With his military-grade arsenal and take-no-prisoners attitude, Frank Castle, a.k.a. the Punisher, has never fit the conventional model of a Marvel Comics hero. And according to Gerry Conway — who co-created the stalwart soldier-turned-ultraviolent vigilante in 1974 with John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru — that’s by design. “The Punisher was originally conceived as a villain and was not intended to be an antihero,” the legendary comics writer told Syfy in 2019. “In the course of writing the first story, I realized that's what he was – an antihero. He had a moral code I could use to resolve story points. And, it was a simpler time in the ’70s.”
But the Punisher’s legacy has grown more complex since his introduction in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man. An instant reader favorite, he eventually graduated to his own title and became one of Marvel’s most popular characters in the ’80s and ’90s. He found a particularly devoted audience among actual soldiers and police officers, with many of them adopting the trademark skull symbol he wears on his chest. Those symbols have been spotted on officers during the recent protests following the death of George Floyd, but they had found their way onto police uniforms even before that.
Here are some photos of Detroit police apparently from today. Can anyone explain the skull? Given the use of the totenkopf by the SS, doesn’t it seem just a little bit inappropriate?? pic.twitter.com/j3KES75kcb— Nick Krieger (@nckrieger) June 3, 2020
Cops are using the Punisher a symbol of mass murder. r @DisneyStudios and @MarvelStudios should press charges if they aren’t removed they will fine the police and the proceeds will go to charity to help #BlackLivesMatter foundations. If you agree retweet. pic.twitter.com/vN1aOUKomd— ToonGrin (@ToonGrin) June 11, 2020
the punisher iconography on police these days is nearing cult like status https://t.co/uOuV9M3cXY— Continuity Of Posting - Incident Copypasta Systems (@HongPong) May 14, 2020
Conway has never shied away from expressing his distaste for seeing Punisher signage adorning real police officers. “It’s disturbing whenever I see authority figures embracing Punisher iconography because the Punisher represents a failure of the justice system,” he remarked to Syfy. “He’s supposed to indict the collapse of social moral authority, and the reality is some people can't depend on institutions like the police or the military to act in a just and capable way.”
While the Walt Disney Company — which owns Marvel — hasn’t moved to take legal action against police departments (despite the urging of many on Twitter) for using the Punisher symbol, Conway is using social media to launch a project. In a series of tweets on June 5, the writer outlined his plans to “reclaim the Punisher skull” and benefit Black Lives Matter in the process.
I'm looking for young comic book artists of color who'd like to participate in a small fundraising project for #BLM to reclaim the Punisher skull as a symbol of justice rather than lawless police oppression. Respond and follow so we can DM.— Gerry Conway (@gerryconway) June 5, 2020
To be clear, this little project is open to anyone who wants to contribute their time and effort. It's not a paying gig, it's intended to raise funds to support BLM. I hope to use multiple artists with a variety of styles and artistic approaches.— Gerry Conway (@gerryconway) June 6, 2020
As to the debate over whether the Punisher symbol can ever be a symbol for justice -- I agree that's an open question. What it must *not* be is a symbol of oppression. I want to deny police the use of the symbol by claiming it for BLM. Call it irony.— Gerry Conway (@gerryconway) June 6, 2020
I hope the results will speak for themselves.— Gerry Conway (@gerryconway) June 6, 2020
Conway revealed those results on Tuesday, launching the Skulls For Justice campaign, hosted by online apparel company Custom Ink. Featuring four different T-shirt designs from four artists — Wess Hancock, Demonte Price, Don Nguyen and Sam Ines — all proceeds raised will go directly to Black Lives Matter. “For too long, symbols associated with a character I co-created have been co-opted by forces of oppression and to intimidate black Americans,” Conway writes on the campaign page. “This character and symbol was never intended as a symbol of oppression. This is a symbol of a systematic failure of equal justice. It’s time to claim this symbol for the cause of equal justice and Black Lives Matter.”
So far, the Skulls for Justice campaign has raised almost $40,000, and Conway suggests it could represent a new beginning for a character that’s outlived his purpose in his current form. “My expectation is we will never see another Punisher movie or TV series,” he recently told Forbes. [A Netflix series starring Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle was canceled last year.]
“Disney knows this is radioactive. They are going to let it fade away. Which to me is a shame. Maybe seeing it in this new light will inspire them to embrace it, and bring it forward.” Part of bringing the character forward would be replacing Castle with a different soldier. “[A new Punisher] could be Latino or black or Asian,” Conway pointed out to Forbes. While the Punisher’s face might change, thanks to Conway’s efforts, the skull would stay the same.
Read more from Yahoo Entertainment