The Punisher, Hellboy

'The Punisher' & 'Hellboy'

The current boom in comic-book-based movies is partly technological. Yet in addition to providing a vehicle for digital wizardry, comics offer us a view of our collective self, revealing the underlying urgencies of the moment. And while recent movies made from comics (and graphic novels) include such offbeat productions as Ghost World and American Splendor, the bigger productions-The Hulk, Spider-Man, Daredevil-continue to stake out the classic American terrain where sci-fi meets action hero. It’s a terrain where wildly divergent evocations of American maleness under duress focus a question as timely now as ever: Who are we when we resort to violence?

The Punisher opens with a high-speed montage of images from the Marvel Comics original, with a slo-mo hail of bullets and shell casings triggering a black-and-white seep of blood that melts into the skyline silhouette of (it turns out) Tampa. The story follows an undercover FBI agent, Frank Castle (Tom Jane), whose sting operation against a drug-and-arms ring ends up killing the son of a moneylaundering nightclub owner, Howard Saint (John Travolta). Spurred on by his vicious wife, Saint enacts a murderous revenge against Castle’s family.

Comics establish a zone in which morality can be drawn with, well, comic-book clarity, and villainy...

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About the Author

Rand Richards Cooper is Commonweal's contributing editor.