Charlie's Blog: Batman Versus The Punisher


Batman Versus The Punisher

In certain extreme situations, the law is inadequate. In order to shame its inadequacy, it is necessary to act outside the law to pursue a natural justice. This is not vengeance. Revenge is not a valid motive. It’s an emotional response. No, not vengeance, punishment.

On the face of it, Batman and the Punisher are identical characters. Bruce Wayne lost his mother and father to a senseless crime when he was a child. Likewise, Frank Castle lost his family to another senseless crime. Both mourn the loss of their loved ones. The differences between the two men are their responses to crime, and their philosophies about those responses. Yes, these are just comic book characters, but they reflect the real world.

Batman has been tempted to the style of vigilantism of the Punisher. This was shown in the movie, Batman Begins, when Bruce Wayne brought a gun to the courtroom to kill the man that murdered his parents. Instead, someone else kills the man for different reasons cheating Bruce of pulling the trigger himself. Wayne has a moment of clarity and chooses a different path. Without a target, he chooses to go after crime and corruption in general but to also refrain from becoming the thing he is fighting against.

Frank Castle responds by gunning up and inflicting punishment and revenge on the same criminals that Batman fights. The difference is that Castle kills the crimlnals. He is enforcer, judge, jury, and executioner. He takes upon himself the roles that do not belong to him. This is justified because of the "inadequacies" of the system. The Punisher sees himself as the perfect dispenser of justice. I wonder if he hasn't killed some innocent bystanders along the way making him the same as the criminals he kills.

We live in the world of Gotham City right now, and we always have. Crime and corruption have always been with us and will be here until the Second Coming. Until then, we have to preserve the order even if this is imperfect. Batman understands this. His efforts are meant to reinforce what good remains in the urban corruption. The Punisher wants to burn it all down to satisfy something personal inside of himself. The problem is that crime is not the solution to crime.

We have punishers today. These are the ones who take preemptive action against the "guilty." They make broad judgments about entire groups of people, and they scorch the earth in their desire to exterminate the guilty. This already happens in war zones in foreign countries. Many of our service members have chosen to become war criminals. Some even wear the Punisher's symbol on their uniforms and equipment. Stateside, many wish to fulfill their own fantasies of inflicting punishment on criminals without all that due process crap.

Batman is not the same as the Punisher. In the stories I like, Batman works in cooperation with law enforcement as represented by Commissioner Gordon. Batman is not a vigilante so much as a deputy police officer and concerned citizen. His personal decision to not use guns and kill criminals is Batman's way of keeping vigilante impulses in check. Bruce Wayne's personal desire is to hang up the cape and leave it to the authorities. The reality is that your police depend upon the support of the public.

Anyone can be Batman in our society today. This doesn't require a special costume or a Batmobile. It could be something small as serving on a neighborhood watch and keeping your eyes open to criminal activities. For years, America's Most Wanted put away bad guys by tapping into the power of the public. To a lesser extent, we can be Batman by being good parents, good teachers, and law abiding citizens. Ultimately, law and order are what make the world a better place not vigilantes with guns and anger. Law and order demands good institutions and good people. Undermining these things is counterproductive.

Saint Paul makes this point in Romans 13:1-4,

Let every soul be subject to higher powers: for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God. Therefore he that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. And they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation. For princes are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good: and thou shalt have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to thee, for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God's minister: an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil.

Authority comes from God especially the authority of law enforcement. The power of the police comes less from their guns than from their badges that represent the special and God ordained function they serve in society. A vigilante like the Punisher undermines all of that. He steals an authority that does not belong to him. Without a basis in God and morality, justice is shredded to bits as violence replaces morality. In the long term, this leads to anarchy and chaos.

The vigilante argument is that our institutions and our culture are failing. This is true. Batman deals with this problem in Gotham City. There is nothing light and sunny about Gotham. This is what makes Batman the most realistic comic book. Gotham City is the world corrupted by original sin. This is what makes the Batman myth so appealing to a conservative and a Catholic such as myself. This world will never be Heaven, but you can keep it from becoming Hell.

The fundamental difference between Batman and the Punisher is that Batman has patience. The Punisher lacks this patience. Frank Castle just wants immediate satisfaction. We can see this lack of patience at play today. People want to lose their tempers and get stupid. This rashness on their part never solves problems or makes things better. They just make things worse. It also fundamentally tells God that you can do a better job than the Almighty.

The last thing about the Punisher is an inability to acknowledge his own need to be moral and upright. At the end of the day, Frank Castle is just a criminal with a different agenda. He's not the good guy. He is called an "antihero" because he kills killers. And that is what galls people. It is the idea that even criminals are made in the image of God and deserving of some basic level of dignity. The Punisher does not believe this. Along the way, he loses his own soul. He becomes that which he hates. Castle is a tragic figure in this regard.

Don't be the Punisher. Be Batman. Make the world a better place instead of settling the score. Leave justice to the authorities. Leave vengeance to God.