Thursday, April 16, 2015


CBR's Robot 6 section pointed to a Time article about how anti-ISIS fighters in Iraq are taking up the Punisher's symbol just as Chris Kyle and his squad were inspired to. This is the most significant mention CBR's made of details involving American Sniper so far, and I wonder if it's because these are locals - possibly the kind of people who might be described as "moderate Muslims" - who're trying out the skull symbols, and not just Kyle's team themselves. But, since this has some interesting notes to cite, let's see what they bring up. For example, at the beginning, they say:
The creator of The Punisher says he is 'flabbergasted' by the appropriation of his image by Iraqi fighters
So Gerry Conway's not happy even Iraqis took a liking to the skull symbol? We'll get to more on that soon, but now, here's something I want to take issue with:
In his regular life the Punisher is Frank Castle, a veteran of the Vietnam War whose family was killed in the crossfire of a mob dispute. Angry that the police fail to bring his family’s killers to justice, Castle takes the law into his own hands as the Punisher, using torture, murder and kidnapping in his anti-crime crusade. For the Punisher the ends justify the means in fighting evil.

“That is paralleling the Shi’ite militia,” says Aymenn al-Tamimi, a researcher at the Philadelphia-based think tank Middle East Forum.
While I haven't read every Punisher story from the better days till the end of the last century, I think they're exaggerating the torture and kidnapping parts a bit. And they certainly are obfuscating what he does to the villains he terminates, predictably calling it murder rather than execution of filth. Let's remember that many of the criminals Frank targeted were murderous themselves, and bringing in a MEF member with a statement to justify Time's standings (and Conway's too, I figure), is pretty low. No mention of any of the innocent lives Frank may have saved in his career either, I see.
As a poorly-guided vigilante the Punisher is a well-suited icon for the Iraqi security forces and Shi’ite militia that have been accused of looting towns, burning homes and murder in their fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).
Wait a minute. Are they saying Frank Castle appeals to terrorists?!? Well now isn't that stooping very deep. It figures an awful magazine like Time would fudge everything up. Something overlooked here is - did the militias actually get the idea from the Punisher proper? I'd say the chances of that are minimal at best. But I'll admit, they may have gotten the idea from Kyle's troops.
“I think they forget the American association and just think, ‘oh, look how cool we are with these death skulls’,” says Tamimi. He points out that Iraqis appropriate “American symbols, despite of course the rampant anti-Americanism particularly with the Shi’ite militias. It’s an interesting discord.”
Well sadly, skulls can be seen as evil symbols despite the Punisher's belonging to somebody who's otherwise a good guy. If the local movements they cite did draw their symbols from the Punisher's and/or what Kyle's team used, it was probably by coincidence, not actually knowing it even came from an American comic book character's outfit.

But back to a fascinating question:
again, are CBR, which was very muted till now, and Time talking about American Sniper-related issues now just because these Iraqi militias are taking up the symbols? Is it because earlier, they resented the movie's biography so much that now, they see this as the perfect way to embarrass it? A good question indeed, and the above may answer everything. Now, here's more from Conway:
For Conway, the appropriation of his comic character by gun-toting soldiers and militiamen is uncomfortable, if not depressing.

“I was an anti-war person. I argued against it and certainly wrote against it,”
says Conway who was 21-years-old when he invented the character. At the time he filed for conscious objector status before being excused from the draft for the Vietnam War on medical grounds. “We’d probably be considered the weak-kneed hippies they’d want to punch out.”

Perhaps the strangest thing for Conway is how popular the Punisher has become despite the character’s moral ambiguity and violent actions. People wearing t-shirts with the skull emblem regularly approach Conway at comic-book conventions, proclaiming the Punisher is their favorite character.

“In my mind he’s not a good guy,” say Conway.
Well, I guess this clarifies what he really thinks of his own creation. To be sure, he never planned to develop Frank himself (other writers did that, and his origin was expanded on in one of Marvel's B&W anthology series a year after debuting), and no matter what they tell here, it's not hard to guess deep down, he must regret Frank's success as a character in the 1987-95 series plus 2 spinoffs. But then, how come he spent so much time writing various superhero books depicting them battling against warmongers? Even his stint on Justice League of America during 1978-86 could be seen as embodying the very direction he says he despises. I may have said it before, and I'll say it again: leftists opposed to bringing down evil entities should not be writing heroic adventure fare that could represent what they're against.
“I’m flabbergasted by the whole thing,” says Conway. “It’s very strange for me as creator to see this. Nobody asked my permission.”
But he doesn't own the rights to the character. In any case, if he despises Kyle for drawing inspiration from Frank's symbol, I must shake my head. His pay of lip service to Time isn't helpful, and I'm sure there's other people out there who're hugely disappointed with him too for not upholding the fight against evil entities in this world. If that's how he feels, he should never write another story where heroes like Fantastic Four are battling Doctor Doom ever again (and he had once written the FF in the mid-1970s). But if he does, one can only wonder if he'll end up writing a story where Doom wins. *Shudder.*

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