In honor of the upcoming release of the superhero flick Kick-Ass this Friday, I’m counting down the greatest self-made heroes that human ingenuity and imagination has to offer. Why the focus on self-made heroes rather than superheroes in general? The comic book series by Mark Millar upon which Matthew Vaughn’s film is based rests on the idea that superheroes don’t need superhuman powers or abilities in order to fight crime and serve justice, so I’m focusing on the best heroes and “superheroes” that rely on technology in conjunction with their own intelligence and strength in order to do battle with the forces of evil. Without further ado, here’s today’s greatest self-made hero: the Punisher.
Describing the Punisher as a hero is a controversial move, but nevertheless is one that I’m comfortable making based on the idea that in some cases the ends really do justify the means. Driven by the deaths of his family at the hands of the mob, Frank Castle, also know as the Punisher, acts as a vigilante “hero” who considers killing, kidnapping, extortion, coercion, violence, and torture to be acceptable crime-fighting tactics. While his methods may be a bit unsavory, the one-man war that the Punisher wages on the mafia and other criminals does serve the purpose of cleaning up some of the seedy underbelly of New York City.
Although not as popular as some of the other self-made heroes I will discuss this week, the Punisher has a cult following that resulted in numerous cinematic adaptations (the character was played by Dolph Lundgren in 1989, by Thomas Jane in 2004, by Corey Sosner in 2005, and by Ray Stevenson in 2008), various video games and, of course, a comic book run that began back in 1974.
The Punisher’s cult popularity is based in large part on this hero’s ability to do what many readers and audience members wish they could do: seek revenge in the name of justice. While the average Joe is prevented from carrying out such vengeful thoughts and actions by an ingrained fear of law enforcement and extensive bodily harm, the Punisher uses the multi-disciplinary training he received from the U.S. Marine Corps as well as the extra training he received from the U.S. Army and Navy and British SAS to wreak havoc on evil-doers.
Having trained with various branches of armed forces, the Punisher has a skill set that ranges from use and maintenance of specialized firearms and explosives to expert infiltration tactics, extended underwater operations to various forms of hand-to-hand combat, knife and blade combat techniques to precision marksmanship. In addition, the Punisher benefits from the physical training he received in the armed forces, all of which make him a formidably strong and fast opponent for mobsters and other criminals alike. He also boasts the ability to appropriate and adapt the technology used by supervillains like the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, and Ghost, among others.
Not as flashy as many of the most popular comic book and movie heroes, the Punisher nevertheless earned his position in the #4 spot this week by appealing to that deep, dark side of people that wishes all villains and criminals would “get what’s coming to them.” The same idea that made movies like The Boondock Saints into cult classics and scored notable box office numbers for others (Law Abiding Citizen, for example) is at work with regard to the Punisher. He does what most people wish someone would, and he does it for the right reasons even if his methods are a bit iffy.
The Punisher may be the first self-made “antihero” to make the cut this week, but I can guarantee that he won’t be the last — controversy like that embodied by this hero sparks intense feelings that can lead to a devoted fan following. Stay tuned as I unveil the remainder of the greatest self-made superheroes this week in preparation for the release of Kick-Ass, this Friday, April 16th.