Just days before this year's New York Comic Con, Marvel and Netflix cancelled their panel for The Punisher. The mass shooting in Las Vegas a few days prior had left 58 people dead and more than 500 injured and "it wouldn't be appropriate" for the violent, gun-heavy show to participate in the convention at that time, the companies said in a statement.

Tomorrow, a little more than a month after NYCC, The Punisher finally hits Netflix. More time has passed since the Las Vegas shooting, but the tragedies haven’t stopped. Less than two weeks ago, a mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas left 26 dead and another 20 wounded. Five people were killed by a gunman in Northern California earlier this week, and the US has averaged about one mass shooting incident per day in 2017. All of which is to say, if it wasn't appropriate to promote Netflix's latest Marvel adaptation at a comic book convention because it was in the wake of a horrific incident of gun violence, is it right to release the show itself after another one? Moreover, if there are always mass shootings in America, will there ever be a suitable time to release The Punisher?

Questions about the intersection of entertainment and real-world violence come up often. Folks asked them when Suicide Squad came to theaters so soon after last year's Orlando nightclub shooting. They were incredibly salient following the 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooting, which happened during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. And yet, the creators of The Punisher—a show named after the alter-ego of gun-toting vigilante Frank Castle—seemingly didn't give them much thought when creating the series. In fact, in a recent interview with Syfy.com showrunner Steve Lightfoot said the issues of mass shootings and gun control weren't considered by the writing staff at all.

"With regard to certain recent events, we started making the show a year and a half ago," Lightfoot explained. "We wrote most of the show before the election so I think we'd have to think back to then when we started and the short answer is not really. We had just started with the character." Lightfoot said he also didn't consider the fandom law enforcement officials have for the character: "I can speculate about why the Punisher resonates so strongly with them, but I sort of didn't give it too much thought as we were writing."

That the man in charge of a Punisher show didn't give such things "too much thought" is telling. It's indicative of a sense that Lightfoot, and perhaps Marvel as a whole, doesn't want to engage with the idea of Frank Castle as anything other than a damaged, but ultimately sympathetic, antihero—one who does whatever necessary to get the bad guys. For them, seeing Castle as any sort of reflection of reality is a step too far.

That's certainly their prerogative. The Punisher is a fictional character, and it's up to Marvel and Netflix to decide how to tell his stories and how deep those stories go in interacting with the world. It’s not like Thor and Squirrel Girl are expected to act as commentary on the current political climate—what's the big deal if the Punisher is treated as just a Death Wish-esque fantasy character? (Death Wish, of course, started as something far more sober than its later sequels would suggest, and it's worth pointing out that its upcoming remake is under fire for its seeming political stance.)

The Punisher isn't Thor or Squirrel Girl, though. He's not even Iron Man or Spider-Man. He’s a street-level character living in Marvel's version of the real world, with no powers but his arsenal. (The closest any other Marvel character gets to the Punisher's contemporary cultural relevance is Captain America, and that's only because he was temporarily a Nazi) In a country where gun violence is permanently an issue, albeit one never fully examined or discussed, the Punisher's modus operandi of channelling his frustration through firearms means he ends up representing—or at least reminding people of—real-world issues, whether his creators want to admit it or not. It's understandable that Marvel would want to avoid the issue if at all possible, but ducking the question might not work, especially when the cancellation of the New York Comic Con panel proved that the company is aware of the character's wider cultural context.

There may be another option, though. At NYCC, Marvel's publishing arm devoted part of its panel to the relaunch of the Punisher comic book, which features the Punisher using old Iron Man armor to overthrow a European despot for S.H.I.E.L.D.. That vision of the Punisher may be outside the traditional Frank Castle norm, but it points to a future for the character that doesn't evoke quite so much real-world grief. If Netflix grants The Punisher a second season, this new version of Castle might just warrant some consideration.

Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/the-punisher-gun-violence/