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How Wrong Is PUNISHER #3?

I was at my local comic book shop. I had to buy another comic to reach $20 so I'd get my dealer's 10% discount. Whatever I chose, it essentially would be free.

Since I like Daredevil, I thought I'd get the polybagged Punisher vs. Daredevil fight and see what the fuss was about. I shouldn't have bothered. Even free, this comic was a waste of money.

Start with the five-page sequence of the Punisher immolating a gang of criminals with a flamethrower. Note that these criminals were arguably defending themselves after Castle provoked them with an unprovoked hail of bullets in a bar. If anyone thinks mass murder isn't a radical departure from past depictions of the Punisher, they haven't read much Punisher.

Like the previous two installments, PUNISHER #3 was almost plot-free. Except, that is, for Castle's physical and moral confrontation with Daredevil. I'll admit that was interesting.

(Spoiler alert: If you haven't read the comic, stop now.)

The setup
The Punisher forced Daredevil to choose between killing him and letting him kill a villain. In agony, Daredevil chose to shoot. The point supposedly was that deep down, the Punisher is no different from Daredevil or anyone else.

Unfortunately, writer Garth Ennis botched the confrontation badly, further proving he's losing his writing ability. Let's see how many mistakes Ennis made in a few short pages:

1) The Punisher picks a hard-to-find perch to shoot from, yet Daredevil finds it. How? If the Punisher left any kind of clue, Daredevil should've suspected a trap.

2) Daredevil also should've suspected a trap because he's an experienced crimefighter and knows Frank Castle's MO.

3) Daredevil also should've suspected a trap because the Punisher stood there and said "Hit me." Why would Castle do that unless he had a plan?

4) Even if Daredevil suspected nothing, he should've detected the hidden hypersonic device. Daredevil has hyper-senses, remember? Electronic devices make a small but audible whir, and Daredevil can hear objects as quiet as a heartbeat. Electronic devices also smell of plastic and metal, different from the surrounding wood and concrete. Daredevil can smell something from several blocks away.

5) Even if Daredevil suspected nothing, he didn't have to attack the Punisher. The Punisher wasn't threatening the villain at the moment. Why not simply continue the staring contest until the Punisher had to make a move?

6) Even if Daredevil decided to attack, he should've started from long-range, using his billy-club cable. Daredevil knows Castle is a vicious hand-to-hand combatant.

7) Daredevil's hyper-senses should've alerted him that the Punisher wasn't surprised to see him. If Castle had been surprised, his heartbeat would've jumped, even a little. Oops.

8) The Punisher captured Daredevil, chained him, and gave him a gun. Castle told Daredevil that Daredevil had one shot to kill him with. That was a lie, and Daredevil has the proven ability to detect anyone lying. Oops. Don't think the Punisher knew to muffle his heartbeat, either. Daredevil's ability to detect lies by listening to someone's heartbeat isn't common knowledge.

9) The Punisher said Daredevil had to shoot at his head because he was wearing Kevlar. What, he had Kevlar covering his butt? The back of his knees? His Achilles tendon? Unlikely. Police officers don't protect their rears with Kevlar, so I doubt the Punisher would.

10) Even if Daredevil had to shoot at the Punisher's head, he could've tried for a glancing shot at Castle's skull, neck, or ear. He didn't have to shoot to kill.

11) Despite the Punisher's admonition, Daredevil could have shot at the Punisher's weapon rather than at the Punisher himself. As the artwork made clear, Castle's rifle was in Daredevil's line of sight.

12) Daredevil didn't have to shoot at anybody or anything. The Punisher helpfully told him when the car stopped and the villain emerged. Any gunfire would've alerted the authorities, who would've covered up the villain immediately.

One could argue that the authorities were too far away to hear the gunshot. Maybe, but they would've heard and seen it if Daredevil had shot one of the windows across the street.

One could argue that the Punisher's reflexes were too fast—that he could've shot before the authorities reacted. Probably, but at least this solution would've given the villain a chance. Given Daredevil's moral qualms, it was better than either shooting Castle or letting Castle shoot the villain.

Last point's the clincher
13) The most important flaw: Daredevil's one-time choice and the Punisher's ongoing choices weren't morally equivalent, despite Castle's claim to the contrary. Daredevil shot at Castle to prevent an imminent death. Castle shot at the villain though there was no imminent death—in fact, no imminent crime of any sort. In legal circles, that's called murder. Unlike Daredevil, the Punisher would be found guilty of it in a court of law.

I asked two lawyer acquaintances about a scenario similar to this one. Boiled down to their essence, their answers amounted to "Daredevil: not guilty."

If Daredevil sincerely believed—as he clearly did, in Ennis's setup—that the only way he could save a life was by killing Castle, it would qualify as second-degree homicide. Justifiable second-degree homicide. As judge and lawyer Steve Russell put it:

In defense of a third person, you have the same right the person you are defending would have. If [the Punisher] could shoot to kill, so could you.

Our legal experts opined that in a trial, if the prosecution were good and the defense were bad, Daredevil still might go to jail. But with top lawyers Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson on the defense team, the outcome would be just the opposite. Daredevil would walk a free man.

As a lawyer himself, Daredevil would know all this in advance. Sure, he'd be upset at having to kill Castle to stop him. But his attitude wouldn't be:

"My God, I'm as sick, corrupt, and depraved as Frank Castle is. He's reduced me to his level...proved there's no difference between us."

Instead he'd think:

"My gosh, it's a real shame I'll have to kill Frank. But since he's about to commit first-degree murder and I'm committing justifiable second-degree murder to stop him, I'll sleep like a baby tonight. My actions are morally superior to his according to the law as well as my own standards.

Hmm. Thirteen flaws, several of them serious, a couple of them fatal. Oops.

If I were Daredevil, after I awoke I'd use my hyper-senses to hunt down the Punisher by his scent. If I were Castle, I'd carry a hypersonic device at all times, because—except in Ennis's fantasy world—I'd be constantly looking over my shoulder, expecting Daredevil to appear. Because the Daredevil I know would vow to put Frank Castle behind bars, where this Bundy/Speck of the super set belongs.

A 14th flaw in the Punisher's plan against Daredevil

Related links
PUNISHER #3's moral dilemma—reversed
Another PUNISHER reviewer who understands what good writing is
Rob reviews THE PUNISHER #1—look out!
More evidence from violence expert David Grossman and others

Readers respond
"I don't like to see a genius writer like Garth Ennis trash-talked like that...."
"If one of them was a woman they'd be having an affair."
"I agree with your Punisher review, Ennis screwed up bigtime."

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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

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