I finished binging Marvel’s The Punisher series on Netflix, and as heartbreakingly tragic a character as Frank Castle has always been, it is really hard not to love this bad boy.
On top of everything else, from his combat abilities to his overwhelming loyalty to his family, he’s a reader!
The Punisher, underneath its action hero surface, is a very well read show. Reading and books pop up throughout the series, including three read by Castle:
•Moby Dick by Herman Melville. This is the most obvious book featured, as it is the first thing we see Castle reading, and for good reason. It’s symbolism comparing Castle’s quest for vengeance to Captain Ahab’s fatal adventure. Even non-readers know who Ahab, and what the white whale symbolizes. This one looks pretty on all our shelves, maybe this show will encourage some of us to read it.
• The Crack-Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This collection of works is a good introduction to Fitzgerald’s tone, and includes unpublished letters, essays and notes originally penned in 1936. The title itself is comically appropriate for Castle, but it also includes the oft-quoted sentiment “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” Pretty appropriate for the situation.
• Cyborgs and Barbie Dolls: Feminism, Popular Culture and the Posthuman Body by Kim Toffoletti. This book explores the blurring idea of gender as it relates to an increasingly techno-driven digital world. I will fully admit I have not read this particular book, and I likely won’t, but it is an interesting concept. Was Castle just curious or did he really wanted to delve into the minds of the thinkers cited in the book, including French intellectual Jean Baudrillard? Either way, the amusing and eerie computer manipulated kid on the cover is hard to unsee. I would love to get in Castle’s head while he’s reading this one. Or maybe not.
We also learn in the series Castle read to his children. As a parent, I feel this is one of the most vital services anyone can do for their child. You are sharing the love of reading, the quest for knowledge and adventure, and most importantly you are showing your child they are worthy of your full attention. This is love.
Although the book Castle read in the flashbacks, One Batch, Two Batch, is not real, the fact he chants snippets from it for his motivation in avenging his family shows how strong a bond of reading a picture book to a young child created.
Other books stood out in the show as well:
• The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Sarah Lieberman was making her way through this popular novel, which I always saw as a way to retain one’s faith in desperate situations. Thinking her husband (the hacker Microchip) to be dead, she was facing her own crisis in faith. Little did she know there was reason to hang onto it.
• The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Could there be any more perfect book for Billy Russo, a pretty boy who is well on his way to being the anything-but-pretty carved up villain, Jigsaw? Wilde’s book of a man whose inner, vile ugliness is captured through a painting is considered one of the first true horror stories. This book is not only good foreshadowing, but a fun Easter egg for movie buffs. Actor Ben Barnes, who played Russo, also played Dorian Gray in an unsettling 2009 feature film.
• The Book of Proverbs. After quoting The Bible's Proverbs 13:6 (Righteousness keepeth him that is upright in the way, but wickedness overthroweth the sinner) to Castle, fellow Marine “Gunner” Henderson lets Castle off the hook to let him know he’s only messing with him. Still, this does reveal Gunner’s spiritual literacy, particularly since the Bible version he’s quoting is King James. Even those who aren’t religious need to know the influence The Bible has had on the English language, and the Book of Proverbs can be purchased on its own for some quick motivation.
One of the great things about this new series is being able to introduce a whole new set of potential readers to a character that has been around since 1974. With more than 40 years of comic book history behind them, there needs to be a Punisher collection on this shelf. If you only want one collection, The Punisher by Garth Innis Omnibus was just released in September. These bitingly profane yet wickedly funny stories — including the favorite “Punisher Kills The Marvel Universe — don’t cover Castle’s full story, but they certainly capture the essences of his dark determination.
You think the series was over-the-top violent at times? Innis (best know for his Preacher series) will make the show look like Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. Several well known artists contribute to this collection, but artist Steve Dillon’s drawings of Castle remind me so much of actor Jon Bernthal, it is almost as if he foresaw this perfect casting.
So, sit down, grab a cup of tea or a beer, and enjoy a good book courtesy of The Punisher. You wouldn’t want to make Frank unhappy, now, would you?