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Daredevil – New York’s Finest (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

The stock comparison for the first season of Daredevil was Batman Begins. There were certainly plenty of reasons. The yellow-ish colour scheme. The non-linear superhero origin story focusing on a protagonist who subsumes his anger into something greater. The erosion of the existing organised crime framework, replaced by something altogether weirder. The ninjas who plot to smuggle a potentially dangerous (and pseudo-mystical) weapon into the heart of the city through th docklands. It was a good comparison, and it served Daredevil well.

As such, it makes sense that the second season of the show would desperately want to be The Dark Knight.

That'll make a nice logo...

That’ll make a nice logo…

After all, The Dark Knight is regarded as one of the finest sequels ever made. It was massively financially successful while also being critically praised. It demonstrated that superhero cinema could conform to the highest standards of the artform. Heath Ledger won an Oscar for his performance as the Joker. It engaged with the zeiteist, being described by Washington Times critic Sonny Bunch as “the first great post-Sept. 11 film” and cited by President Barack Obama in strategy briefings about ISIS.

If the first season of Daredevil earned comparisons to Batman Begins, it is perfectly reasonable that the second season should invite comparisons to The Dark Knight. This desire bleeds through the second season in a number of different ways, both large and small. Even the suggestion that the Punisher is simply “escalation” in response to Daredevil in Dogs to a Gunfight echoes the theme of escalation that runs through The Dark Knight. However, the series goes further.

Sniping comments.

Sniping comments.

It is quite common to refer to Daredevil as “Marvel’s Batman.” (Other popular candidates include Moon Knight.) There are any number of reasons for this: the darker tone of Batman and Daredevil stories when measured against the rest of the shared universe, the fact that both characters are inexorably linked to writer Frank Miller, the little “ears” at the top of their cowls. Daredevil has largely embraced these comparisons, consciously playing into the comparison to the point where even viewers unfamiliar with the comic book overlap can see the comparison.

In fact, the title New York’s Finest is something of a wry in-joke. Assuming the title is to be applied to the Punisher and Daredevil as two distinct embodiments of a unique ideal, it is also a sly nod to Batman as a member of the “World’s Finest” team with Superman. The implication would seem to be that Daredevil and the Punisher operate at a more low-key level. It is a reference that would have been even funnier if the rumours had been true and the second season of Daredevil had premiered on the same day that Batman vs. Superman opened.

"You know, Batman and Superman got a long a lot better after they went to counselling."

“You know, Batman and Superman got a long a lot better after they went to counselling.”

The parallels between the second season of Daredevil and The Dark Knight run deep, but they largely concentrate around the two newest characters. Both Elektra and the Punisher feel somewhat inspired by the portrayal of the Joker and Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight. The decision to emphasis the Punisher’s attempts at retribution on those who harmed his loved ones rather than a broader war on crime recalls Harvey Dent’s arc through the final act of The Dark Knight. Similarly, Daredevil’s attempts to save Elektra’s soul also evoke Harvey’s arc.

However, the philosophical debate between Daredevil and the Punisher in New York’s Finest is consciously filtered through the lens of classic confrontations between Batman and the Joker. Waking up chained to a wall, Daredevil asks, “Why didn’t you take my mask off?” Frank Castle responds, “I don’t give a sh!t about who you are.” This reflects the Joker’s own lack of interest in Batman’s secret identity in The Dark Knight, to the point that the Joker is willing to throw the city into chaos in order to prevent Mister Reese from exposing Bruce Wayne.

Screw loose?

Screw loose?

More to the point, the conversation between Frank Castle and Daredevil even directly quotes from Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, itself a major influence on the portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight. Looking right at Daredevil, Frank bluntly states, “You know you’re one bad day away from being me.” It is the central point that the Joker tries to prove in The Killing Joke. Although he does not articulate it so succinctly in The Dark Knight, it is also a motivator there. The Joker wants to prove philosophically that everybody is as cruel and paranoid as he is.

(There are other indications, later in the season. Most notably, Frank Castle bluntly rejects any attempt to characterise him as mentally incompetent. He insists that he is not crazy, that his warped response to the world is the only sane way to react to the craziness around him. Much like Heath Ledger’s take on the Joker, this version of the Punisher seems to bristle at the idea that he might not be in complete control of his faculties. It becomes a plot point in Semper Fidelis.)

Take five.

Take five.

Of course, the actual scenario depicted in New York’s Finest is lifted from Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Welcome Back Frank, the twelve-issue series that would launch Garth Ennis’ extended run on the character. In that arc, Daredevil is beaten by the Punisher and tied up with chain. As at the climax of New York’s Finest, the Punisher ties a gun to his hand and forces him to make a choice; kill the Punisher, or allow the Punisher to kill his target. As Frank states here, “You don’t do it, his death’s on you.”

It makes sense to draw from Garth Ennis when developing the Punisher. No writer has delved as deeply into the psychology of the character as Ennis has. Much like Daredevil writers keep coming back to Frank Miller, it seems like Punisher writers must return to pay homage to Garth Ennis. There undoubtedly shades of other writers and artists to be found in across the season, from Jason Aaron’s question of how Frank related to his family on coming home to Greg Rucka shifting Frank’s war from Vietnam to a more modern conflict. But Ennis is always there.

Daredevil is really deeply tied to Hell's Kitchen...

Daredevil is really deeply tied to Hell’s Kitchen…

And so the scene even quotes dialogue from Ennis’ script. There is just one problem with adapting Garth Ennis’ take on the Punisher into the second season of Daredevil. Ennis does not care for superheroes, at all. Talking favourably about the Judge Dredd Apocalypse War arc, Ennis explains what he sees as the moral cowardice in mainstream superhero comic books by contrasting it with Dredd’s actions at the climax of the arc:

I still think about that today; what it meant about the character, and about the comic I was reading (aged 12). Even now I don’t know if Dredd was right or if he was wrong. It was the only way to win, to avoid the further slaughter and enslavement of his own people–but it was genocide. It was moral courage on an almost unimaginable level–but it was appalling. In the end, it was a dilemma not unlike those faced by a number of good and bad men in our own history, and if I had to sum it up in one line, I’d say this: what are you prepared to do when there isn’t any easy way out?

And that, I think, is why I’ve never been able to care about Batman, or Wolverine, or Iron Man… or any of them, really. Not because of what characters like that would or wouldn’t do, but because their publishers would never have the courage to have them written into such a situation.

Ennis has consistently articulated this critique. He is frustrated by the lack of moral ambiguity in films like Iron Man, citing a scene where Stark is able to shoot terrorists by shooting around civilians. Ennis has talked about how superhero stories essentially satisfy fannish urges “for the same brightly coloured characters doing the same thing forever.”

Gunning for baddies...

Gunning for baddies…

Ennis’ opinion of superheroes bleeds through into his work. The Boys and The Pro are perhaps the most obvious examples of Ennis skewering mainstream superhero sensibilities. However, every Ennis’ work for the mainstream publishers is full of wry disdain for more conventional heroes. His Hellblazer run has a great deal of fun at the expense of the pretentiousness of the Phantom Stranger, to pick one innocuous example. His Hitman run makes fun of Green Lantern’s naivity.

Although Ennis gets to write the Punisher free of the shared universe in his Punisher MAX run, he does allow the character to interact with more conventional superheroes as part of his Marvel Knights run. The result is some wonderful superhero black comedy, with Frank Castle bluntly expressing Ennis’ disdain for the genre in a way that would never make it to screen in any sanctioned Marvel production. It is hard to imagine Marvel Studios signing off on the Punisher literally steamrolling Wolverine, and not just because Fox own the character’s movie rights.

"You complete me."

“You complete me.”

As a result, New York’s Finest very heavily sanitises the scene that it adapts. Given that Garth Ennis is writing a Punisher comic, he allows Frank Castle to win the argument. Matt Murdock caves under pressure; he pulls the trigger. It turns out that the Punisher had not given him a loaded gun, because he was proving a point rather than his own stupidity. However, the scene demonstrates that Frank Castle was correct. When everything came down to the wire, Daredevil was a hypocrite and there was no significant difference between the two characters.

That conclusion is quite simply not a runner for New York’s Finest. After all, the show is called Daredevil. The superhero in the title cannot be shown to be a hypocrite. He cannot afford to lose an argument so horribly. As a result, the scene is reworked so that Frank Castle actually gives Daredevil a loaded gun and Daredevil uses that loaded gun to break the chains that hold him. At the very worst, the scene in New York’s Finest is a split decision; Frank gets to make his kill, while Matt is not morally compromised. It is a half-measure, but a necessary one.

This is what happened when you say that Ray Stevenson is your favourite Punisher.

“This is what happens when you say that Ray Stevenson is your favourite Punisher.”

It is worth wondering whether the Punisher is a character particularly suited to the world of Marvel Studios; whether a man who Foggy derisively nicknamed “Killdozer” or “Dumbass with a Gun” really fits comfortably in the same cinematic universe as Captain America and Iron Man. Gerry Conway, the creator of the character, argues that the Punisher works best as contrast:

I think so, because he was created to be an oppositional figure to superheroes. In a sense, he’s the worst impulse of the superhero, right? The superhero takes the law into his own hands, he sets himself up as above the law – or outside the law at the very least – so the Punisher is a madhouse mirror reflection of that. When you see him in a standalone story or – as they try to do in the movies – in a real world context, he doesn’t really he work. First of all you start making him more ‘realistic’, and once he starts getting more realistic, the immoral part of his actions starts taking on greater and greater weight, and it becomes harder and harder to see him as a potential sympathetic figure, or at least as a deluded figure that you can emphasise with.

That contrast is certainly strongest in New York’s Finest, a story that allows Frank Castle and Matt Murdock to have what amounts to a single extended conversation. The two are presented as oppositional characters, and it is probably the best way to incorporate the Punisher into the shared universe. (This is particularly true given that the films and shows are unlikely to suggest that the Punisher is effectively a grotesque Captain America of later wars.)

"Go on, take our picture..."

“Go on, take our picture…”

There is just one problem with all of this, although it is not entirely obvious at this point in the show’s run. The second season of Daredevil tries to have its cake and eat it with the character of the Punisher. The show very consciously sees Frank Castle as a hero at best and an antihero at worst. All of the disagreements between Frank and Matt in New York’s Finest are forgotten at the climax of A Cold Day in Hell’s Kitchen, when the two characters help each other in a pinch and share a knowing macho smile.

Quite frankly, the second season of Daredevil is afraid to truly position the Punisher as an oppositional figure to Daredevil. The first four episodes of the season dance around this fact, by having Matt chase Frank as he tears through the gangs of Hell’s Kitchen. The rest of the season is careful to set Frank Castle off on his own epic superhero origin arc that runs parallel to the romantic drama unfolding between Matt Murdock and Elektra Natchios. The version of the Punisher presented here seems curiously tame.

Picturing a psycho.

Picturing a psycho.

Still, New York’s Finest captures their dynamic opposition in the strongest possible terms. After all, the Punisher should be a comfortable fit for the world of Daredevil. The first season of Daredevil was an exploration of masculine responses to trauma, which would suggest that Frank Castle really belongs in the same story as Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk. The fabric of Daredevil is woven from the themes of masculine loss, and textured by ideas of Catholic guilt. New York’s Finest does a nice job of capturing that theme.

Matt Murdock’s Catholicism is curiously downplayed across the second season of Daredevil. There are a few nods to it scattered across the year, but it is a much smaller part of the year’s arc. Father Lantom was a major recurring player in the first season, but he is reduced to a one-shot guest appearance at the start of Penny and Dime. As such, New York’s Finest represents the second season’s strongest expression of these Catholic themes, to the point that the episode opens with Matt flashing back to his time at the orphanage, lingering on the religious imagery.

We all have our crosses to bear...

We all have our crosses to bear…

Appropriately enough, the conversation between Matt and Frank turns to matters of religion. It seems entirely appropriate. After all, both Matt and Frank deal with ideas of morality that transcend laws made by man. There is a tendency to frame the Punisher’s mission in military terms, but there is undoubtedly a moral absolutism and conviction at play that mirrors Daredevil’s own religious faith. Of course, the Punisher’s most in-depth exploration of religion found the character transformed into a literal avenging angel just before Ennis began his run on the title.

“You a Catholic?” Matt asks at one point. “Once,” Frank responds. It makes sense. While Frank’s military service record suggests unquestioning faith in a higher ideal, it makes sense that the same faith might have manifested itself in religious faith. Matt asks, “You still go to mass?” Frank avoids answering the question. In some ways, Frank could be seen to represent an even more violent form of the retribution practised by Daredevil. Daredevil exists to apprehend those who avoid punishment through legal means. The Punisher also assumes some higher authority.

Mary, why don't you have some sense?

Mary, why don’t you have some sense?

At the same time, there is something refreshingly frank about the big moral conversation at the heart of the episode. Matt argues that it is wrong to kill. Frank argues that it is wrong not to kill. The debate hinges on morality internal to each character. Both Matt and Frank argue from first principles, there is no convoluted justification or forced moral dilemma. Matt believes that killing is wrong because there is something innately special about each and every person. Frank does not believe that to be true, and that – even if it were – it does not offset the harm that they cause.

Comic book discussions about the morality of killing tend to get derailed by the conventions of the genre. It is very hard for Batman to have a “first principles” debate about the utilitarian justification of murder when no prison on earth can hold the Joker. Batman’s reluctance to kill the Joker is undercut by narrative convenience; the Joker will always escape and kill countless more people, and Batman can never actually kill him because the Joker is too popular to die.

Up on the roof's the only place I know Where you just have to wish to make it so.

Up on the roof’s the only place I know
Where you just have to wish to make it so.

The very existence of the Joker as a comic book character makes it harder for Batman to hold a position similar to that expressed by Matt Murdock in New York’s Finest. It is a lot harder to argue that every person has some basic spark of humanity and deserves a shot at redemption in a world where a psychotic clown breaks out of custody every other month and posts casualty figures in three figures. As a result, most comic book morality debates argue around the point.

Such debates tend to get a little crazy and tangential. For example, the recurring suggestion Batman can’t kill the Joker because he doesn’t trust himself to stop there. It is as if killing crooks is like eating pringles; once you pop, you just can’t stop. By virtue of keeping the character and his world relatively grounded, Daredevil is able to frame the old tried and tested “… but superheroes don’t kill” in a refreshingly straightforward manner. Daredevil doesn’t kill because he doesn’t believe that he has the right. The Punisher kills because nobody else will.

Devil in red...

Devil in red…

The succinct nature of this debate in New York’s Finest is undercut by decisions later in the season. Starting with Penny and Dime, it becomes clear that the Punisher is not so much adopting a hard philosophical position as embarking on a personal crusade. The first season is structured as an extended origin for the character, which seems redundant when he makes his case so efficiently in the third episode of the season. More than that, the episode suggests irreconcilable differences between the two, making their reconciliation in the finalé feel forced.

Although the ideological conflict at the heart of New York’s Finest is necessary in any superhero team-up story featuring the Punisher, there is a sense of compromise to Frank Castle that feels unsuited to the character. In his conversations with Daredevil, it seems like Frank is desperately trying to validate himself to a man who dresses up in a devil costume and jumps off rooftops. “You ever doubt yourself, Frank?” Matt wonders. Frank denies it, but it is hard not feel like this is the entire point of the conversation, if not the episode.

Zen warrior.

Zen warrior.

There is a sense that Frank Castle’s absolutism is not as solid as it might seem. “I’m not that guy, Red,” Frank asserts when Matt expresses concern that he might go off the deep end. It feels like Frank is trying to convince Matt, if not himself. It is a very easy way write that conversation, because it makes Frank Castle more relatable and accessible to audiences. Somehow, it is easier to get comfortable with Frank Castle if there are hints of self-doubt and self-interrogation; just like he is less unsettling if his rampage targets those tied to one individual crime.

This is a problem with the portrayal of the Punisher. It seems like Daredevil is afraid of a strong approach to the character, and so seeks to make Frank Castle palatable to a broader audience. It is a very loose adaptation of the character, but one that dilutes a lot of what makes the Punisher so effective. The Punisher is a character who exists to trip up the audience, to force them into an uncomfortable place of rooting for an unapologetic sociopath. Beginning with New York’s Finest, the show smooths the rough edges. But they are the most interesting parts.

"So... how about them Knicks?"

“So… how about them Knicks?”

In some respects, New York’s Finest represents the second season episode with the strongest thematic ties back to the first season. It is the episode most overt in its Catholic themes and most explicit in positioning Matt and his antagonist as oppositional figures. However, there are plenty of other first season themes bubbling to the surface. In taunting Matt, Frank returns to the question of whether the Daredevil costume is a way for Matt to disassociate his more violent impulses.

“You go home at night, take off that mask, you think maybe it wasn’t you who did those things,” Frank suggests. “Maybe it was somebody else. See, soldiers, we don’t wear masks. We don’t get that privilege.” It draws a very effective parallel between Frank and Matt, while also establishing some thematic continuity between seasons. The second season never deals as effectively with the divide between Matt as lawyer and vigilante, although it does hint at it in contrasting Matt’s relationships with Karen and Elektra during the second act of the season.

A scowl in the cowl.

A scowl in the cowl.

New York’s Finest even returns back to the first season theme of New York City as a city that lives through these characters. The first season was very much the story of Matt Murdock fighting Wilson Fisk, but it also focused on the conflict between their opposing views of the city itself. Matt Murdock is fighting to protect Hell’s Kitchen as it actually exists, while Wilson Fisk is fighting to remodel the city in his own twisted image. The longer runs of the Netflix shows allow the writers to delve into these connections between people and places.

In Dogs to a Gunfight, Karen suggested that the Punisher might himself be an expression of the city’s darker and more violent impulses. Although the show never delves too deeply into that idea, it does position the Punisher as part of that larger thematic tableau between Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk. Daredevil even touches on the idea of Frank as a New Yorker up on the rooftop. “Few people are actually from New York,” Matt suggests. “Those people who are, they can’t leave. They feel like the city’s a part of them.”

"Dolph Lundgren? Really?"

“Dolph Lundgren? Really?”

The show revisits this idea later in the season, when Matt squares off against Wilson Fisk in The Man in the Box. Explaining why Fisk cannot possibly flee New York to be with Vanessa, Matt asserts that New York City is an essential part of Wilson Fisk. It is a point that built across the first season, and it is nice to see the show touch upon it again. Unfortunately, it seems that – much like Matt’s Catholicism – the focus on the ideological forces at work within New York City are of no real interest to the long-form plotting of the season as a whole.

However, despite the thematic breaks between the first and second seasons of Daredevil, there is a very strong sense of continuity of structure. There is a sense that new producers Marco Ramirez and Doug Petrie are reluctant to loose anything that worked during the show’s first year. As a result, many familiar guest stars return, often shoehorned into awkward roles. Madame Gao is brought back for a single episode in .380, reduced from a mystical figurehead to a generic crime boss. Father Lantom pops up in Penny and Dime to offer some thematic advice before disappearing.

Picking himself up...

Picking himself up…

It is worth debating whether these elements actually improve the second season. It is great to see the return of Wilson Fisk at the end of Guilty as Sin, but his brief appearances in the season only emphasise the lack of a stronger antagonist across the whole of the year. Nobu is brought back from the dead at the end of Seven Minutes in Heaven, but Nobu is simply not a compelling enough character to play the role of primary antagonist across the final five episodes. Perhaps introducing and developing new characters might have been a better idea.

There are other similar structural elements. The use of flashbacks to develop Elektra’s back story in The Dark at the End of the Tunnel harks back to the exploration of Wilson Fisk’s origins in Shadows in the Glass. This time, the Fisk-centric episode is pushed back from the eighth episode of the season to the ninth. In New York’s Finest, Matt is incapacitated for the bulk of the episode before a gigantic action sequence, just like in Cut Man. More than that, the extended hallway fight at the end of New York’s Finest consciously evokes the one-take fight at the end of Cut Man.

"Damn fine coffee."

“Damn fine coffee.”

Stunt coordinate Philip Silvera has talked about the similarities and differences between the two sequences:

“Originally, I was hoping that we wouldn’t repeat it, because it was unique to that episode’s story,” he says. But the Season 2 hallway fight shouldn’t be mistaken for a mere repeat. For one thing, Daredevil literally has his hands full during the fight: one carries a gun that the Punisher duct-taped to his palm, while the other holds the chain that used to be wrapped around his chest. And the punching doesn’t stop when he reaches the end of the hallway: instead, he continues the fight down a stairwell — the camera once again appearing to capture the action without any cuts — and into a basement room bathed in red light where he faces a final batch of opponents. “I wanted it to feel like we were starting somewhere familiar, like ‘Here we are in another hallway!’” Silvera says, laughing. “And then we go a different way with it.” 

The climactic action sequence at the end of New York’s Finest is an impressive technical feat by any measure.

"You ever dance with the Devil in the pale moonlight?"

“You ever dance with the Devil in the pale moonlight?”

In some respects, it offers a very clear mission statement for the second season as a whole. As much as New York’s Finest offers another hall way fight sequence, it is very consciously a bigger fight sequence. It is not a brutal knock-down brawl across a single hallway. Instead, Matt finds himself fighting from inside a lift out into a hallway and down a stairwell, all in a sequence that is edited together to appear like a single take. It is hard to imagine how the third season might top it.

Again, this reflects a broader aesthetic across the second season. The second season of Daredevil is consciously trying to do more that the first season. Wilson Fisk was the big bad of the first season; here, he is reduced to a relatively minor arc. The conflict between Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk spanned an entire season of television; the conflict between Matt Murdock and Frank Castle is compressed into four episodes. Ninjas teased the idea of open warfare in Stick; they seem to go all-out at the end of the second season. This season is bigger.

Parting shot...

Parting shot…

In a way, the fight sequence demonstrates the limits of this approach. Bigger is not always better. Although smaller in scale, there was a grotty reality to the fight sequence at the end of Cut Man. Characters did not fall down and stay down with a single punch, Daredevil looked like he was on the verge of collapse. The camera moved through a tight space, but it was relatively confined. There were obvious points at which Charlie Cox swapped places with his stunt double, but in a way that felt like sly cinematic sleight of hand.

In contrast, the long take at the end of New York’s Finest feels a lot less real. This is most obvious in the fact that the cuts between various stunts and takes are more obvious; they evoke a more stylised take on Alfred Hitchcock’s transitions from Rope rather than the smoothness of Birdman. Again, this makes sense; fighting down a stairwell is a risky and impressive stunt sequence in any show, let alone a Netflix original. Doing at all is impressive, doing it while framing it as a one-take sequence is particularly impressive.

Hell's Kitchen is burning...

Hell’s Kitchen is burning…

However, even the fight itself seems less real. While characters do get knocked down and climb back up, New York’s Finest lacks the visceral exhaustion that distinguished the fight at the end of Cut Man. What made Cut Man so unrelenting was the fact that the combatants kept climbing back up to lay into one another. This time around, most of the bikers get knocked down for longer, and Matt is able to lock any survivors in the stairwell behind him. More than that, Matt does not seem as exhausted or as relentless as he did in that lower-key sequence.

Again, there are any number of storytelling reasons for that. Matt has been Daredevil for over a year at this point. He is used to the suit and to the requirements of the role. More than that, Matt spend most of Cut Man on the edge of bleeding out, so it made sense that the final battle would be exhausting. However, he has spent most of New York’s Finest resting up in the fresh air on a roof, so it feels appropriate that he would be full of energy. However, the net effect is that the final sequence loses (rather than gains) power from the elevation of scale.

"If you arrest me, you're going to have difficulty proving chain of custody. Geddit?"

“If you arrest me, you’re going to have difficulty proving chain of custody. Geddit?”

In some respects, that feels like a commentary on the season as a whole.

You might be interested in our other reviews of the second season of Daredevil:

4 Responses

  1. I do think you’re being a little hard on this season of DD. I’m on 4 at present and can see merit in all the points you make but I’m still finding it an entertaining series and superior to much superhero TV on at the moment. Don’t all shows riff on their greatest hits? I really enjoyed the climatic fight in World’s Finest and though I agree that softening Frank in ep 4 seemed a shame, Bernthal is easily the best Punisher we’ve yet had on screen. There’s a lot of good in DD2 and at least its engaging with the issues in a way Batman and Arrow rarely do.

    • Controversially, I’d rank Bernthal’s character – the direction and the writing – as the worst live-action Punisher. (Yep, beyond Lundgren. But above Spider-Man: The Animated Series.)

      However, performance-wise, Bernthal probably gives the second best performance. I’m a sucker for Ray Stevenson. Punisher: War Zone has a lot of issues, but I thought Stevenson was really good.

      To be fair, I mellow on the second season a bit as it goes on, appreciating its ambition and pulpy stylings, but I never enjoy it as much as either the first season or Jessica Jones.

  2. Very irritating, this impulse to turn every hero into Batman. If you are familiar with the latter run of Smallville, than you already saw the Matt-Frank dynamic with Clark and Oliver.

    “In a sense, he’s the worst impulse of the superhero, right?”

    The mind reels. The Punisher is a child of Marvel, the same company which made a bet with itself that it could make a neo-conversative into an armored superhero, or make Malcolm X into a genocidal villain. The Punisher isn’t here to challenge the base instincts of vigilantes, he’s there to reinforce them. Being a maladjusted loner who never bathes looked like a heroic concept post-Vietnam.

    • Well, to be fair to Conway, I don’t doubt that he created the Punisher as a villain, albeit a sympathetic one. Part of me would love to read (or hear) a blog/podcast where Conway marches through various later-era stories. There’s a sense when he talks about the character that he understands on an academic level why the Punisher became such a hit, but is never comfortable about what that says about his writing or the audience. How would Conway react to The Slavers, for example?

      Of course, the market wants what it wants, and you get the late eighties version of the character who is one of the cornerstones of the whole “dark and gritty” trend that continued into the nineties. This version is definitely a hero, and I think is the version channeled during the second season. This is a shame, because it’s the least interesting iteration of the character.

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