In Punisher #13, Matthew Rosenberg took a surprising opportunity to address the controversy behind the usage of the Punisher skull by law enforcement.
In the comic, two officers investigating a string of violent robberies mistakenly come across The Punisher as a suspect. After realizing who they’ve stopped, the officers stop to snap a picture with the vigilante and express admiration and praise for his actions by pointing to a bumper sticker of his infamous skull logo on their cruiser. In response, The Punisher tears up the bumper sticker and verbally warns the officers against following in his outlaw footsteps, stating that they are beholden to the public good and common law. When the officers retort that Frank has no say over how the public interprets and take ownership over his imagery and actions, Frank lays out in no uncertain terms that any law enforcement official following in his footsteps will become fair game for his war on crime.
Controversy over co-option of The Punisher’s symbol by law enforcement and hate groups has become a major issue in recent years due to rising racial tension and increased scrutiny of law enforcement in relation to controversial minority shootings. Most prominently, the Catlettsburg Police Department met public backlash after marking their patrol vehicles with the Punisher image and Blue Lives Matter-related imagery. Following mass media outcry, the Eastern Kentucky law enforcement agency chose to remove the design.
Within the comics, writer Scott M. Gimple (a prominent showrunner for AMC’s The Walking Dead) previously utilized the character of Captain America to criticize The Punisher’s culpability in irresponsibly inspiring others to vigilante action due to his symbol in Punisher: Nightmare #3 (2013).
In a 2019 interview with SyFy, The Punisher co-creator Gerry Conway set the record straight on his feelings towards his creation, expressing disapproval over law enforcement and military adoption of the Punisher skull and interpreting the character of Frank Castle as a criminal not to emulated. Conway stated:
The vigilante anti-hero is fundamentally a critique of the justice system, an example of social failure, so when cops put Punisher skulls on their cars or members of the military wear Punisher skull patches, they’re basically siding with an enemy of the system. They are embracing an outlaw mentality. Whether you think the Punisher is justified or not, whether you admire his code of ethics, he is an outlaw. He is a criminal. Police should not be embracing a criminal as their symbol.
In Punisher Central’s humble opinion, one’s employment shouldn’t effect their enjoyment or fandom of The Punisher. Anybody can be a fan! There are a multitude of positive traits and values to take from the character. Historically, Frank Castle has been portrayed as an honorable marine with deep empathy for his fellow service members, a patriotic free-speech loving American and a loving family man. As The Punisher, Frank Castle is emotionally scarred by the massacre of his family and driven to prevent the tragic loss of innocent life at all costs. In combination with his ability to punish the guilty, Frank’s humanity, lack of superpowers and inspiring perseverance beyond tolerable injury humanizes his character and offers escapism into a world where wrongs are always made right. Former Navy Seal, physician, current NASA Astronaut and otherwise exemplary American Jonny Kim has famously carried the The Punisher skull into battle.
On the other hand, Matthew Rosenberg, Scott M. Gimple and Gerry Conway bring up strong points against Frank Castle’s legacy and idolization. Law enforcement and soldiers within the government must consider how the public will perceive them when they use the skull. If you believe that the system is corrupt and justice is only gained by revenge like Frank Castle, what does it mean for the public good that you’re working within it?