The archetypal character of the retributive antihero – one who makes his own rules and follows his own conscience – is a familiar figure in mass culture, appearing in film, television, video games, and comics. This character represents the frustrations of millions of people who feel powerless and who fantasize about striking back at their enemies, be they real or imagined. This essay looks at one of the most prominent vigilantes in contemporary pop culture, the Punisher, and explores the relationship between Punisher comics, and vigilante entertainment more generally, to time-honored debates over justice, morality, and the law. In this essay I will argue that the Punisher represents an inherently political worldview, one that values emotion over reason and unchecked anger over due process. The character makes the case for the notion that white-hot rage, channeled into the right kind of 330 Worcester self-generated military campaign, has redemptive social value. For the Punisher, anger is not a feral emotion that should be expelled from the political or legal realm. Instead, it is a dissolvent that allows us to apprehend things as they really are.
Recommended CitationWorcester, Kent, The punisher and the politics of retributive justice, Law Text Culture, 16, 2012, 329-352.