisions all the time would probaby make for really short movies and tv episodes, don’t you think?

        Not necessarily.Death note was long precisely because the main two guys were constantly doing the smart thing,not despite of it.

        • Syal says:

          Dumb stuff actually made Deathnote shorter. If Light hadn’t tried to kill L straight off, and L hadn’t introduced himself to Light, that series would still be ongoing.

  8. Hawk says:

    Why is it always a former spec-ops badass? Why is it never a former cook or supply sergeant or automated logistics specialist?

    My next superhero comic book is going to be The Logistician

  9. The series was ok, but yeah the Punisher stuff was very “lacking”.
    The first scene or so of the opening of the first episode was the Punisher.
    Then he “retired” putting his gear away, and as you said the last episode the Punisher came back.

    The rest was a soldier PTSD, who basically had done a warcrime and at least a unjustified murder. Frank Castle is no hero, not even a anti-hero.

    Interestingly, at the end of the 12th episode “Frank Castle” is dead, instead it’s Paul something now?

    I’m also confused as to where in the timeline the show is, after the 2014 movie? Before it? Is his appearances in Daredevil or whatever happening after or before this show?

  10. I think Thomas Jane (from The Expanse) makes a better Punisher, he was the character in the 2014 movie too.
    Here’s the unofficial short he did with Ron Perlman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWpK0wsnitc

  11. Ryan says:

    In the entire series, we only get to see the Punisher once. Sure, we see lots of Frank Castle moping around, punching people, and doing the occasional shooting, but that’s like watching Bruce Wayne getting into fistfights. It’s not the same thing.

    This long-form reveal is evident in several other Marvel Netflix shows, too. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. For example, with Punisher the origin story seems slow and belabored.

    But by contrast, Matt Murdock is also seen far more than his alter-ego in the Daredevil show, and when you do see him as DD, it’s not until the end of season 1 that he’s even in proper costume. The rest of the time, it’s like some sort of superhero loading screen. But it works in part because how DD develops and maintains the specific ethic he brings to his fight (both as a superhero and as a lawyer) is part of the point to such a degree that you can’t ignore it.

    • BlueHorus says:

      It may take a season for Daredevil to get the costume, but Murdock is doing daredevil-style things basically from the get-go. He’s recognisibly the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen long before we see any horns.
      You don’t necessarily NEED the costume, but you do need the character to do their thing in this kind of show.

      Also, there’s lots of well-done action scenes in Daredevil, which I didn’t really see in the Punisher. (maybe/hopefully I gave up before it got to them?)

  12. BlueHorus says:

    I’m sad they went with this ‘Castle’s past is darker than we thought!’ plot.

    His origin story as already introduced was fine: dead family, gets revenge, now he enjoy being a vigilante/is driven by a very specific head injury to have a burning sense of ‘justice’.

    But no, apparently the audience won’t watch your shows unless there’s some mystery constantly being teased or hidden just out of sight. Gotta keep them hooked!
    God forbid we just know why everyone’s doing what they’re doing and want to watch the show for say, the Punisher doing some punishing and good action scenes.

    • King Marth says:

      Seems they can’t decide whether the IP they’re using are established characters or not. The name is used to draw people in, but then they need to make a point of setting up the character you already know about and used as the basis for deciding to watch the show. And, in this case, they set up a different character. Makes me wonder how many of these scripts were sitting around until someone felt like slapping a license on the name that only fit superficially, like that “I, Robot” disaster.

      You can do more than this, Netflix. It has been years, and no-one has even tried to make River Tam Beats Up Everyone.

  13. Joshua says:

    I’m in the minority, but that’s why my wife and I couldn’t get into Luke Cage- the first couple of episodes were drawn out and languid, with the protagonist doing his best to do nothing. He broke into action in the last minute of the first episode, but was back to doing nothing in the second. Apparently, it gets better after that, but then gets worse a few episodes later when they change villains, so we didn’t bother.

    The glacial pace of Unbreakable was novel for a “comic book movie” ONCE.

  14. PhoenixUltima says:

    I think this hit on why I liked the monster-of-the-week episodes of The X-Files, and always hated the episodes about the conspiracy crap. All the monster episodes are their own little self-contained stories: some monster is doing weird crap (usually involving killing people), Mulder & Scully get sent out to investigate, they find some clues, the monster attacks them, they search for clues about how to kill/seal/cure the monster, there’s a climactic showdown, and the good guys win.

    The conspiracy episodes, on the other hand, all tell this long, convoluted, winding tale about aliens, Mulder’s sister, a government cover-up, Mulder’s sister, secret government experiments, Mulder’s sister, and just for a change of pace, more Mulder’s fucking sister. It felt like that story would have been kind of boring even if it had been condensed down to 1 season, and they tried to stretch it across the whole series.

  15. Viktor says:

    There’s 2 main problems that I see with doing a Punisher show or movie.

    First, your core story is “Dude with a gun killing people he thinks are bad.” That’s a very common story we see in the news these days, and those guys aren’t heroes. The fact that he’s government trained and certain that his targets are criminals just adds a political element to the story, and Marvel doesn’t want to wade into that debate.
    Second, you only have 1 main story you can tell with Punisher; Shamus outlined it above. Now police procedurals and medical dramas get by with just a couple plots, but they use a strong ensemble cast of characters to compensate. You don’t care about the mystery much in CSI, you care about the people and how they interact with the case and each other. Punisher traditionally works alone, and you can add a couple characters to his orbit, but you can’t give him a NCIS or House-level cast. That means you’re going to be repeating plot points a lot and have nothing but action and shocking moments to distract from that. I’d blame that for the padding, actually, as the writers probably realized they need 13 episodes and don’t have anywhere near that many unique stories.

    The solution is to keep Frank as a semi-ally, semi-villain in the stories of actual heroes and, when you do do the origin, keep the scope in mind. Dude is not a solo protagonist suitable for modern stories. (I have a similar rant about Hulk movies if anyone is interested)

    • John says:

      There are police procedurals that do well without being character-driven, but they tend to be the ones that really double-down on the procedure. Think Law & Order (original recipe) or the ur-procedural, Dragnet. Those shows lasted decades by sniping plots from newspaper headlines and police records.

    • MadHiro says:

      There are a couple of alternatives to the “Standard” Punisher storyline offered by the comics.
      “Welcome Back, Frank” has a number of ‘Punisher Copy-Cats’ in the sidelines, and having Frank have to deal with them could make for a compelling story, for instance. From the MAX series, you’ve got ‘Frank executes a covert military operation for the US’ as well as one in which Frank has to rescue his daughter from a bad guy. Both of them still involve Frank killing a bunch of people with guns, but they’re less just ‘The Punisher Mows Down Thugs”.

      I think the biggest mistake the MCU made regarding the Punisher was moving his establishing war to the present day, making him young again. Frank Castle as a weather, battered, Vietnam vet drained of his humanity and destroyed by his own compulsion to punish over the course of forty years but incapable of doing anything else is way more compelling to me than what we get by rebooting the Punisher.

      • Viktor says:

        Fun fact, if someone was 20 in 2002 when they deployed to Iraq for their first tour, they’d be 35 now, which isn’t young. If you make Frank an NCO or an LT, he’d easily have been closer to 25 when he deployed and 40 now. Meanwhile a Vietnam vet who deployed at 19 at the end of the US part of the war(1970ish) would be 66. That’s really pushing believability, especially if you’re planning to keep this universe around. In 5 years, Iraq War Frank will be 40-45, Vietnam War Frank is 70 at a minimum.

        It’s not relevant to Netflix, but I expect Marvel Comics to switch to Iraq vet Frank soon too(I don’t follow Punisher so IDK if they already have). You can pretty easily keep him at 50ish from 2020 to 2050 just by shifting when he deploys to Iraq, and that’s assuming the war ends by 2020. If it keeps going, your age range keeps growing.

        • INH5 says:

          Nitpick: Did you mean to write Afghanistan in your last paragraph? While the US is currently involved in a war in Iraq, US ground troops haven’t played a major role there in years.

          Otherwise, I completely agree with you. A 60s+ Punisher would greatly undermine any sense of gritty realism, as would introducing any fantastic elements to his backstory like cryofreezing or immortality, and their crossover plans mean that they can’t have him only make significant appearances in prequel period pieces a la Magneto in the post-Last Stand X-Men movies. Updating his origin to involve a more recent war really is the most sensible solution.

        • MadHiro says:

          Yeah, the Frank Castle from the Punisher MAX line was born in 1950, so he’d be 67 right now. Which makes him neat, and interesting, and different relative to the line-up of generically late twenty-something hero that seems to be the norm. Frank gets more interesting as time goes on; the question of ‘how much blood is enough?’ becomes pretty serious after decades into his private war. Most of what Frank does in combat is shoot people from an ambush, which I’m not seeing how being ‘older’ is much of a hindrance. Guns are the great leveler.

    • BlueHorus says:

      Um…if you’re a media organisation wary of debating or even considering the ramifications of vigilante justice, then you should NOT be making something with the Punisher in it. Just the mention of the name was enough for me to see idiots online saying things like ‘Imma watch this while drinkin delicious libtard tears GO FREEDOM’etc.

      But it makes sense: Marvel want to make money off the Punisher name, but don’t want to risk offending anybody – so instead of the Punisher, they made a show about a mopey war vet and war crimes in another country with a decided scarcity of Punishing in it.

      You could, in a different story, make a REALLY interesting set of villains; ones who react to the Punisher’s actions in believable ways that keep the story going. Maybe the situation escalates and drags more and more innocent people into it, or they start fighting amongst themselves, or try to trick and manipulate him, or he finds out they’re not as guilty as he first thought…there’s loads of things you could do.
      Punisher’s still the main character, and the rest of the cast are whittled down one by one as he hunts them. You don’t need him to have friends to enlargen the cast.

      • Syal says:

        Was going to say roughly the same thing, villains are an ensemble cast as well. Daredevil’s first season introduced six villains in the opening, and followed their internal conflicts in the face of vigilante-ism. “Good guy chases bad guy” can be interesting as long as there are Interested Parties about.

        (…I liked The Good Guys.)

      • Alex says:

        Um…if you’re a media organisation wary of debating or even considering the ramifications of vigilante justice, then you should NOT be making something with the Punisher in it.

        Opinions like that are why Marvel is on life support right now. If you can’t play in somebody else’s sandbox without clogging it with your unwanted politics, go make your own series.

        • Viktor says:

          Marvel is on life support because all comic book companies are on life support. The medium has been dying ever since the 90s bubble popped. The fact that webcomics are poaching a lot of readership certainly doesn’t help matters, either.

          You can’t avoid politics when telling a story. You pick who the hero is, why they are who they are, what they stand for. That stuff naturally leads into politics. Punisher is just more obvious about it, since he’s a white dude with a gun killing folks he deems criminal with no due process. Look at the reaction to the announcement of the series. Just based off the name, there was folks saying they’d watch it no matter what because it agrees with what they want and people saying they’d avoid it because it reminds them too much of reality. When that’s the reaction to a character, deciding to tell their story is inherently a political decision, and as BlueHorus pointed out, its a political decision Marvel refuses to commit to.

          • Gethsemani says:

            Very much this. There are “safe” comic book characters to use, those that can get away with little to no moral or political message (Spider Man and Captain America is basically “be a good person” at their core, for example) in their story lines and where you can focus on traditional bad guys kidnapping innocent children because they are evil. Then there are characters that might not need a political or moral message but are likely to touch upon political or moral discussions because of their design, X-men for example will always be ur-example of people reading in a GLBT-message into the very premise.

            The Punisher is very much the latter. It might not need a political message, but the very idea of an anti-hero that stocks up on guns, eschews the juridical system and goes around torturing and killing people that they consider evil has a political implication. By the very premise the Punisher brings up the discussion on vigilante justice and by making your character an explicitly murderous vigilante you are going to be making a statement about vigilantism. Unlike Spider Man or Iron Man, who have a moral high ground and occasionally some sort of sanction from the powers that be, the Punisher is all about a man taking revenge on people he thinks are evil, by visiting their own evil upon them.

            Not to forget that when the Punisher was introduced he was an explicit counterpart to the Silver Age superheroes. As one of the first Bronze Age characters, he was an anti-hero that was meant to show that comic books could be mature and could handle mature content, including discussions on morality, righteousness and where the line between avenger and monster was drawn.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              I dont know how the comics are handling this these days,but I prefer what the marvel movies are doing.Most of the heroes are known people,no secret identities.To me,this makes them more relatable than the old vigilante thing.I prefer for most of the good guys to at least be allowed by the police and the government instead of being opposed by them.

        • BlueHorus says:

          Are Marvel on life-support? ‘Cos that film empire seems to be doing pretty damn well…
          (I don’t know, though.)

          Anyway. To restate what I said, you just can’t have a modern-day Punisher show without gun-happy vigilante action. As I said, just the name of the character sets people off. So Marvel/Netflix kept the name but watered down the content, to (fail to) avoid an unavoidable controversy. And the show suffered as a result (YMMV).

          Now, if they’d had balls/weren’t constrained by edicts from above, they’d have made a show about the Punisher doing his thing (Punishing) and just ignored the inevitable controversy that comes with making a Punisher show.
          Or, they could easily have made the point that I did below: that Castle kills because it makes him feel good, and any assertions that he’s doing it to help people are lies/excuses tangental to the central motivation. Demonstrate that his brand of vigilante justice is self-centred, unjust and almost always unhelpful.
          People will still get riled up and argue about the show, but that’s just people for you (especially on the internet). And the show would have been better, too.

    • Khizan says:

      Eh. I feel like it’s perfectly possible to make a decent Punisher movie. All you really have to do is give up the idea that the Punisher is a hero.

      I mean, hell, John Wick is a damn near perfect Punisher movie.

      1) John Wick/Frank Castle is a retired badass
      2) The mob killed his dog/family.
      3) He loved his dog/family.
      4) MURDER

      There’s no going deep into his backstory or attempts to heroify his actions and make him look like the good guy. It is a straight up action movie revenge tale. A man has been wronged and responds to it by murdering everybody involved.

      The mistake they keep making with this stuff is that they try to add depth to it, and when you do that a revenge fantasy falls apart.

  16. Raglan says:

    Ive pretty much gotten bored of all the marvel tv shows except for jessica jones. But then that ones so different in that her powers arent really that central to the plot.

    The dc shows on the other hand are much more villain of the week with an underlying plot (though that kinda undersells it) and i think thats a reason they are doing so well. Heck, arrows now in its 6th season. Theres tons of excelent non superhero shows that dont go that long

  17. CoyoteSans says:

    Bit of a tangent here, but Shamus touched on a point I’ve been thinking about: certain formats favor certain adaptations more that others. Movies are good at adaptating one-off or relatively self-contained serial novels and short stories, but bad at squishing in long form stuff like TV shows or video games, or really heavy and dense novels. Contrast how well the early Harry Potter movies worked compared to the disjointed hack jobs of the later ones, for example. It wasn’t just the crew involved, the early books were shorter and lent themselves more easily to a couple hour movie adaptation than the later ones.

    Likewise, TV series lend themselves well to episodic stories with myth arc stuff sprinkled between them, but bad for continuous myth-arc heavy stuff. Lost, for example, was good when it was more episodic early on, and got increasingly worse as the myth arc was forced to take a more and more central role in the later seasons.

    Tangentially to this tangent, I think that’s why comicbook superhero stories have gotten so popular in the last decade (once there were finally people in the industry who understood how they worked): they’re relatively malleable compared to other stories, able to be molded to fit either big blockbuster movies or a weekly TV show, making them popular with the writers and executives, and of course the simple but effective hero format remains evergreen with the general audience. Everybody wins (which is now why they’re starting to feel over-saturated).

    Netflix/Hulu/Whatever series, on the other hand, tend to fit the mini-series format best, especially when they started the whole “release the whole season at once” style. You can binge the whole season like you would read a nice long novel at your own pace, and that really favors a strong myth story, with episodic elements coming secondary. Oddly enough, because of this fact I’ve come to believe the first actual good video game adaptations will probably be on streaming series, since the nice story-heavy games have otherwise proven to be either way too long to satisfyingly be crammed into a single movie, but not quite episodic enough to fit the more choppy regular TV format. The streaming miniseries format represents the best compromise for room for the plot and characters to breathe without being quite so chopped up by the weekly hour.

    Of course, movies will still be good for the games that only had a barebones plot to justify the gameplay, like Mario or DOOM, but the Netflix format finally presents a possibility for, say, decent Mass Effect or Fallout adaptations. Well, except the Fallout 3 plot, that probably would be best as a blockbuster movie, heh.

    • Viktor says:

      I mean, make me an executive and tell me to adapt one property*, I’m snagging Legend of Zelda. A basic story that is easy to grasp, a massive canon that you can draw basically anything you want from that no one expects you to be beholden to, great awesome-looking abilities, a predisposition for ridiculous setpiece action sequences, and an easy supply of threats to escalate throughout the seasons without turning into Dragon Ball Z. Add some unexpectedly creepy monsters and a showrunner who knows how to make the audience experience risk and you’ve got a recipe for excellence.

      *BTW, everybody go watch Netflix’s 4 episode S1 of Castlevania.

    • Mousazz says:

      And that focus on the myth-arc is also why anime have, almost universally, moved over into the 13 episode format. This is in comparison to previous shonen anime adaptations, which would try to catch up to the manga with no breaks, and had to significantly slow down their episodes AND put in unnecessary filler – in fact, the Naruto: Shippuden anime is comprised of 44% filer. That’s pretty huge, and also a point of derision among anime fans.

      • Boobah says:

        And that focus on the myth-arc is also why anime have, almost universally, moved over into the 13 episode format.

        Pretty sure that’s more that shows are generally scheduled season by season, and with 52 weeks in a year that’d be 13 per season.

        Naruto: Shippuden anime is comprised of 44% filer. That’s pretty huge, and also a point of derision among anime fans.

        The original series was no better, although they had the courtesy to put most of the filler in one 90ish episode chunk at the end; almost two years of showing exactly why these guys were adapting someone else’s work rather than creating their own stuff.

        I vastly prefer shows going on hiatus (like My Hero Academia) than ‘quality’ content like Naruto‘s golden showers. Or Black Clover making half or more of every episode filler. Or even Full Metal Alchemist‘s bizarre alternate ending.

    • Blackbird71 says:

      Contrast how well the early Harry Potter movies worked compared to the disjointed hack jobs of the later ones, for example. It wasn’t just the crew involved, the early books were shorter and lent themselves more easily to a couple hour movie adaptation than the later ones.

      Not to mention the fact that the books got worse as they went on. Seriously, J. K. Rowling was good as a children’s author, but as she tried to expand her books to a more teen/adult level of reading, it became readily apparent that she didn’t have the skill and/or experience to pull it off. The problem was that the fame of her earlier works meant she was able to get away with it, and people would still buy her crap regardless of the lack of quality.

  18. I’ve never liked the Punisher as a hero concept.

    An actually interesting Punisher series would be one where every episode the brother/sister/mother/father/cousin of the person he “punished” last episode shows up and wrecks his life a little further, and he becomes successively more vicious and paranoid until, like a Greek tragedy, he realizes that his misery is his own doing.

    • BlueHorus says:

      He’s an antihero, but yeah, it’s a good point. It’s not a fantasy/story for everyone.

      And I’d agree with you that the best Punisher story would be one that examines his values/MO.

      -Yeah, you killed that drug dealer, but now his family are destitute and his little brother needs a way to make a lot of money quickly…you just gonna kill him, too?
      -So you killed that mob boss, great! But now there’s a power vacuum – not only are the boss’ family fighting over who succeeds him, but other crime syndicates are trying to muscle in on their territory, with civilians in the crossfire…
      -So that crime ring are getting desperate. They’ll grab hostages and hold guns to their heads at the mere mention of the Punisher’s name…turns out scared, trigger-happy criminals might endanger civilians, who knew?
      Etc.

      It’d be about Castle facing the extended consequences of his actions, and considering about what good it does in the long term.
      ‘Cos he really might not care…

      • Veylon says:

        I get the idea that Frank wouldn’t care. He’d be entirely okay with killing anyone and everyone who tries to fill that vacuum. If you argued with him, he’d just say that they [i]chose[/i] to deal drugs or take hostages and that he is merely the consequence of [i]their[/i] choices. Why are the values and actions of “trigger happy criminals” above reproach and not his?

        • BlueHorus says:

          Yes. The Punisher kills because he likes it/is good as it.
          The point wouldn’t be necessarily to effect change in him, it’s to make the point that he’s lying about why he does it, show his justifications to be bullshit. A similar thing was done in Breaking Bad and it’s a big part of the point of the show. Frank Castle not a hero, and justice is a hell of a lot more complicated that just shooting people you don’t like.
          That’s probably why he’s better in Daredevil than his own show, because he represents something Matt Murdock could easily become and is free to actually do his thing.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      They’ve actually done “Punisher revenge squad” stories before. The part that makes these entertaining is when they try to rub his nose in WHAT HE’S DONE he just does. not. give. a. fuck. That’s usually the unraveling of their whole thing.

      This as a contrast to Wolverine, who is emotionally pummeled by plans like these because he actually cares about honor and being a good person and all that.

      • Pax says:

        The best example of the Punisher not caring is when Ghost Rider used his Penance Stare on him, which is supposed to torture someone with the guilt of what they’ve done, and it just had no effect on Frank.

        • If you really don’t care, why punish in the first place? He has to care about SOMETHING.

          There are some interesting stories you could tell. Drugs are legalized, the cartels use power . . . but he’s still going around punishing people for selling them.

          He becomes this mindless vigilante, doing things that make no sense. “Wall street stole my pension!” *hurls a broker off a building* “This kid was bullying me!” *puts kid in wheelchair*

          He’s basically like an Extreme Social Justice Warrior, reacting short-term, out of context to the target of the moment.

          • Viktor says:

            Shamus, could you delete this so I don’t feel obligated to reply to it?

          • Shoeboxjeddy says:

            The trick there is that Frank doesn’t ENJOY Punishing people. He doesn’t celebrate a particularly successful Punishing. He doesn’t have a website that brags about his best hits. He is COMPELLED to do this stuff. He’s not completely a robot of course, he sometimes gets angrier or more brutal if some criminals do something he considers heinous. But it’s very hard to get him to stop through extenuating circumstances or anything like that. In short, Frank has a series of narratively convenient mental disorders.

            • Enjoyment isn’t the only kind of emotional response that qualifies as “caring”, in fact, compulsions in general are a reaction to an emotional response–an effort to reduce anxiety. To say that The Punisher is “compelled” to do these things means that he’s afraid of or anxious about something, and this is how he alleviates that anxiety.

              So, what’s the source of his anxiety?

          • Meriador says:

            It’s not that he doesn’t care about punishing. He just doesn’t care what the people he’s punishing think. The Penance Stare works by using someone’s guilt to destroy them, but Punisher doesn’t feel guilt for the people he kills. He’s a sociopath, and kills everyone he sees as “bad” without giving a crap about extenuating circumstances or due process, or what anyone else’s definition of “bad” is.

    • Nope says:

      This one actually does.

      Spoilers for about 3/4s of the way through the run.

      The subplot about a disturbed veteran in the support group leads to this character going on a bombing, then shooting spree, which he says is directly inspired by Castle. Castle repeatedly tries to talk him down, but he can’t, because the only thing he has is the macho excuse that he fights his targets face to face (Which is a lie, he’s used bombs and rifles at long range, and engages in ambushes). Castle himself is directly responsible for the deaths of numerous security contractors because he refuses to contact the authorities because he wants to take him down his way. It’s clear that he can’t argue the kid down,
      not because the kid’s nuts, not just because Frank’s angry and keeps losing his temper, but because he doesn’t have a good moral argument for why he shouldn’t kill people who he feels are evil. The best he can do is call him a coward.

      I’m getting the feeling a LOT of people are discussing this show without having watched it or with familiarity of the show. The show is well aware that The Punisher is an antihero, and kind of a bad dude. That’s why there’s the whole re-origin story people are complaining about. Castle thinks he’s done with his revenge and he’s trying to get by. Things push him, and it really does not take much to turn him back to violence because that’s who he is at this point. He’s sans the Death’s Head because he’s supposedly trying to move past that. When he finally readopts it, it’s because he’s once more consumed by his vengeful, hateful side, and is essentially preparing for a suicide mission, where he’s willing to die, just for the chance to kill his enemies, preferably with a knife or his bare hands. After he gets his hands on who he’s after, he doesn’t just kill him, after stabbing him repeatedly and fatally he proceeds to attempt to beat him to death and Red Viper him. If it isn’t clear from everything else, Frank is not well.

      Like, criticise the show all you want, but at least level criticisms at things the show does wrong.

      I actually really like the long form structure of this, it doesn’t suffer from the same mid-season slump that DD1, DD2, and JJ did, or just being ploddingly boring like Luke Cage or Iron Fist. I don’t think the show would be better as a short story or 2 episode bit (Although the first episode does do a nice self contained thing, and there are several small arcs where he takes down corrupt law enforcement and a couple of criminal groups, but they do fit into a bigger arc, but as far as the classic Punisher villain is established-Punisher kills them, subversion, it’s still in there). Massive spoiler here The ending reveals, that aside from the regular Punisher stuff, this has actually been the origin story of one of Castle’s most iconic foes. Which admittedly, you’d know if you knew the comics or saw Warzone and remembered a couple of details[and for the people who keep saying the Punisher always just straight up kills his enemies and they don’t recur: No. That’s a lot of Punisher stories, but he has recurring characters]

      This Punisher isn’t lifted straight from any one comic version, especially when it comes to motivation, and the show works as much as a character piece as anything else. It goes into depth about Frank’s PTSD, his violent self-image, and actually does ask moral questions about the premise (One of those “disposable” plotlines is exactly that, which is usually seen as a good thing vis a vis, literary merit, when an antagonist by presence questions the underlying premise of the character). One of the best sequences in the show just involves Frank and his buddy spending the night in getting drunk after the fallout of a whole mess of the other plotlines. Which sounds dumb, and could have just been filler, but it’s like the Super Bunnyhop video, Quiet Time is important, and they actually earn what they fill their quiet time with, which is one of the big pacing flaws in the other Marvel/Netflix shows.

      The show says a lot about loneliness, and how people relate and try to reach out to each other, and it punctuates that with a violent man who’s loneliness keeps driving him back to pointless revenge. It’s not perfect. There are a couple of really dumb plotholes, some of which drive pointless plot contrivances, and while Frank being a violent asshole, even to people who are ostensibly on his side, there are some points where they make him relentlessly thick, and pointlessly hypocritical without decent commentary. In particular His capturing of Micro runs on way too long with Frank just being dumb, and intensely hypocritical, and it really doesn’t critique his ideology. That hurts the pacing of that episode. And Micro’s holding out on Frank’s location near the end of the run is just pointless to give an excuse for a bloody torture scene which could have been better justified narratively

  19. SKD says:

    I understand your problem Shamus. I’ve been sampling the Netflix branded offerings off and on for the last couple months but most of the stuff that they put up in the new or trending lists just falls flat. For me the biggest problem is the lack of quality writing, particularly for shows that try to be parodies and social commentaries.

  20. Sudanna says:

    The long-form focus of the Netflix marvel shows is the only real option. The simple three-act structure you’re talking about might make a fine action movie, or even a fine episode, but over a series it would clearly be repetitive and predictable. Even if it’s for just one episode, that episode would feel perfunctory and disconnected. Superheroes are in fact especially unsuited for monster-of-the-week television, because there are way fewer clever wrenches and unforeseen turns you can throw into that kind of structure. Star Trek or The X-Files are maybe the most successful expressions of an SF monster-of-the-week format, alongside real or realistic crime dramas(Criminal Minds, CSI: Miami, NCIS, etc.), and superheroes, despite mixing elements of both, end up with fewer options than either.

    • ehlijen says:

      I disagree. I think Superheroes are very suited for big bad of the week stories. Several of the famous ones had long running cartoon shows of some popularity that used that formula, including the Batman Animated Series. The result will not be suited for binge watching, though.

      The X Files were at their best when doing standalone stories, but it was the myth arc that kept the audience coming back, so I’m not sure it’s the example you mean it to be.

      • BlueHorus says:

        The result will not be suited for binge watching, though.

        Sad but true. The shows are designed to keep you hooked via cliffhangers and mysteries, I think. It keeps the audience coming back/binge-watching, in the the same way that computer games keep you coming back with Skinner-Box mechanics.

        • ehlijen says:

          That doesn’t have to be sad. Plenty of shows over the decades have been reset button based and still become very popular.

          • BlueHorus says:

            Ah, sorry. I was unclear. The Reset Button format is one I like. It would also feel a superhero really well (as has been proven).

            I find it sad that more shows use cliffhangers and artificially-created mysteries as hooks to keep the audience coming back.
            It feels to me that a lot of TV (and the Marvel Netflix shows in particular) do that, trying to keep you wanting more via manipulation; just holding back and/or selectively revealing information. (Worst/most famous example: Lost, where they were just making shit up on the fly to keep you watching, until it all fell apart.)

            Of course, if you’re fine with that, that’s up to you. It annoys me is all. TV shows can just be good, ya know? The audience will keep watching ‘cos it’s entertaining, no need to try and force us into it.

            • ehlijen says:

              Ah yes, now I think I understand. And I agree.

            • Asdasd says:

              I mean, all story-telling is manipulation when you boil it right down. I don’t think many authors could thrive under the stipulation that they couldn’t be selective with what they revealed to the audience and all the cards had to be played face-up on the table.

              On the other hand, I also hate it when I feel like an author is yanking my chain, and the examples you mention are definitely guilty in that respect. But I wonder if that isn’t just a case of doing badly what a more skilled story-teller pulls off with a defter touch.

    • Dreadjaws says:

      “Superheroes are in fact especially unsuited for monster-of-the-week television, because there are way fewer clever wrenches and unforeseen turns you can throw into that kind of structure”

      I’m sorry, but this is preposterous. This is pretty much the format of the media superheroes originated in. TV is actually better for superheroes, because it has all the strengths of that format and none of the weaknesses generated by longer-running comics (such as having characters constantly dying and coming back or villains escaping prison all the time).

      • Christopher says:

        Half the reason I decided to watch the DC animated universe a decade after it ended rather than jump into the comics were the advantages it has. You get a consistent artstyle instead of swapping the artist every other issue and you have a regular team of writers so Poison Ivy isn’t a literally maneating monster one issue and a femme fatale the next, for one thing. But in terms of just episodic storytelling vs a season-long arc, I’ll just say that the DCAU did very well both with just episodic adventures back in Batman TAS and then with background plots that eventually were resolved in the season finale in Justice League and Superman.

  21. Dreadjaws says:

    Wait a minute. So, Daredevil spent the entire second season padding the origin of the Punisher until the end and now they’re doing the same thing again? In his own series? Wow.

    Anyway, here’s the issue with the Punisher: unlike Batman, he’s pure revenge fantasy. Leaving aside his rogue gallery and coolness factor, Batman has a lot of things going for him: his unwavering sense of justice, his constant fight against his own darkness, the fact that he’s a detective, so his stories can include a lot of investigation, the fact that he uses his alter ego to prevent crime while making the hardest effort to reform criminals, etc.

    Punisher is none of those things. Every time they try to make him deep by humanizing him they ruin him. The best Punisher stories that go deeper than just revenge fantasy focus on the people around him not on himself. Batman and Bruce Wayne coexist, but Frank Castle and Punisher can’t, because Frank Castle is dead. He died with his family. He’s a husk now, a shell of a man, and he knows it. Pretending he’s anything else just doesn’t work for the character.

  22. Redrock says:

    I’ve always found Punisher to be incredibly boring. Also, is there that big a difference between Frank Castle shooting dudes in and out of costume? It’s not like there is much of a costume to speak of. I think I’ll get to this show eventually, but I’m not holding my breath. Based on what I’ve heard, the creators were really hamstrung by the need to condemn the whole idea of vigilantism and especially gun-toting vigilantism, because, well, it’s 2017 and people may get offended.

    On a semi-related note, I’d really like Netflix to do Moon Knight, especially based on the latest arc by Jeff Lemire, which emphasizes the whole insanity aspect of the character. That seems like a good fit for TV and might possibly be their Legion, at the very least, while retaining room for brutal corridor brawling they seem to like so much.

  23. Shoeboxjeddy says:

    Superheroes don’t work as long form drama? Bwa huh? That’s the form they’ve been sold in for the past 60 years though… The Punisher doesn’t work in a 3 act structure. He works in a 60 part long structure that then reboots for another 60 acts. Now, each comic issue might have a sort of arc like that, or maybe 6 issues form an arc, but then again every Netflix Marvel show episode has a mini-storyline of its own. For example, in episode 2 of Daredevil, DD hears about a kidnapping in the beginning, tracks down clues, and then beats down the kidnappers at the end. But that solves basically nothing regarding the overarching Kingpin case. That’s solved over the long 12 episodes.

    Also, Punisher doesn’t have a “costume”. He occasionally wears a T-shirt with a Skull printed on it, but just as often does not.

    • Shamus says:

      “Superheroes don’t work as long form drama? Bwa huh?”

      I’m talking about the length of the dramatic arcs. The original run of Amazing Spider-Man isn’t a 36 year long story, it’s hundreds of hundreds of short stories chained together. If you step back and look at the entire arc of the character, you have a story where Peter died a few times, retired half a dozen times, lost his powers several times, changed personalities a hundred times, and had his identity exposed and re-hidden to just about everyone in his life on more than one occasion. The short stories are good, and the long-form story is meandering when it isn’t incoherent.

      So yes, these characters are better suited to short stories. Or more accurately, short stories are better suited to the cycle of overcoming evil with action scenes featuring courage and heroism.

      “Also, Punisher doesn’t have a “costume”. He occasionally wears a T-shirt with a Skull printed on it, but just as often does not.”

      All the more reason to get it right. It’s not just the shirt that the problem. It’s his behavior. If all it takes to be the Punisher is an extra-judicial gunfight then half the movies out there are Punisher movies. Just like Spider-Man is all about web-swinging acrobatics, the Punisher is usually about ambushes against groups of goons using quick-thinking and strategy. And he only has one fight like that in the 13 episode run of this show.

      The mini-storylines you cite in Daredevil really aren’t present in Punisher. I mean, there are single-episode arcs, but they usually don’t include the Punisher punishing people, which is what I look for in my Punisher-brand entertainment.

  24. Sicod says:

    I concur in part with your statement.

    It addresses a common complaint about Netflix Marvel….the story is SSSSSSTTTTTRRRRREEEETTTTCCCHHHHHEEDDD.

    I believe it is possible to do the more long form stories…but more in the method of Burn Notice…which is like a superhero show, except with ex-spies.

    The show has forward momentum on the main plot every episode, but there were “cases of the week” where the team would help people.

  25. CPhlebas says:

    I dunno. There haven’t been a lot tv series devoted to antiheroes like these. Jessica Jones, where the villain is the worst, but if she asks her friends to help and they just charge in, the problem gets worse? Where she needs friends for backup but has a hard time asking for it because they really don’t understand.

    Luke Cage? Where he can destroy everything in a fight, but it’s his family and community and his future and he doesn’t see a way that destroying everything will lead to a win?

    The Punisher? if you’re an actual soldier raised with Batman as a superhero, and you go off to war and kill people and don’t know why but can’t have much doubt in order to survive and then come back home? You think Batman makes any sense to them anymore? spending some hours brooding and struggling makes sense. You didn’t even read the Punisher comics, why would you watch a series that was just like the Punisher comics?

    seems like these are stories worth spending 13 hours on, getting them wrong, and spending 13 more hours on.

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