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TV Series Review

Ever since I was a kid, Batman's been my favorite superhero. He skulks around in the dark, righting wrongs. He's super-duper rich, never carries a gun and never, ever kills.

Which, I guess, makes The Punisher the anti-Batman.

Oh, Marvel's Frank Castle does his share of skulking around in the dark, to be sure. But he doesn't have the discretionary income to spend on Punisher cars or Punisher planes or Punisher shark repellant: No, he spends it all on guns. And bullets. And bandages. And more guns.

And as for the killing? Let's just say he spills more blood than an Oscar Mayer meat processing plant.

A High-Caliber Character (Literally)

We first saw Netflix's version of Castle in the second season of Daredevil. He was man bent on avenging the murder of his wife and children. It's a pretty tall order, we learn in Netflix's The Punisher, given that the murders apparently involved motorcycle gangs, high-placed moneymen and an entire drug cartel.

No matter: Castle apparently polishes the remainders off in the first five minutes of the new show. He can officially cross "vengeance" off his to-do list, right?

But killing everyone who had anything to do with his family's death apparently wasn't quite the release perhaps Castle imagined it would be. Six months later, he's still working through his grief and rage. But one can't mourn forever, and soon he's being contacted by a mysterious, supposedly dead former NSA analyst who wants Castle's help in getting to the bottom of a big conspiracy—one that's also being investigated by another intrepid NSA agent, Dinah Madani.

It will require the Punisher to hone his vengeful skill set. Repeatedly.

A Slug to the Gut

The Punisher has long cut a bloody swathe through the Marvel Universe. Originally introduced in 1974, he changed from villain to hero, climbing from second-rate character to becoming one of Marvel's most popular. And Castle, what with his military background, has long been a favorite among those in the military. Chris Kyle, the sharpshooter immortalized in American Sniper, was a Punisher fan; and American Sniper itself featured the Punisher's distinctive skull graphic aplenty.

But with all due respect to those who've been drawn to him, the Punisher is more bloody revenge fantasy than aspirational hero, one that inherently comes packed with problems—especially in this Netflix rendition.

No question, actor Jon Bernthal's Punisher is compelling. He has described the character in interviews as "damaged" and "tortured," traits that Bernthal effectively brings to every episode. And as such, he becomes a walking cautionary story. Curt, a former soldier who now leads a therapy group of other former soldiers, tells him flatly, "The only person you're punishing is yourself."

Not precisely true, of course. He punishes the audience, too.

This Netflix show spoon-feeds us incredible brutality, shoving acts of bloody vengeance and horror down our collective throats. It doesn't spill as much blood as American Horror Story, perhaps, or rack up the body count of The Walking Dead. But because this show can feel so realistically grim and concrete, the emotional impact is arguably greater. And while Netflix's other superhero shows can get pretty messy, too, The Punisher is unquestionably more bleak. Daredevil, for all his flaws, seeks to follow a higher calling. The only calling the Punisher hears is the screams of his victims.

The brutality we witness would be more than enough to give The Punisher an R rating if it landed in theaters, and a hard R at that. But Netflix wasn't content to leave well enough alone. The show sometimes includes sexual dalliances that includes lots of exposed skin as well. Language can be pretty brutal as well, with s-words spattering the television speakers with as much alacrity as Castle spatters the walls with blood.

I get why the Punisher character is so popular. He makes people pay for their crimes, and that scratches a certain itch for justice in our psyches. But that itch, I think, is akin to a mosquito bite: The more you scratch, the worse it gets until you dig a bloody hole in your skin.

And yet, Castle just keeps scratching. Down to the bone.

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Episode Reviews

The Punisher: Nov. 17, 2017 "3 AM"



Readability Age Range



Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle; Amber Rose Revah as Dinah Madani; Ebon Moss-Bachrach as David Lieberman; Ben Barnes as Billy Russo; Daniel Webber as Lewis Wilson; Jaime Ray Newman as Sarah Lieberman; Paul Schulze as William Rawlins; Michael Nathanson as Sam Stein; Jason R. Moore as Curtis Hoyle; Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page






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On Video

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Paul Asay

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